5 Questions Caregivers Must Ask Before Buying Technology
By Sally Abrahms
Technology for family caregivers can be a godsend or it can be overwhelming and unhelpful. It can give siblings updates,
coordinate appointments and care, make sure Mom takes her medicine and ensure that she’s safe. On the other hand, family
caregiver technology can be overly complicated and pricey. And, while customer support can be terrific, it can also be
Gadgets abound like Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) that let Dad get help 24/7, wireless sensors that track movement
and alert you if something is out of the ordinary, or apps and websites that organize care and communication. There are
also plenty of choices for safety technology.
But how do family caregivers know what to buy? Here’s what to keep in mind:
Does it serve your goal? It may look great, the price might be right, but is it what you need? If you want
to be able to check on Mom anytime from anywhere, would an app on your iPhone do the trick? Can family members also
log into a special website? If you want to make sure Dad does not open the door and wander outside, does the gadget
have GPS that signals you or someone else if he does? Or, are you just supposed to hope for the best? Tech can also
make sure prescriptions are refilled and offer an efficient way to tell when medication has expired so there’s no
If your parent has dementia and needs to take medicine at a certain time, does the device notify them when it’s
time and automatically unlock the pills? Will it let you know if they forget it altogether? (Medicine is a big issue:
Not taking it or taking it at the wrong time or the wrong way can lead to poor health and hospitalization.)
You don’t need a product with all the bells and whistles. It needs to just have what you need. Ask yourself which
of your needs are most important.
How easy is it to use? The technology can meet your goal but might not be user-friendly. Does it sync across
different platforms (smartphone, tablet, computer)? If you want it to talk and give you information (hark, Siri,
Alexa and Google Home), does it? Is it no problem to input information or requests into a shared family website or
is it cumbersome? What you get should simplify your life, not frustrate you.
Is there good customer support? If something doesn’t work or you don’t know how to use it, you need help
fast. Is there a call center, a special number to call or live online chat? Extra points: if it’s a call center,
does the company know the caller and have notes from previous interactions or a personal profile? If you need to,
can you get training about the product, follow up or get instructions via email, video or a website.
Find out what their policy is for returning the gadget. If there’s a subscription service, know what the terms are
and if you can cancel.
How long has the product been around? It might be new and suit your purposes, but in general, there’s no
advantage to getting the latest, coolest gadget if the company isn’t going to be in business long. And, the coolest
isn’t always the simplest.
What do others with similar needs use?
Do friends have a product that saves them time, does a task or offers peace of mind? If you have a specific
purpose, do some research. Go online and see what is out there. Visit company sites. Check out discussions, caregiver
forums and articles on family caregiver technology.
Ask for recommendations from your local senior center or
TArea Agency on Aging, check Consumer Reports and the Better Business Bureau for complaints.
Good news! In the next couple of years, there will be even more technology choices for caregivers. And then, as
now, you will be discerning because you will know the best questions to ask.