September 3, 2020
100 family caregivers in Morris and Warren Counties can receive assistive technology
Angela is the sole provider for her family, working three jobs, leaving the house at 6 a.m. weekdays and ending her days after 10 p.m. Her husband can’t work due to his Parkinson’s disease and her teenage son has multiple disabilities. Due to her long absences from home she spent her work days worrying if they were safe while alone at home.
That is, until she received smart plugs, video cameras, a video doorbell and a smart speaker connected to a virtual assistant.
Through a pilot program of United Way of Northern New Jersey, 22 unpaid family caregivers across Essex and Morris counties have received these assistive technology devices, giving them the freedom to go to work and tend to their personal responsibilities with less stress, worry and fear that something dangerous will happen to their loved ones while they’re not watching.
Studies show that caregivers are at greater risk for depression and compromised physical health than the general population. These are the family members or friends who care for a loved one who is ill, frail or living with a disability, performing duties as wide ranging as day-to-day basic needs care to driving to doctor appointments and administering medication.
“It releases me from stress, this way I can see what’s going on in the house,” said Angela, a Morris County resident. “And, now, with COVID-19, the Ring doorbell helps to talk with deliverymen; we don’t have to have physical contact.”
Due to the success of the pilot, another 100 unpaid family caregivers across Morris and Warren counties can now apply to United Way for a needs assessment and receive assistive technology and virtual tech support to install and learn how to use the equipment.
The pilot was designed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the need has grown exponentially due to the health risks associated with COVID-19 for vulnerable populations, according to United Way’s Stephanie Howland, who oversees the program. From medication reminders to remotely checking in on a loved one, United Way tailors the services to meet the needs of each family, she said.
“Having this technology has the potential to save lives,” Howland said. “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic we knew family caregivers needed extra eyes and ears in the homes of their loved ones in order to lessen the stress and pressure of juggling work and personal responsibilities with caregiving. Since the pandemic, the need to have reliable, virtual contact with vulnerable loved ones has become even more critical.”
For 15 years United Way has provided education, resources and a network of support for family caregivers through caregiver coalitions in the northern New Jersey region. There are an estimated 53 million family caregivers in the United States, according to AARP. With 80 percent of long-term care provided in the home, family caregivers are the backbone of the health care system.
United Way’s program is made possible due to grants from the Morris County Department of Human Services, Morristown Medical Center Community Health Committee and Warren County Division on Aging.