Here’s Why You Should Provide Telehealth Services for Your Elderly Clients
Providing telehealth services for elderly people is becoming a growing clinical interest. Older people have growing service needs and may not be able to access in person services due to health, transportation, and support caretaker availability barriers. As the general population grows older, the prevalence of dementia is increasing. In Canada across all of the provinces, elderly Canadians may live in remote areas where service options are unavailable. With the growing population of elderly people in Canada and the lack of resources available for elderly people living in remote areas, researchers began to ask questions regarding the feasibility, receptiveness, and implementation of telehealth deliverability and impact of services for elderly Canadians and their caregivers in rural Saskatchewan.
Here is what researchers learned about providing telehealth services for elderly people and their caregivers:
1) Elderly people with dementia and their caregivers WANT telehealth services.
In the study, researchers first surveyed 154 patients and their caregivers to learn about the interest of receiving telehealth delivered exercise services. 77 individuals responded, with 51 patients and caregivers expressing interest in a telehealth delivered exercise program. This interest is growing, as telehealth services are becoming more normal and both healthcare professionals, insurance companies, and patients are seeing the benefits of telehealth delivered therapy programs. For example, one key benefit is reduction of stress. Many elderly people rely on a caregiver to take them to therapy appointments, which places additional stress on the caregiver. Telehealth can help alleviate that stress by allowing caregivers to remain home with their loved one and support them by being there or helping set them up on the technology that they use to access therapy.
2) Clients with dementia and their caregivers WILL show-up!
In the second part of the study, researchers recruited patient-caregiver dyads from the community. The study required two sessions a week for a total of 4 weeks. All of the sessions were held online and exercises were given to both the patient and the caregiver. Out of the 51 interested patient-caregiver participants, 2 patient-caregiver set dyads enrolled to participate in the study. Both patient-caregiver dyads attended all of the study sessions.
Attendance is an issue for many therapists as some clients live far away from therapeutic services. Telehealth can help improve attendance by reducing the necessity to travel to access services. By providing therapy services through telehealth, the therapist can help improve attendance for both the patient and caregiver by assisting both people in accessing therapeutic services from a comfortable environment.
In addition to attendance, caregiver involvement is a common challenge therapists must solve. Some therapists may have the caregiver be an active participant during the therapy session with the client. Other times, therapists may have caregivers play a support role, such as being an e-Helper to facilitate the therapy session and provide technical support. Further research in the realm of speech therapy shows that caregiver involvement may play a vital role in helping a client receive optimal speech practice and help a client receiving speech therapy services practice more natural dialogue with people they regularly interact with.
3) Telehealth services can be an effective tool in introducing healthy habits, such as exercising!
After the 2 patient-caregiver dyads completed the study, researchers collected feedback from both the patient and caregiver regarding their feelings about the program and the effect of the telehealth delivered exercise program on their lives. Feedback from the participants in the telehealth delivered exercise program was very positive. Some participants expressed that the telehealth delivered exercise intervention resulted in them regularly exercising. One participant from the study expressed “Benefitted me because I haven’t been much of an exerciser until recently. And I do it faithfully now”.
Telehealth can be used to encourage exercise and other pro-health habits such as eating well, managing stress, and addressing sleep habits. Many kinds of therapists including psychologists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, and more are beginning to adopt telehealth as a standard practice option for clients who are considered vulnerable and for clients who are too far away from the therapist’s location. Therapists work with clients on different skills that can help them improve their health. By using telehealth, therapists can work with their clients and their caregivers to help both people practice pro-health habits and monitor their client’s health conditions.
Across the world, the number of elderly people needing therapeutic services is growing. Some elderly people are living with conditions such as dementia, which causes them to need a caregiver or support person to help them access therapeutic services and perform basic care needs. Telehealth delivered services serve as a way to promote accessibility to therapeutic services, regardless of where a client lives. Because these services do not require travel, caregiver burden of transportation is alleviated. Caregivers may participate in therapy sessions as directed by the therapist which brings more people into the care. Not only do telehealth services reduce caregiver burden, they are malleable for a variety of different therapeutic services. Telehealth can be used for a variety of therapeutic services including speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychotherapy, and for health maintenance. Within the next few years, the demand for telehealth will rise across different areas of medicine. To meet healthcare needs of the aging population, research and us advise that therapists introduce telehealth practice principles to their practice.