"Aging in place" is a huge topic these days. The costs of institutionalizing folks as they grow older is enormous, for individuals and for society. The aging population continues to grow, so we have to look for opportunities for these people to stay in their homes as long as possible. For most of us, this is a win-win situation because most people would prefer to remain in their homes as they grow older.
Of course, we have had emergency call systems for many years. These are fine for folks who understand that they need help. However, there can be a stage at which caregivers and families need some way to know when their loved ones wander, and where they have gone.
Technology offers some wonderful opportunities in this regard. Geo-positioning technology can locate a person or object accurately and immediately almost anywhere on the surface of the planet. Almost one-third of North Americans already use some form of GPS. We are most familiar with "dedicated portable navigation devices" that we use to provide us with directions when we travel. However, telephone-based navigation is quickly becoming the dominant form of navigation.
Fortunately, the same form of technology that allows us to locate a point on a map can also be used to locate a person. That is, after all, how GPS navigation works; we tell the navigation device where we want to go and it tells us where we are. Add broadcasting capability so that others can see where we are, and we can found.
There are a number of locator services that use dedicated devices to broadcast their location. However, telephone-based services will soon prove to be far more efficient for both location and navigation. Here are some reasons why:
- They are inexpensive. Cell phones with voice as well as screen capabilities are currently available at many price points, some of them quite low. The navigation and location services can be as inexpensive as $10 a month, and the prices are dropping. These services alone are much less expensive than the dedicated navigation devices currently available in stores, and they are merely one feature of the smart cell phone technologies of which they are part.
- Most cell phone users have now, or will have it soon, GPS enabled telephones. Predictions tell us that the vast majority of cell phone subscribers will find these phones available and affordable before the end of 2010. They will be very attractive because they can interact with other location sensitive services, such as current maps, traffic reports and even applications that find local businesses and services such as gas stations and restaurants.
- Telephone navigation helps us even outside the car. Most of us take our cell phones with us when we leave the car. When we do, phone-based navigation and location are still available to us as we walk around or visit walk-in locations.
- New government regulations in the United States require that cell phones can be located by police or firefighters just as landline phones are. This capacity enables a person with a cell phone to be located virtually anywhere in an emergency.
- Many new cell phones will locate nearby emergency services such as hospitals, clinics and pharmacies from any location. Most of them will even provide directions to those locations from your location, with no input from you.
Both cell phones and personal computers can be programmed to show the location of specific other location-enabled phones. Of course, to ensure privacy, the locatable phone has to be programmed by an authorized person to permit such location. When such a phone has been authorized to broadcast its location, personal computers and other phones which have permission can locate them immediately and accurately. Services will soon be available which will enable these phones to broadcast an alert when they move a specified distance away from a predetermined point. This means that caregivers don't have to continuously monitor the movements of their loved ones in order to know when they are wandering.
Of course, there is no means to guarantee that a particular person will carry a phone on his or her person at all times. This is simply an indication that there can come a time at which the mental condition of the person dictates the need for close, continuous supervision. Nevertheless, these new technologies are a significant step towards the desirable outcomes of "aging in place."
Most cell phone retailers can provide information about navigation-and location-enabled cell phones. Such a consultation can be the start of a new level of peace-of-mind for caregivers and their friends.
Robert A. McCluskey
Bob McCluskey is a semi retired teacher and school administrator. He has recently been teaching college-level psychology classes and has developed a course in the psychology of aging. Bob teaches courses specifically designed for senior citizens and is especially interested in the mental health of aging, With an emphasis on the preservation and enhancement of memory.
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