The Eager Young Minds of  Tomorrow
Prepare To Help Caregivers Today

By Hilary Gibson, Staff Writer

Many of today’s caregivers, along with caregivers-to-be, are very concerned about their future, as well as the future of their loved ones. Will younger generations continue to make progress towards helping to ease the pressures of caregiving? Will they have compassion for the needs of loved ones who require special attention and equipment? A group of students who are attending the Biomedical and Environmental Advancement Magnet (BEAM) school at North Miami Beach Senior High are proving to have a true interest in the future of the caregiving community. Their creation is entitled the “Bath-o-Lift,” a device designed to help both caregiver and loved one with the physically daunting task of getting safely in and out of a bathtub shower. Beam Director and research teacher Dr. Barbara Rothstein challenged the students to come up with a creation that would service the needs of the community around them, particularly the caregiving community. Students Amrika Rampersad, Marie Smith, Ryan Oliveira, and Antonio Barrios began interviewing their relatives in order to figure out where the largest area of need and concern may exist within the caregiving community. Many of their relatives commented on how difficult it was for them to get in and out of a bathtub shower because of certain physical limitations due to their age or health. Others spoke of the difficulties they had caregiving for a loved one who could not easily get in and out of a bathtub shower, and how this particular task was one of the most physically and mentally challenging for everyone involved. They also interviewed professional caregivers and found that the bathing task was definitely an area that needed a great deal of improving upon.

Although the “Bath-o-Lift” is still in the building process, the idea, the students, and the BEAM school have already been rewarded by winning a grant from the prestigious Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams Program. Joschua Schuler, grants officer for the Lemelson-MIT Program says, “The team’s proposal showed great ingenuity and community benefit.” While the first prototype of the “Bath-o-Lift” is being designed out of wood, it will ultimately include a highly-functional seat made out of polymer plastic, which will recline just a enough to allow for a loved one’s feet to clear the side of the bathtub, making entry much easier and safer. There will also be a place to attach a hand-held shower messager, making it easier for loved ones to wash themselves without having to dangerously reach for the spigot or be entirely dependent upon their caregiver. Privacy is also a concern that these young people are tackling, with creating a design for a special shower curtain that will be easy for a loved one to open and shut while in the bathtub shower. The most impressive aspect of this invention is that caregivers and their loved one’s will not have to reconstruct their bathroom in order to have the “Bath-o-Lift” in their home. It is being designed to retrofit the bathtub shower that already exists, as an attachment rather than a major home project requiring a bevy of professionals busting out walls and tearing out the bathtub. This will also help to keep the eventual cost of the “Bath-o-Lift” down ... yet another benefit for caregivers and their loved ones. And of course, the end-product will be battery operated. The “Bath-o-Lift” will definitely have a number of caregiver-friendly features which are not offered on the bathtub seat which is presently available.

As Director Dr. Rothstein put it, “The ‘Bath-o-Lift’ device underscores BEAM’s philosophy that ‘giving is the gift you give yourself,’ and it will help make a difference in the lives of those with special needs.” In-the-meantime, the BEAM students will be working hard on the “Bath-o-Lift” for its official presentation to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in March 2004, and this won’t be where the BEAM program, Dr. Rothstein, or the students will stop. There may very well be a patent in their future, and they will definitely be continuing to create devices that will best help and service the needs of the caregiving community. Dr. Rothstein is encouraging the caregiving community to submit more ideas for the BEAM team to tackle. “The elderly and the disabled make up a large percentage of our inner-city communities,” says Dr. Rothstein, “and they often live in homes that are not adapted to their special needs.” With young people like this looking towards the coming challenges of an aging Baby-Boomer population, there is hope that caregivers and their loved ones may one day experience as close to a stress-free existence as possible.

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