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Declining mental health among seniors – Technology plays the role of a magical elixir

As we’re all set to bid goodbye to 2019 and welcome a new decade, the self-reported mental condition of the American residents (aged above 60) and living off less than $30,000 has seen to worsen with time, as found by the researchers of Stanford University. In fact, the associate professor of population health and primary care, David Rehkopf was taken aback by this finding as this was ‘unexpected’ according to him. He believed that there was lot of attention being paid to the 35-60 year olds regarding their mental health and hence he thought they were doing fine.

JAMA Network Open published an article where the researchers browsed through data that was given by the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC, almost every year, surveys Americans throughout 50 states where they ask them basic queries on their mental and physical health and also about their general well-being.

Declining mental health among low-income adults and seniors

Along with his colleagues, Rehkopf took a close look at the results of the survery from 2014-2018 which included more than 2.5 million people. During that entire period, the seniors above 60 years of age reported a similar kind of physical health. Moreover, it was also seen that the seniors who lived on less than $30,000 reported an increased decline in their mental health than the higher-income seniors. They are the people who witnessed the biggest change as all of them were not only retired but also had an annual income which was pretty low.

Potential reasons behind the worsening mental health

As the survey queried the participants on their general well-being, Rehkopf and his colleagues were not able to come to fixed conclusions regarding the reasons behind the worsening mental health of low-income seniors. However, he speculated that there were economic forces which affected the younger generation and the same forces might be having an impact on the retirees too. Job loss, unemployment and social isolation are few of the problems that may continue to impact the mental health of the seniors and the baby boomers. Anxiety and stress don’t stop only because they have stopped working.

Rehkopf also suggested that the senior Americans needed better elderly home care packages that provide support, especially because people are predicted to work longer during their 60s and 70s. It is indeed unreasonable and unfair to work when seniors are already suffering from health issues and are under a mental health burden. The researchers are presently determining whether or not the seniors are living better in few states as compared to others. The regulators and researchers wished to see if policy changes could be made either at the local or state level for improving mental health conditions.  No matter what, steps need to be taken in order to make sure that the seniors in the low-income group no longer suffer from mental health diseases and even if they do, they have enough resources to survive with it.

Technology is joining hands with seniors to treat mental health disorders

Over the years, it is nothing new when we say that mental health disorders have always been brushed under the carpet and seen as nothing but a taboo. However, times have changed and today we live in a digital era. With dozens of celebrities being vocal about their mental health challenges, the laymen are also getting open about discussing their personal mental health issues like anxiety, depression and illnesses. The society, as a whole, is also getting more enlightened regarding the subject of mental illness and technology is playing a pivotal role in bridging the gap. Let’s take a look at the few technologies that are helping in treating common mental health disorders.

#1: VR or Virtual Reality

Despite being a relatively new innovation, its progress is steady and fast and there’s no doubt about the fact that virtual reality technology can play a vital role in taking care of the mental health of individuals. Virtual Reality headsets can desensitize the sufferings of the patients who are living with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) by recreating the mental health triggers. With the help of technology, the patients can gradually incorporate new techniques for coping with the environment inside their homes or in the office of the therapist. VR can assist patients suffering from anxiety, depression and other disorders.

#2: Mental health apps

Nowadays, there is an app for everything, from banking apps to shopping lists to weather forecasting to enhancing productivity. Similarly, there are several apps for mental health which have proven to be extremely successful. As apps are usually tied to a mobile device, they can be used anywhere. Due to their portable nature, they are extremely useful, particularly for the young generation who are most likely suffering from anxiety and stress. The wellness and mental health apps focus on 3 basic areas, stress, mood and anxiety. Few of the most common apps are Headspace, Moodnotes, Talkspace, Calm and Pacifica.

#3: Anxiety-focussed apps

Calm is a top-rated app which comes free of cost but you can also pay the fee for upgrading it if you wish to enjoy all its features. This app is almost 2 years old now and it has been successfully helping people who suffer from anxiety by providing them with breathing programs, guided meditation and other techniques of boosting their mindfulness. The app also lets you listen to bedtime stories, relaxing sounds when you’re not able to sleep due to excessive stress. One more app that is worth mentioning is Pacifica which is also free.

#4: Apps for your mood

One of the best mood apps is Moodnotes. If you’re struggling with mood disorders, download Moodnotes as this app would let you detect a pattern for your moods and also increase self-awareness. This app has a mood-journaling feature which let you avoid irritating thought traps. This app, released in 2015 isn’t free of cost but you have to pay $3.99 for using it. On the contrary, Daylio is a free mood-tracking app.

The most effective gadgets for people suffering with dementia

While it is true that time hasn’t brought any surefire cure for dementia, yet it has definitely brought new innovations, thanks to technological advancements, that could ease the burden off the sufferers as well as the caregivers. Dementia can indeed be frightening for the sufferer and the caregiver and hence dementia caring is something that needs to be focussed on.  Technological gadgets can ease anxiety and also improve the quality of life of all who are involved in it. Assistive technology can promote independence and autonomy and manage risks around the home in order to decrease the stress. Here is a list of innovations for those suffering from dementia.

  1. Communication Aids

In order to improve the quality of life, it is important to stay connected with people. According to researches, people who suffer with dementia are able to remember the way an event made them feel though they might not be able to remember the names and faces. However, with the invention of technology, it is possible to stay in touch with the loved ones. Video chat services like Skype and FaceTime are the best software to stay in touch with people regardless of their geographical location. Talking Mats is a famous app that lets people communicate feelings like choosing symbols and pictures.

  1. Dementia-friendly clocks

Losing track of time is one of the main symptoms of dementia. The clocks that are dementia-friendly are designed in such a manner that they can address patients by displaying the letters, numbers and dates in clear big font so that the patient has no confusion on what time of the day it is. This clock will speak out whether it is ‘Morning’, ‘Day’, ‘Afternoon’ or ‘Night’. When the person listens to this, it will ease off the anxiety by reducing confusion and assisting the person to maintain his daily routine.

  1. Photo albums that can talk

Talking photo albums can save pictures of loved ones and each carry a button which plays a message that is pre-recorded and that explains what is there on the page. This is one of the greatest things to remember fun times that already occurred in the past and these pages can even include medication management, reminders of appointments and instructions for operating machines like microwaves or washing machines. Such photo albums can cost you around $40.

  1. Device for monitoring electrical appliance

This is yet another piece of technology that is designed for those caregivers who don’t live with their near and dear ones. This device monitors the use of electrical appliances by plugging it to a wall outlet that alerts the caregivers in case the devices haven’t been turned off or on in its usual way. We all know that getting diagnosed with dementia is never easy and that the disease is devastating. Hence, these gadgets make dementia more manageable.

  1. GPS tracking devices

Location tracking devices are also a good choice for people who are suffering from last-stage dementia where they may wander and get lost. Caregivers usually attach these GPS devices to the dresses of the patient so that the devices can send signals in case the person gets lost. Recovering the person becomes much easier with these tracking devices.

  1. Adapted telephones

Have you heard of adapted telephones which are reprogrammed with all the vital phone numbers?  This is a useful gadget that you can use for your loved ones so that they don’t require remembering the important numbers. These telephones have easy-to-use and huge buttons so that the person using it doesn’t face any difficulty in using them. The Future Call Picture Care Phone ($33) which has actual pictures of the faces of the loved ones on the buttons. Amazon Echo Show is yet another smart option which has a 5inch screen and can help you with making 2-way video calls without having to press a single button.

  1. Telepresent robots

If you can afford this gadget which is available at a cost of $12,000, you can reap all the benefits at the same time! Though futuristic, this is also a spectacular option, the Giraff is a telepresence robot which lets you visit your near and dear one and move around in the home without the requirement of being there physically. It is a screen on a post which can be controlled from a set distance through a mouse all over the internet. As it is set on wheels, it can move about freely. Your loved one will feel your presence in the room and you can visit him remotely. This gadget also ensures prevention of any kind of health hazards.

  1. Dementia-friendly speakers

Music always helps in healing mental health issues and hence investing a few dollars in a speaker can always be a good idea. This dementia-friendly speaker can play all your favorite songs that can prove to be beneficial for the Alzheimer’s patient. It has been studied that only after listening to music for 20 minutes, people suffering from Alzheimer’s saw a measurable increase in eye contact, happiness, decrease in tiredness and talkativeness. The gadgets need a thick handle to be lifted in order to start the music and then again stop it.

  1. Automatic pill dispensers

There are different types of automatic pill dispensers which cost around $40 and they can be programmed easily with flash lights and beeps which make a signal for reminding medicines. The dispenser dispenses the right amount that is needed in a cup which is called the dosage cup. You can set multiple alarms in a single day and you can also get dispensers which can record voice reminders. This again eases off the anxiety of remembering each and every medicine of the patient.

Therefore, if you’re someone who has a loved one suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s, you should seek help of any of the above mentioned technological gadgets so that you can ease off the burden of surviving with this disease.

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