The Savvy Senior: How to keep tabs on an elderly parent
My 80-year-old mother lives alone about an hour from me and I worry about her health and safety. Outside of the telephone, what types of caregiving devices can you recommend that can help me keep tabs on her?
There are many different tools and technologies available today that can help adult children keep tabs on their aging parents when they can’t be there. Here are some popular options and new products to check into.
Senior Help Line
One of the biggest concerns among families that have an elderly parent or relative living alone is them falling and needing help. For this, a “personal emergency response system” or PERS is the most affordable solution. For about $1 a day (available through companies like lifelinesys.com, lifealert.com and lifefone.com) you can rent the equipment which includes a small transmitter (SOS button) that your mom would wear, giving her the ability to call for help any time she needs to. The drawbacks, however, are that many seniors forget to wear their SOS button regularly, and if they do have it on and fall, they still have to be alert enough to actually push the button.
If you’re willing to spend a little more (around $50 a month), there are several more sophisticated PERS on the market. One of them is Wellcore (wellcore.com), a new device that has fall-detection sensors in the SOS button that can automatically summon help without the user having to press a button. Plus, it will beep to remind your mom to put it on, and if she doesn’t, it will notify you. And, when paired with a compatible cell phone, it can even be used outside the home. Halo Monitoring (halomonitoring.com) also offers fall-detection products, as does Philips (lifelinesys.com), maker of the popular Lifeline Medical Alert Service who just introduced an AutoAlert option.
Another more expensive option for keeping tabs on your mom is with a “home monitoring system.” These systems come with sensors, placed in key areas of your mom’s home that learn her daily patterns and notify you if something out of the ordinary is happening. For example, if your mom doesn’t get out of bed at her usual time, or if she went to the bathroom and didn’t leave it could indicate a fall or other emergency. The great thing about this type of system is it requires no input from your mom, and you can check in on her anytime through a password-protected website. You can find these systems at companies like GrandCare (grandcare.com), Healthsense (healthsense.com), and CloseBy (closebynetwork.com), with prices ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the options you choose.
If you’re worried your mom not keeping up with her medications, there are a wide variety of pill organizers, medication dispensing and alarm systems (see epill.com) that can help.
One of the best new systems on the market is TabSafe (tabsafe.com). A home-based device that dispenses medicine on schedule, providing reminders to ensure she takes it on time, and will notify you or other caregivers if her pills aren’t taken.
Medication reminding services like OnTimeRx (ontimerx.com) or Check-in Friends (checkinfriends.com) can also be helpful. For a small fee, these services will call your mom to remind her to take her medication. Pillphone.com offers a similar service for wireless phones only.
Videophones have become an increasingly popular tool for keeping in touch with older loved ones from afar. If you’re not familiar with them, videophones are like a telephone with a built-in camera and video screen that gives you the ability to see the person you’re talking to in real time. Two of the best on the market today are the “ASUS Videophone Touch” that works with Skype (skype.com), and the “ACN IRIS 3000” (myacn.com). Both require a high-speed Internet connection and are simple to use. Or, if your mom, and you, both have a home computer and a webcam you can video-chat online.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.