Assistive Technology for Seniors at Home

Enhanced telephones: Telephones with very large buttons and room to display photographs of contacts on speed dial can be lifesavers for people with visual and cognitive impairment, Menack says. Special phones with enhanced sound help those with hearing loss. Menack notes that some cellphones on the market enable callers to access an operator instead of dialing the numbers themselves.

Prices for picture phones start at about $80, while the cost of an amplified land line can range from $30 to $300, according to Menack. Cellphones with enhanced sound and special services are in the $50 to $300 range. She notes that some state agencies may offer free enhanced phones to those with a doctor's prescription.

The learning curve

Proper installation and training are essential to making assistive technology easy to use, Menack says.

"Every product has a learning curve," she says. "If the person the product is meant for isn't that tech-savvy, there has to be someone who is going to see it through and make sure that it's working."

Adds Renda: "The key to getting people to accept technology is making sure you have the right product. You have to make sure their vision is appropriate so that they can actually see the product and can use it. If the technology demands too much from them, they're not going to be able to use it."

Help with financing

No single private insurance plan or public program pays for all types of assistive technology. Medicare Part B pays for up to 80 percent of the cost of what it calls "durable medical equipment" -- or devices needed for recovery from an injury or illness -- but not for products meant for long-term use. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers more extensive financial assistance for veterans needing assistive technology.

Most states provide Medicaid Waiver reimbursement for personal emergency response systems, while a smaller number cover medication management and health monitoring systems, according to a 2011 study by the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies.

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