According to the “Screen Time” feature on my iPhone, I picked up my cell phone 456 times in the last seven days. Yikes - that sounds like a lot to me. Does that seem like a lot to you?
For better or for worse, technology is a part of our lives that’s here to stay. We pick up our cell phones to communicate with friends and family, find directions to our next location, look up information, or listen to a podcast. When used well, technology is a tool that can help us relate to others better and improve communication. Here are a few thoughts on how to use your smartphone to support relationships with your co-caregivers and the seniors in your life.
1. Document and share information using Google Drive: Google drive has a free suite of tools including shared spreadsheets and documents that can be easily used to share care information with adult siblings and other caregivers. Create a shared spreadsheet online with a column for date, time, and notes to easily document visits with an elderly parent, doctor’s appointments, and other important events like hospitalizations or medication changes. Download the Google Drive app to your smartphone and have access to read and update this information from anywhere. This is especially helpful if you and your adult siblings visit an elderly parent on different days, as this can be easier than finding a time to talk on the phone between visits. And, in case of an emergency, you can easily share your records with a senior’s physician.
2. Try Caregiving-specific Apps: There are a number of free caregiving apps out there worth trying if you’re looking for a structured way to easily manage and share health information with multiple caregivers. I’ve tried CareZone, but there’s also CaringBridge, Caring Village, and others! In general, these apps are free and are designed to help families document information and share it with loved ones. Some apps also have reminders and the option to store important documents (like a POLST or Advanced Healthcare Directive) directly in the app.
3. Take pictures of documents: Your smartphone camera can be used as a scanner to take photos of important documents (POLST, Advanced Healthcare Directive, “After-Visit Summaries” from doctor’s visits, and prescription information). Save these photos in a separate album and remember to update as things change. In case of an emergency, you’ll have all your important documents at fingers reach in a format that’s easy to share with providers.
4. Make recordings with voice memos: Listening and being fully present is one of the greatest gifts that we can give one another. And, as the research on talk therapy shows, sharing, listening, and demonstrating understanding can also be a vital way to promote emotional healing at all ages. After getting permission from a senior or elderly parent, use your phone’s built-in voice memo app (nothing new to download!) to record stories and songs shared during your times together. There are other resources, like the StoryCorp App, which can help you develop a more structured interview and recording session, if you like. For more information on the benefits of listening to seniors, I invite you to look up “Life Review,” a structured process of reminiscing on one’s life story and a powerful intervention for helping older adults to review significant life events.
5. Play music: Music has been shown to help dementia patients by evoking memories, improving mood, reducing stress, and promoting interpersonal interactions. The benefits of improved mood and lowered stress can also help caregivers and families during what can be a stressful time. Fortunately, you can find almost any piece of music through a quick search on Youtube. Whether a senior loves old musicals, songs from decades past, or something more modern, you can find it with just a few clicks. I encourage you to share music with a senior today!
6. Order a Lyft or an Uber: Ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft are actively working to make ride sharing more accessible for seniors and folks who may not use smartphones. Using the Lyft or Uber app from your phone, you can order a car to arrive away from your location (where a senior is needing to be picked up). This works best for seniors who feel comfortable getting in and out of a car without assistance and for seniors who are not at risk of confusion in a new location. Other services like Go Go Grandparent and Arrive Rides make it easy for a senior to call their own ride sharing car (for a fee) using a standard telephone.
7. Virtual appointments: Some medical providers offer live video appointments or phone appointment for clinically appropriate, non-emergency situations. For seniors who feel comfortable talking to their doctor by video and are not at risk of confusion, or for people for whom it may be difficult to leave the house for an appointment, virtual appointments (perhaps, once in a while) may be something to consider. Of course, talk to your provider about whether they offer this and whether it’s clinically appropriate in your situation.
How have you used technology to care for a loved one?