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Pandemic Endangers Senior Health...

...Even in Tech-Savvy Families

We are (fortunately) getting regular reminders that while technology’s a blessing to many Americans during our pandemic isolation, there are many others who don’t have or can’t use it.

The latter are usually defined as those on lower incomes, or with English language issues. And they should be critical segments to examine and find solutions for.

But a story from Kaiser Health News (KHN) disturbingly shows that even families with knowledge and tech savvy can face critical health issues among senior loved ones-- especially those in very late years--despite younger loved ones’ familiarity with health technology. Those in their 80s and beyond did not grow up with computers, let alone even newer tech like cellphones and Zoom. KHN’s story relates some challenges faced by Dr. Charlotte Yeh, chief medical officer for AARP Services.

In a universe far, far…..

Yeh lives in Boston; her mom and dad are Pittsburgh residents. True, that’s not the cross-country challenge so many caregivers face, but it’s still not a quick ride to a nearby neighborhood. (My dear departed Mom had enough trouble, after a strenuous work week, to schlep 90 minutes each way to my Grandma.)

And when we have truly bustling business obligations? Even close by can be a challenge.

With today’s tech, one would think Yeh could easily keep in touch with her parents. Plus she has the credentials to easily check in and gather key insights from loved ones’ doctors, pharmacists, and any other health or personal care providers.

But KHN reports it wasn’t that easy. When her Mom moved to a nursing home due to pneumonia, Yeh’s 92-year-old dad was alone. He is blind in one eye. He has a cochlear implant, but still has trouble hearing conversations on an iPhone versus a traditional phone set.

Zoom connections were a problem too. The captions were too small for Dad to read.

Some solutions, but not all

Thanks to the savvy of Yeh and other family members, some tech issues had answers. A granddaughter connected a tablet and transcription program that made Zoom easier for Granddad’s communications.

Yeh searched for an app that would transcribe iPhone messages to captions. But, the story notes, “it was more difficult than Yeh expected to find an easy-to-use iPhone app” that met their needs.

None of this helped with tech issues generated by Mom’s return. She was being treated for metastatic lung cancer and her docs wanted video telehealth visits. But there was no true way to get this work. The story notes: “This could not occur via cellphone (the screen was too small) or her computer (too hard to move it around).”

The only solution was holding a tablet at the right angle. Even then, the phone’s flashlight was needed to provide needed extra light. How many think Mom was handling all this alone? How about with Dad’s help?

Home alone

Yeh’s Mom passed away a few months after coming home. There’s no indication in the story that happened ‘cause of tech issues, but they certainly didn’t help the way they might have.

Mom’s passing meant suddenly Dad was totally alone. There’s no indication of how long Yeh’s parents were married, but if they were like many of that generation it could have been since or just after WWII. We’re talking at least 60 years...if not longer.

We can only imagine the mental issues bereavement brought Dad in lonely times, adding challenges on to his physical issues. Think of the caregiving options Yeh and her family could have faced. Among the possibilities:

  1. Is it time for Daddy to enter some kind of long-term care? And what does he need? How do we find something “affordable”--and what does that word mean?

  2. Can one of us take Papa in? (Assuming there’s more than one family member.) How do I (we) handle business (family, fun, pet) if Dad moves in?

  3. Does Pop demand to stay home? Does that mean he needs 24/7 personal care, not just for physical needs, but maybe to help his spirits? Do we have to move in with him?

Who has solutions?

That’s not just a subhead. It’s a true question. Who among you out there can truly spot and resolve issues like these? If what’s probably a somewhat financially established and tech savvy family confronts these challenges, what do we change? And how do we move the new options to the less well-established?

After all, Trump’s recent real estate interference, deleting lower-income access to middle-class neighborhood homes, increases the odds many won’t even have solid Internet connections.

I leave these challenges to your input. Put answers onto LI, FB, or TW. And sure, grab the URL and pass this along. Please let me know if you do (appreciate your noting my credit) and what happens. ###

Wendy Meyeroff has been a health and tech writer, editor, and marketing consultant long before 21st-century technology---but she keeps adapting. See her other blogs, social media (links here) and ask about her podcasts and other B2B and B2C collaborations. Then Contact her here. To see the KHN story, it’s here.

Much older seniors have reasons--even in the 21st-century--to need on-site healthcare.

Photo: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine via

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