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Safety and Security

Issues to Consider

Gaining peace of mind.

What are you worried about? Do you have safety concerns about your parents? Do you get pangs thinking they might need help and you won’t be there, or you won’t know where they are?

Many people, even with mild dementia, may be able to stay home with technology—or delay dependency. (Of course, if they are a danger to themselves, they can’t live by themselves.)

Decide what you need. It might be simple: you’re scared that your mother will leave the stove on? An automatic switch can turn it off. For decades, timed switches have ensured that there’s plenty of light when it gets dark, or that the lights turn off when not being used.

Having a well-connected house.

Today’s devices are becoming more sophisticated. You can remotely check and/or control the air conditioning, heat or doors from your phone, tablet or computer, and see what Dad is doing in real time. The companies Nest and Alarm.com, for example, sell “smart” products, including thermostats, cameras and fire alarm systems. The thermostat learns a person’s day and bedtime habits and turns heat on and off accordingly, for instance. The camera can show you what Mom (or the paid caregiver) is up to 24/7 via live streaming, and survey outside doors to make sure everything is okay. If there’s a security problem, you are alerted. Many phone companies also offer these features.

Understanding Personal Emergency Response Systems.

PERS technology, which stands for “personal emergency response system,” fosters independence for users and peace of mind for family caregivers. “Electronic panic buttons” are worn around the neck, on the wrist or belt, or carried in a pocket or purse.

By pressing a button on the gadget, Mom notifies family members or trained professionals that she needs help. PERS may (or may not) have fall detection and automatically alert others to a potential problem—your parent doesn’t have to do a thing.

Some PERS only work around the house, but many are mobile PERS (m-PERS) that go everywhere Mom is–on the golf course, walking around the neighborhood, or visiting the grandkids in another state (i.e. GreatCall Splash, Philips Lifeline’s GoSafe, MobileHelp, and Nortek’s Numera).

GPS (Global Positioning System) technology in PERS knows your parent’s exact location, and the voice function allows trained call center professionals to ask what the problem is and summon help. (PERS usually have a one-time installation fee as well as a monthly fee.)

Monitoring and tracking.

If your parent has dementia and wanders or gets lost, GPS is particularly useful. Some devices let you set up parameters or boundaries (called “geofencing”) of where a person can and can’t go, such as BrickHouse; you get alerted if they stray. Most gadgets with GPS are PERS, but not all. One company (GPS SmartSole) embeds a tracking device in the sole of a shoe; you keep tabs on Dad remotely.

The technology you choose can be ultra simple or have a multitude of functions. For instance, it may be a PERS but also have the ability to schedule lights, lock doors and adjust the thermostat. Or, you might prefer a PERS that comes with a medication reminder or a cell phone and PERS combined (GreatCall’s Jitterbug Flip or Smart).

Maybe Mom won’t wear a PERS, but you need to know that she’s getting up and moving around, or is not leaving the house at odd hours. Instead of a PERS, you might opt for easy-to-install wireless sensors that attach to objects your parent most uses: the refrigerator or toaster, the bathroom door, the bed or a favorite recliner, let’s say. You set the rules on your tablet, computer or smartphone (i.e. if Mom doesn’t get up and move around after 10 a.m., or she goes out the front door after 8 p.m., you receive a text). Sensor companies include Alarm.com, Onkol, sen.se’s Mother and Evermind.

On the market, too, is a wearable wrist sensor device (CarePredict Tempo) that monitors and records daily patterns, including sleeping and eating, and sends alerts when there are changes.