Our busiest day of the year—every year—is the day after Christmas. That’s when the estimated 7 million adult children who have been caring for their aging parents long distance start to panic. Usually one or both of the parents have declined precipitously since the last visit, or the house has fallen into disrepair because of neglect.
Thankfully, technology is starting to catch up to this growing need. While most of the so-called “Silver Tech” market is focused on health-care-related innovations, there are several promising tools coming into the market that can help caregivers monitor a house and its residents long distance. Depending on your aging parents’ needs – and their comfort with technology – here are some options to consider.
Keeping an Eye on Things
Security cameras and so-called “nanny cams” have gotten much smaller and cheaper. If your parents agree, you can add a smartphone app to monitor a house and its occupants from anywhere in the world. Strategically placed cameras—inside and outside—will not only let you see how well your parents are getting around, but will also let you keep an eye on key systems. One in the basement can help you monitor the furnace and alert you to any flooding. Put one on the roof to check for storm damage.
Alarm.com takes security systems to the next level. It’s an app-based program that connects key systems in the house on a single platform so you can monitor a security system, video cameras and even the heating system from your phone. It will automatically alert you if smoke or carbon monoxide is detected, and it will proactively send a signal to emergency personnel and shut down the furnace or air conditioner until the system is inspected. You can also set your alerts, so you can keep track of activity in the house. For example, with monitors in the kitchen you can make sure your parents are eating regularly or taking the medications as needed.
Amazon’s Echo and Google Home are getting smarter every day. Newer generations can control smart appliances around the house, connect to security systems, and perform other home automation tasks when coupled with other technology. For example, earlier this year Amazon unveiled Echo Show, a touch screen that allows you to make live video calls with your parents. Apple is moving a little more slowly into the home automation market with its HomePod and HomeKit, but it’s a good bet that it will catch up quickly.
When Parents Start to Fail
If your parents need more than virtual help, several home health care companies are combining technology with personal care. Honor Care is an app-based company that connects homecare professionals with clients based on their individual needs. For example, someone can come in regularly to help with housework and laundry, or users can schedule a ride to a doctor’s appointment. Using the app, you’ll always know who’s coming when, and can even request a same-day site visit if you’re worried about something.
Hometeam uses a propriety iPad-powered platform to connect families with the company’s in-home caregivers. Family members can use an app to track care and communicate with both their loved ones and the caregiver, and they will receive regular updates through texts, pictures and medical reports. All of its health aids are fulltime employees with health care benefits and a 401K plan, and the company tends to pay above-market salaries to ensure they can recruit and keep the best available employees.
Hello Alfred is one of a growing cadre of companies employing teams of part-time “butlers.” Working through an app, you can provide a list of items that you want checked or chores that you want performed and schedule either one or two home visits a week. You’ll know that light bulbs are being replaced and fresh food is being delivered, and you’ll have someone you trust checking on both your parents and the house.
Those ubiquitous wristbands sported by fitness junkies are getting retooled for the senior care market. GreatCall’s Lively Wearable watch connects to a home hub that monitors sensors scattered around the home. A sensor on fridge can let you know if your parents are eating regularly, and one on the stove can let them know if they left it on. With a press of a button, wearers can call the Lively’s 24/7 monitoring center, but if the watch senses a fall or an unusually long period of inactivity it will initiate a call for help.
For seniors with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other memory issues, several companies now offer shoes or shoe inserts with discreet GPS trackers built in. If the wearer leaves the house or wanders beyond a preset boundary, caregivers are alerted and can quickly locate the wanderer.
Of course, there are still a lot of things that technology can’t do for you. A camera on a roof is no replacement for a visual inspection, especially under the eaves. And as those TV commercials like to remind us, monitoring a problem isn’t the same as fixing it.