Issues to Consider
Anticipating and addressing health issues.
Technology is handy for family caregivers. It’s a way to discreetly check on your parents to make sure they’re okay–and be assured that if anything is wrong, you’ll know right away. Gadgets and apps can keep Mom independent longer, determine if she is taking her medication and track her health. With easy-to-navigate websites and apps, your parent (and you) can gather health information, log onto support forums to vent, pick up strategies, connect with others in similar straits or fi nd the latest medical treatments and resources on disease-specific organizations.
If you or they want to check exercise levels, look no farther than wearable fitness trackers like Fitbit, Jawbone and smartphones or simple gadgets such as pedometers that measure steps. The Lively Wearable from GreatCall contains a discreet emergency response button with a built-in activity tracker for the active senior.
With medication, the question is not just, “is your dad taking his pills,” but “are they being taken as prescribed?” There are gadgets, known as “medication management systems,” that remind Dad when it’s time for his pills via email, text, phone, a talking voice or a buzzer. If he doesn’t take them, you may be notified by email or text. Most systems let you remotely check on did-he-or-didn’t-he with your phone, tablet or computer.
What do you want the gadget to do? Maybe it’s to program medication remotely to dispense pills at a specific time. In that case, you might consider a product like MedMinder whose dispenser flashes at the scheduled time. (For those with memory loss, another of their models has a locked pill compartment that opens on schedule.) If you don’t take your medicine, the gadget beeps. Still not taking it? A pre-recorded reminder in your family member’s voice reinforces the command. After that, your parent gets a call and, when all else fails, you’re notified. More options: the free app MedBox downloadable from iTunes, MedCoach for Jitterbug phones or OnTimeRX And, Pillpack manages, delivers and packages medication for you.
There are low-tech devices like Reminder Rosie that are also effective. You program a “talking” clock in a family member’s voice (your son or granddaughter?) to tell Mom when she needs medicine: “Hey, Gram, it’s time to take one yellow pill and two red ones. I love you!”
You might decide you need less of a reminder system than a way to organize your parents’ medications. There are free apps (like CareZone) that buzz the phone at pill time and let you share information with others. A bonus: take a picture of a pill bottle and upload it; it gets transcribed and added to their list of medications.
Telehealth, or remote monitoring, can also help family caregivers stay on top of, or head off, a medical problem. They’re often used to monitor chronic conditions, transitions home from the hospital, or older adults who live in rural areas.
Relaying vital information.
Information on vitals and other specific readings can be transmitted, usually to professionals (although sometimes to family caregivers) via telephone, the web or even a wearable device. (Philips’ Telestation and Ideal Life have wireless measurement devices for weight, blood pressure, heart and oxygen saturation; hospitals and doctors may use others. Independa and grandCARE also offer remote monitoring among their other features.)
Vital doctor visits.
Videochats with health care providers can reduce office visits, reinforce post-hospital instructions and address concerns via companies like American Well and Teledoc. Health care professionals may have their own system, but some patients communicate with them via Skype, FaceTime or an online portal.