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Patients can be tracked using GPS devices; apps monitor medication doses

Patients can be tracked using GPS devices; apps monitor medication doses

Patients can be tracked using GPS devices; apps monitor medication doses

David Pomerantz, executive vice president of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in the Bronx, demonstrates a new app to track medications.

From GPS devices and computer programs that help relatives track a wandering Alzheimer's patient to iPad apps that help an autistic child communicate, a growing number of tools for the smartphone, the tablet and the laptop are catering to beleaguered caregivers.

With the baby boom generation getting older, the market for such technology is expected to increase.

A pillbox program that keeps track of multiple medications and doses is just one feature of a $3.99 app called Balance that was launched last month by the National Alzheimer Center, a division of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in the Bronx.

"We thought there would be an opportunity here to reach caregivers in a different way," said David Pomerantz, executive vice president of the Hebrew Home. "It would be a way to reach people the way people like to be reached now, on their phone."

The app also includes sections for caregiving tips, notes for the doctor and the patient's appointments, plus a "learning section" with articles on aspects of Alzheimer's and an RSS feed for news about the disease.

Trackers are also important tools for Alzheimer's caregivers.

Using a program called Comfort Zone, which is offered by the Alzheimer's Association starting at $43 a month, people can go online and keep track of someone. The GPS device sends a signal every five minutes and maps a person's route.

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.

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 by 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."

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