Monday, March 08, 2010

Mental Exercise for an Aging Mind

For some reason, my mother-in-law has been on my mind the past few days.  I’m afraid she is losing touch with time and family as she approaches 96.  I worry about what it will be like when I get to that point in my life.

Part of her frustration is her poor hearing.  Even with hearing aids, she is incapable of understanding us on the phone.  Her vision is somewhat compromised, but she still can see large images.

I floated some ideas past my husband, the consummate techie, hoping he would figure out how to make them happen.

The first is actually simple.  It would require getting a photo from each family member, enlarging them to 8 x 10, and then creating a photo album with each person in a plastic sleeve.  Included also would be that person’s name in a very large font.  I could handle this piece.

It would also be great if she could hear the voice of each of those people in the photo album, even better if those messages could be periodically updated.  Each person would provide an introduction including name, relationship, location, etc., just as a reminder. 

This is where the technology comes in.  My husband suggested the new Apple iPad (available in early April for $499) might be the way to do this.  He could capture the messages through Skype and store them on an Internet site, which could then be linked to the iPad.  She could choose from a list of very large names or perhaps the same photos that are in her album to hear the various messages from her family members.

The other piece that I think would be useful would be an application that would remind her about the day, the local weather, and other related information.  She would be greeted by a very large calendar with an “X” on the current day.  By pushing that “X”, she would then hear something like:

Today is Monday, March 8, 2010.
It’s the birthday of (insert famous person’s name).
It’s also the birthday of (name of relative).
The weather in Detroit today is sunny with a high of 56 degrees.

 My mother-in-law lives in an assisted living home and has an aide during the day who could help her get this mental exercise.  It would be a lot better for her than watching the endless stream of daytime TV shows.

My former programming mind is already thinking about how I would approach making the necessary data base to feed these applications.  But I am lacking in how to apply the current technology to implement these ideas.

Even though we can’t be there to visit more than a couple of times a year, I hope we can do something to help her remember who we are and most importantly who she is and how we all make up her family.

I urged my husband to figure out how to make this happen, suggesting there are many people who feel guilty every day that they can’t be near aging relatives.  There might indeed be a market for these things.

What do you think?  Suggestions?  Reality check?


Blogger Pauline said...

I think it's a great idea! Technology should be put to such good uses. I'd love it if my kids did something like that for me if I ever needed it.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I think the aide is going to be the key. Older people are slower to adapt to technology, and you're talking about a woman well into her 90s. I think expecting her to work such a device herself might be a little unrealistic. But if the aide is there to help her, sure, it could work.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline -- Given our aging population, I'm surprised all of these things aren't already available.

Steve -- Absolutely the aide will be essential. Her aides are almost like family to her. They are all very capable.

11:28 PM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

That is so nice of you to want to help her like that, but as Steve said, awfully technical for a 96 year old. I think she would really enjoy a photo album with huge pictures and identification including the relationship if necessary. Also if her memory is going, maybe a picture from twenty years ago with identification next to a more recent one might help her.

Does she have a DVD player? Maybe you could assemble a bunch of skype messages from family members into a weekly DVD to mail to her that her aide could put on for her to watch and she could use the photo album to identify everyone.

11:42 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Cyndy -- Good ideas. I hope we can pull off just a piece of this if nothing more. We need to start soon because she gets older every day.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous jamy said...

I'd get in touch with the people at Apple--I'm sure they'd like to help.

Also, with the point and touch technology of the iPad, I bet she can figure it out (with help). Learning new things is what keeps us young!

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

B, I just read this article in the NYT this morning about a device called the Sensecam. Not exactly what you're talking about, but related!


12:53 PM  
Blogger bozoette said...

I think she will love the photo album! The iPad may intimidate her - anything "computery" totally intimidated my mom. I tried to get her to type on my iBook (she had been a great typist) but she didn't even want to touch the keys. The more something looks and feels familiar, the more likely she'll use it, I think.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

What a great idea! The photo album will definitely come in handy. Like everyone else, I fear the technology might be too much, but maybe not! If she currently uses a DVD player, that might work a little better than a computer, but where there's a will, there's a way.

9:05 PM  

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