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Caring for an aging relative? Guide to tech that can help

Caring for an aging parent can be difficult, especially in the midst of a pandemic, when face-to-face interaction with senior family members should be limited as much as possible.

But the risks of sending an aging parent to a nursing home for care are just as real as face-to-face interactions right now, too. As of late May 2020, about 42% of all COVID-19 deaths had taken place in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, Forbes reports.

Where does that leave you if you’re caring for elderly parents or other relatives? Well, luckily there are some tech options that can help. These gadgets can fill in the gaps and make caring for an elderly parent easier now and in the post-pandemic years.

Let’s take a look at the options.

Medical alert systems and fall detection

If you’re concerned about your parent getting hurt without a way to call for help, consider a medical alert or fall detection system. This option is perfect for elderly family members who want the independence of living alone but either need a closer (virtual) eye or are at risk of falling.

Medical alert systems kick into action in an emergency, calling medical personnel automatically. Most emergency alert systems offer monitoring whether your loved one is in or out of their home, too.

One of the most well-known options is Life Alert, known for those “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” commercials. Life Alert offers a waterproof pendant monitoring system that can be used with a landline or cell phone.

If your loved one opts to tether their device to a cell phone, Life Alert will work when they’re out and about, too. They still have their freedom and you have the the peace of mind that they’re safe.

Life Alert plans range from about $50 to $90 per month.

Another popular option is Medical Guardian, which connects your loved one with help with the push of a button, or in some cases when a fall is detected. This monitoring system offers a ton of options, including the traditional in-home medical alert system that tethers to a landline, an in-home cellular option, two mobile and GPS devices, a smartwatch and fall detection.

Medical Guardian starts at around $30 per month.

Smart speakers

If your loved one already uses a smart speaker like a Google Nest or Amazon Echo, you’re a step ahead. You can set up your smart speakers to assist in emergencies, and some will even call 911. Let’s take a quick look at what each one can do.

Amazon Echo

The emergency capabilities of your Amazon Echo include:

  • Sending alerts using apps
  • Obtaining assistance from non-emergency numbers with Alexa skills
  • Use external hardware like Amazon’s Echo Connect device (which was recently discontinued) to call 911 directly from a landline

Google Home, now known as Google Nest

The emergency capabilities of your Google Nest include:

  • Calling 911 if you’re a Google Nest Aware subscribers
  • Automatically connecting to the nearest 911 call center if your loved one is out and about (for a quicker response)

Apple HomePod

The emergency capabilities of your Apple HomePod include:

  • Calling 911 by simply saying, “Hey Siri, call 911”

For directions on how to set up your smart speaker to assist in emergencies, tap or click here.

Home security system

Home security systems aren’t just used for monitoring for break-ins and fires. They can also be used to assist in emergencies and assure your elderly family member is safe from threats like carbon monoxide, smoke, water leaks or even frozen pipes.

We recommend SimpliSafe. The equipment for a SimpliSafe system is affordable but high-quality — and the equipment doesn’t require any special technical skills to install.

In addition to the environmental monitoring offered by SimpliSafe, you can rest assured that your loved one is safe thanks to security cameras, glass break sensors and indoor motion sensors.

Apple Watch

That Apple Watch you bought your grandmother last Christmas isn’t just to ensure that she got your texts. You can also help her set up a few features that are literally life-saving.

For example, you can use the ECG app for heart monitoring. This built-in app is simple to use — your loved one simply has to hold their finger on the Digital Crown for 30 seconds to obtain a reading, and they can add symptoms if they’re feeling ill. These are tracked in the Health App and can be sent to a physician. How cool is that?

The watch also comes enabled with Emergency SOS and Fall Detection. Fall Detection will even call emergency services for your loved one if they don’t respond to the automatic alert that’s sent to the watch after a fall is detected.

Automatic pill dispensers

Pill dispensers no longer look like the ones you remember your grandparents using when you were a kid. These pill caddies have gotten a high-tech upgrade, and the automatic ones can even meter out the right doses and communicate with smartphones and computers.

Take, for example, the LiveFine Automatic Pill Dispenser, which keeps drug doses locked away until the exact moment they need to be taken. This pill dispenser ensures an elderly relative with memory issues won’t accidentally take their medication at the wrong time or on the wrong day.

Alerts are easily programmed to the minute via the LCD interface — plus you can customize the drug regimen for up to six daily doses.

Another option is the Sagely Smart XL Weekly Pill Organizer, which is super easy to set up and use. All you have to do is add the medications to the compartments and then input the settings for when the medication should be taken. The Sagely app takes care of the rest.

If you don’t want to buy anything new, you can get pill reminders with the free Carezone app. This app lets you scan your family member’s pill bottles to set reminders, get automatic refills and instantly create a detailed list of medications that you can share with doctors.

GPS apps

If your loved one struggles with memory issues and you’re concerned that they may wander away and get lost, consider a GPS app like Life360. You can use Life360 to monitor driving safety, digital safety and location safety — all of which can be helpful when caring for an older loved one.

Life360 offers monitoring options like Advanced Location Sharing, and you can set up and sync your family in a private, invite-only Circle to see each other’s real-time whereabouts. You can also see an ongoing timeline of your family’s past trips and retrace steps — or even see stops that were made along the way.

Digital reminder tech

Another great option is tech you can set it up to remind your loved one about taking their pills or completing other daily chores — which is perfect for people with memory issues who need reminders about eating or bathing, or even turning off the stove.

One of the better digital reminder options is Smpltec’s Reminder Rosie, which helps users stay on task via a hands-free, voice-activated memory aid and daily organizer. This reminder service offers 25 personalized voice reminders that sound an “alarm” or notification that plays until the task is accomplished and turned off.

What’s nice about Reminder Rosie is that it’s not intimidating — it looks like an LED clock with large digits — and it can be used for ongoing or one-time reminders for doctor’s appointments, meal times or other personal tasks. It also doesn’t require Wi-Fi to work.

Are you most concerned about medications?

In that case, the MedMinder Dispenser offers helpful visual and audio alerts. What’s cool about the MedMinder is that it’s the only dispenser that offers daily weather updates, custom greetings from family members, emergency medical alerts and the ability to upload family pictures.

The MedMinder Dispenser works off of built-in cellular connection and WiFi options and even offers an optional medication service that allows you to transfer your loved one’s prescriptions to MedMinder Pharmacy for medication management.

You can also set your smart speaker up to offer digital reminders to your loved one, so if your loved one is already using an Amazon Echo or Apple HomePod for emergency calls or other safety monitoring, it could be worth setting it up to act as a reminder system, too.

Caring for aging loved ones, from near or far, is a difficult task but it’s not impossible. These gadgets can serve as your digital back up.

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