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How Smartphones Are Revolutionizing Home Care For Alzheimer’s And Autism Patients

By Sy Mukherjee on April 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm

"How Smartphones Are Revolutionizing Home Care For Alzheimer’s And Autism Patients"

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As technological innovation empowers consumers to take greater control over their lives, the health industry has taken particular advantage of emerging internet and mobile devices. The burgeoning mHealth industry — which involves using mobile devices to improve health care delivery and outcomes — has exploded in the last five years, allowing everyday Americans to access better information about medical conditions and provide better ongoing care to themselves and their families. Now, creative new apps are helping home care workers better assist Americans with Alzheimer’s and autism.

mHealth apps are particularly useful for monitoring patients with ongoing and chronic medical needs, since such programs provide a multitude of services to keep track of medication schedules, exchange notes with doctors and professional home care workers, and even track the patients themselves. That comes in handy for caretakers such as Laura Jones, who had to keep working full time to provide her 50-year-old Alzheimer’s-afflicted husband with health insurance:

Using Comfort Zone, which is offered by the Alzheimer’s Association starting at $43 a month, [Jones] was able to go online and track exactly where [her husband] was and where he had been.

Her husband carried a GPS device, which sent a signal every five minutes. If Jones checked online every hour, she would see 12 points on a map revealing her husband’s travels. She would also get an alert if he left a designated area.

Eventually, the tracking revealed that Jones’ husband was getting lost.

“He would make a big funny loop off the usual route and we knew it was time to start locking down on him,” she said.

Conveniences like that may be difficuly to pin a numerical value on — but they make an enormous pragmatic difference in the lives of real Americans. By being able to track her husband, Jones doesn’t have to entrust such care to a salaried full-time worker, and has the freedom to be more intimately involved in her husband’s care.

When it comes to conditions that tend to onset earlier in life, such as autism, mHealth apps can offer an interactive medium that makes it easier to engage with autistic children:

Lisa Goring, vice president of Autism Speaks, said tablets have been a boon to families with autistic children. The organization has given iPads to 850 low-income families. And the Autism Speaks website lists hundreds of programs — from Angry Birds to Autism Language Learning — that families have found useful.

Samantha Boyd of McConnellstown, Pa., said her 8-year-old autistic son gets very excited when the iPad is brought out.

“There’s no way he’d be able to use a keyboard and mouse,” she said. “But with the iPad, we use the read-aloud books, the songs, the flash card apps.”

Other popular applications include the inexpensive pillbox app “Balance,” which lets users schedule alerts for their complex treatment regimens, and CareGiver apps that let families find and monitor professional caregivers who serve their loved ones.

Not only does this kind of technology empower consumers — it also cuts down on health care costs. Pillbox apps are particularly promising on this front, since noncompliance with treatment regimens is a major contributor to bloated U.S. health care spending. And overall, organizations like Allie Health World estimate that the use of mHealth could double access to health care services while lowering administrative costs through better data collections — even potentially reducing seniors’ health care costs by 25 percent.

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