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Beleaguered caregivers getting help from apps

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 21, 2013 at 1:48 pm •  Published: April 21, 2013

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.

Mended Hearts, an organization of heart patients and their caregivers, is about to start a program to reach caregivers by texting tips to their phones.

"We hope this will be the beginning of several patient- and caregiver-based texting programs that reach people where they are," said executive director Karen Caruth.

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."

She said the repetitiveness and visuals help. "He catches a word and repeats it back. He says the name of a picture, and the iPad says it back."

Boyd said the iPad also works as a reward: "He likes to watch Netflix on it."

One of the most popular online tools for caregivers is one of the oldest: the message board, available all over the Internet and heavily used by caregivers of dementia and autism patients, who perhaps can't find the time for conventional support groups.

"It's a place for families to talk about the strengths and the accomplishments of their child with autism but also talk about some of the challenges and be able to find the support of other families," Goring said.

Some tools are not specific to a particular disease or condition.

CareFamily, which prescreens in-home caregivers and matches them to customers over the Internet, has online tools that let a family remotely monitor a caregiver's attendance, provide reminders about medications and appointments, and exchange care plans and notes via email, texting or phone.

"We're in the infancy of what technology can do for caregiving and it's only going to grow," said Beth Kallmyer, a vice president at the Alzheimer's Association.

But she cautioned that it's too soon to depend entirely on online tools.

"It's not a good fit for everybody," she said. "When you're looking at people impacted by Alzheimer's disease, including some caregivers, you're looking at an older population that might not be comfortable. We always have to remember technology is great — when it works."