Adaptive switches. Modified switches that adjust air conditioners, computers, telephone answering machines, power wheelchairs, and other types of equipment, some of which can be activated by the tongue or the voice.
Communication equipment. Anything that enables a person to send and receive messages, such as a telephone amplifier.
Computer access. Special software that helps a senior access the Internet, for example, or basic hardware, such as a modified keyboard or mouse, that makes the computer more user friendly.
Education. Audio books or Braille writing tools for the blind are in this category, along with resources for additional vocational training.
Home modifications. Construction or remodeling work (e.g., a ramp for wheelchair access) that allows a senior to overcome physical barriers and live more comfortably with a disability or recover from an accident or injury.
Tools for independent living. Anything that empowers the elderly to enjoy the normal activities of daily living without assistance from others, such as a handicapped-accessible bathroom with grab bars in the bathtub.
Mobility aids. Equipment that helps a senior get around more easily, such as a power wheelchair, wheelchair lift, or stair elevator.
Orthotic or prosthetic equipment. A device that compensates for a missing or disabled body part. This could range from orthopedic shoe inserts for someone who has fallen arches to an artificial arm for a person whose limb has been amputated.
Recreational assistance. New methods and tools to enable people who have disabilities to enjoy a wide range of fun activities. Examples include swimming lessons provided by recreational therapists or specially equipped skis for seniors who have lost a limb as a result of accident or illness.
Seating aids. Any modifications to regular chairs, wheelchairs, or motor scooters that help a person stay upright or get up and down unaided or that help to reduce pressure on the skin. This could be something as simple as an extra pillow or as complex as a motorized seat.
Sensory enhancements. Anything that makes it easier for those who are partially or fully blind or deaf to better appreciate the world around them. For instance, a telecaption decoder for a TV set would be an assistive device for a senior who is hard of hearing.
Therapy. Equipment or processes that help someone recover as much as possible from an illness or injury. Therapy might involve a combination of services and technology, such as having a physical therapist use a special massage unit to restore a wider range of motion to stiff muscles.
Transportation assistance. Devices for elderly individuals that make it easier for them to get into and out of their cars or trucks and drive more safely, such as adjustable mirrors, seats, and steering wheels. Services that help the elderly maintain and register their vehicles, such as a drive-up window at the department of motor vehicles, would also fall into this category.
THE BENEFITS OF ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY. For many seniors, assistive technology makes the difference between being able to live independently and having to get long-term nursing or in-home health care. For others, assistive technology is critical to the ability to perform simple activities of daily living, such as bathing and going to the bathroom.
According to a study conducted by the National Council on Disability, 80 percent of the elderly persons who used assistive technology were able to reduce their dependence on others. In addition, half of those surveyed reduced their dependence on paid helpers, and half were able to avoid entering nursing homes.
Assistive technology can also reduce the costs of care for the elderly and their families. Although families may need to make monthly payments for some pieces of equipment, for many, this cost is much less than the cost of home-health or nursing-home care.
PAYING FOR ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY.
Right now, no single private insurance plan or public program will pay for all types of assistive technology under any circumstances. However, Medicare Part B will cover up to 80 percent of the cost of assistive technology if the items being purchased meet the definition of “durable medical equipment.” This is defined as devices that are “primarily and customarily used to serve a medical purpose, and generally are not useful to a person in the absence of illness or injury.”
To find out if Medicare will cover the cost of a particular piece of assistive technology, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227, TTY/TDD: 1-877-486-2048). You can also find answers to your questions by visiting the website at www.medicare.gov.
Depending on where you live, the state-run Medicaid program may pay for some assistive technology. Keep in mind, though, that even when Medicaid does cover part of the cost, the benefits usually do not provide the amount of financial aid needed to buy an expensive piece of equipment, such as a power wheelchair. To find out more about Medicaid in your State call the toll free number for your State. A list of toll free numbers can be found at the following website:
Seniors who are eligible for veterans’ benefits should definitely look into whether they can receive assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). Many people consider the DVA to have a model payment system for assistive technology because the agency has a structure in place to pay for the large volume of equipment that it buys. The DVA also invests in training people in how to use assistive devices. For more information about DVA benefits for assistive technology, call the VA Health Benefits Service Center toll-free at 1-877-222-VETS or visit the department’s website at: http://www.sharpseniors.com/a/va-health-benefits-and-services
Private health insurance and out-of-pocket payment are two other options for purchasing assistive technology. Out-of-pocket payment is just that; you buy the assistive technology yourself. This is affordable for small, simple items, such as modified eating utensils, but most seniors find that they need financial aid for more costly equipment. The problem is that private health insurance often does not cover the full price of expensive devices, such as power wheelchairs and motor scooters.
Subsidy programs provide some types of assistive technology at a reduced cost or for free. Many businesses and not-for-profit groups have set up subsidy programs that include discounts, grants, or rebates to get consumers to try a specific product. The idea is that by offering this benefit, the program sponsors can encourage seniors and people with disabilities to use an item that they otherwise might not consider. Obviously, elderly people should be careful about participating in subsidy programs that are run by businesses with commercial interests in the product or service because of the potential for fraud.
MORE ABOUT ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY. Most states have at least one agency that deals specifically with assistive technology issues. The Assistive Technology Act (Tech Act) provides funds to states for the development of statewide consumer information and training programs. A listing of state tech act programs is available at:
http://www.abledata.com. You can call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 or visit the website http://www.eldercare.gov to locate your local AAA. In addition local civic groups, religious and veterans’ organizations, and senior centers may be able to refer you to assistive technology resources.
This site is designed to serve as a "one-stop" electronic link to an enormous range of useful information to people with disabilities and their families.
Doodads, Gadgets, and Thingamajigs
This publication provides information about the many uses of assistive technology and lists possible resources.
Solutions: Assistive Technology for People with Hidden Disabilities
This guide provides information about adapted devices for people with memory problems.
For more, check out these websites: