The following blog post was written by Ellen Kampel, Public Relations Manager for Accessibility at Microsoft.  Nearing her 25 year mark at Microsoft, Ellen holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) and works on technology issues related to aging and people with disabilities.

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Recently, as I brought my husband home from the hospital after surgery, I found myself in the unfamiliar role of being a caregiver.  For someone who has worked at Microsoft for 25 years, 12 in the field of assistive technology, it was an illuminating experience  to find myself adopting the concepts that I have been advocating for so many years. 

There is no substitute for personalized care, whether it is for a short time following surgery, or longer term, for an individual with a permanent disability or an elderly person.  Thankfully, technology solutions can be customized to help empower caregivers and promote maximum possible independence for the person being cared for.

In my own role as caregiver, my primary responsibility was to ensure the safety and wellbeing of my husband.  The first thing I did was to make sure that our home was accessible.  I removed rugs, furniture and other objects that could impede the pathways to the kitchen, dining room and bathroom.  Once I had addressed these safety concerns, I considered how I could promote his independence and emotional well-being during recovery.

There is certainly no one-size-fits-all solution for independence, but assistive technology can be a valuable empowerment tool. For example, medication management and calendaring systems can help organize prescription schedules and medical appointments. Products like Microsoft HealthVault can simplify the task of routine health monitoring. Individuals may choose from a wide variety of third party peripheral devices that are compatible with HealthVault to help measure and record readings for blood pressure, pulse, weight, glucose and other important health indicators. These readings can be sent electronically to doctors and other care providers, making it easier to alert medical personnel to anything that might be of concern.  In my husband’s case, a simple digital camera, which allowed images to be uploaded to my computer, was a valuable aid in tracking the healing progress of his surgical scar.

In addition to the physical considerations of caregiver and patient, the individuals involved can experience feelings of isolation. Technology solutions such as Skype can offer a valuable connection to friends and family, especially remote members who may not be able to visit in person.

For years I have evangelized the concept that there are technology solutions that can help caregivers and their families.  Finding myself in a position to lean on my professional experience, and take my own advice, I am more convinced than ever of the power of technology to transform lives.    

If you would like more information about assistive technology solutions from Microsoft to help you, please visit the Microsoft Accessibility Website.