Assistive technology (AT) is any service or tool that helps older adults or persons with disabilities perform activities that might otherwise be difficult or impossible.
For older adults, such technology may be a walker to improve mobility or an amplification device to make sounds easier to hear. It could also include a magnifying glass for someone who has poor vision or a scooter that makes it possible for someone to travel over distances that are too far to walk. In short, AT is anything that aids continued participation in daily activities.
AT allows many people to live independently without long-term nursing or home health care. For some, it is critical to the ability to perform simple activ- ities of daily living, such as bathing.
Older adults should carefully evaluate their needs before purchasing AT. Us- ing AT may change the mix of services that they require or affect the way that those services are provided. Needs assessment and planning are very import- ant.
Usually, a needs assessment is most effective when done by a team working with the older adult in a place where the AT will be used. For example, someone who has trouble communicating or hearing might consult his or her doctor, an audiology specialist, a speech-language therapist, and family and friends. Together, they can identify precise challenges and help select the most effective devices available at the lowest cost. A professional member of the team, such as the audiology specialist, can also arrange for any training needed to use the equipment.
When considering AT, it is useful to consider high-tech and low-tech solutions. Older adults should also think about how their needs might change over time. High-tech devices tend to be more expensive but may address many different needs. Low-tech equipment is usually less expensive but also less adapt- able.
Right now, no single private insurance plan or public program will pay for all types of AT under any circumstances. However, Medicare Part B will cover up to 80% of the cost, if the items are durable medical equipment – devices that are “primarily and customarily used to serve a medical purpose, and gen- erally are not useful to a person in the absence of illness or injury.” Contact Medicare to determine whether a particular type of AT is covered.
Medicare: 1-800-633-4227 • TTY: 1-877-486-2048
Depending on where you live, the state-run Medicaid program may pay for some AT. Keep in mind that when Medicaid covers part of the cost, the benefits do not usually provide the total amount needed to buy an expensive piece of equipment, such as a power wheelchair.
Older adults who are eligible for veteran benefits may be eligible for assistance from the Depart- ment of Veterans Affairs (VA), which has a model structure in place to pay for the large volume of equipment that it buys. The VA also invests in training people to use assistive devices.
VA Health Benefits Service Center • 1-877-222-8387
Subsidy programs provide some types of AT at a reduced cost or for free. Many businesses and nonprofit groups offer discounts, grants, or rebates to get consumers to try a specific product. Older adults should be cautious about participating in subsidy programs run by businesses with commercial interests in the product or service because of the potential for fraud.