PULLMAN, Wash. – For many older Americans, it’s the ability to perform routine daily tasks – like remembering to take medications or managing to reach down and pull on a pair of socks – that will ultimately determine how long they remain active and independent.

Such seemingly simple and commonplace household tasks often present vexing challenges for the elderly and disabled. Yet many such tasks can be easily accomplished using a relatively simple tool drawn from a host of assistive devices and products now being manufactured to serve the growing senior population.

Unfortunately, many of the 40 million U.S. citizens now aged 65 or older are unaware that such assistive products exist. And according to Joyce Tam, a doctoral psychology student at Washington State University, even those seniors who are aware of such products are sometimes reluctant to try them out.

In an effort to address the problem, Tam teamed up with other researchers and students from the WSU Department of Psychology and WSU College of Nursing to produce a series of informational videos highlighting common tools available to assist seniors with everything from hearing, vision, and memory to daily activities, such as dressing, cooking, and using the bathroom.

Working closely with her faculty advisor, WSU Psychology Professor Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, Tam is producing videos to help spread the word to seniors about the array of assistive devices on the marketplace. The short video segments cover a spectrum that includes talking medication reminders, rocking kitchen knives, electric door openers, large-grip utensils, money identifiers, and automatic household shutoff devices.

“If more people knew these assistive devices were available, more people could enjoy more active, satisfying, and independent lives,” Schmitter-Edgecombe said. “And more people could rely less on family members and caregivers to live longer and more comfortably in their own homes.”

The videos created by WSU cover topics in eight categories: medication management, daily living, fall prevention, memory, hearing, vision, communication, and mobility.

The videos are currently available for viewing through the WSU research project website. But, for the time being, there’s a “catch” for those who wish to view them. The researchers ask that viewers consider participating in a survey to help them learn what technologies are familiar to most seniors and help them understand what types of perceptions influence their willingness to use assistive technologies. For that reason, viewers are asked to create an account and sign in before taking the survey.

Healthcare professionals who viewed the videos praised both their breadth of information and brevity. They recommend that older adults learn about the variety of assistive devices on the market before they begin to experience physical or cognitive changes, Tam said.

“These devices can be immensely valuable to a large portion of our population,” said Schmitter-Edgecombe. The National Institutes of Health reported that some assistive technologies can actually reduce disability and promote positive health and behavioral changes.

“One of the most gratifying aspects of this research project is knowing that we’re helping people overcome obstacles to enjoying fuller lives,” she said.

Many assistive tools are fairly inexpensive, while more high-tech devices—such as motion-activated faucets, computer screen-reading software, and chair lifts, can cost upwards of $200. Federal programs for the elderly and disabled in many U.S. states may help defray costs.

The research is supported by a grant from the Washington State attorney general’s office. Principal investigators for the project are Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, professor of psychology; Catherine Van Son, assistant professor of nursing; and Dennis Dyck, professor of psychology, vice chancellor of research, and associate vice provost for research, WSU Spokane.

Media contact:

Joyce Tam, WSU Department of Psychology, 509-335-4033, joyce.tam@wsu.edu