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Tech to Help Your Aging Relatives Stay at Home Longer

caring for aging parents

If you’re in the sandwich generation and caring for aging parents, this article is for you. Our tech expert has rounded up some helpful gadgets that may help your loved ones to stay in their homes longer.

It goes by different names—“independent living,” “non-assisted living,” or the preferred “aging in place”—but they mean the same thing: growing older without having to move to a healthcare environment.

In fact, 91 percent of aging adults want to stay in their own homes as they age, according to a survey of Canadian boomers commissioned by RBC.

Today, high-tech monitoring systems and other gadgets are helping seniors age in place independently, while also giving family members peace of mind. After all, many Canadian adults find themselves in the sandwich generation, balancing care for kids and teens, while also looking after an aging loved one.

What’s more, home-based tech tools could be far less expensive than moving into an assisted living environment.

The following is a look at some of the main “aging in place” tech categories, as well as some potential products to try.

Emergency pendants and smartwatches

Worn around the wrist or neck, an emergency pendant can be pressed in case of an emergency, such as after a fall, and a call is immediately made to 911 and/or pre-programmed numbers of family members.

Features may vary between solutions, though. For example, some work outside, offer two-way voice support or have a “fall detection” feature so loved ones are notified even if a senior isn’t able to press the button. 

Apple Watch SE (from $329) offers fall detection and an emergency SOS feature, as well as a heart rate monitor. The pricier Apple Watch Series 9 (from $549) offers additional sensors to help gauge the wearer’s health. Both don’t let you talk to someone if you fall, but at least there’s no monthly monitoring fee.

Philips Lifeline starts at $43.95 per month for their HomeSafe landline version. They offer a cellular model for those without a landline and one that can be used outdoors (with GPS). You can chat with someone through the device if you fall, or, if you don’t answer (or say you need help), emergency services will be dispatched.

Similarly, TELUS Health Medical Alert System starts at $40 per month for an in-home solution that provides 24/7 emergency support (but without fall detection), while the $60/month option can be used on the go and includes fall detection and a caregiver app to stay connected. Both options, which are water-resistant, require a minimum 1-year plan.

Sensors

Rather than calling your loved one several times a day to check in, activity-based sensors around the home can discretely reassure family that your loved one is up and carrying about their daily business. If not, a remote family member, caregiver or emergency response service is alerted via phone, email or text message if an at-risk elderly person is doing (or not doing) something worrisome. For example, it could detect if a senior hasn’t left their bedroom at their usual time or if they haven’t opened the fridge door or medicine cabinet in, say, five hours. Installation, which is often handled by a professional, is often folded into the monitoring cost.

Alarm.com’s Wellness independent living solution integrates a suite of sensors and devices, and applies machine learning algorithms to the data they generate to proactively detect changes that may suggest risks. Wellness can report about changes in activity levels, sleeping and eating patterns, bathroom visit frequency and medication adherence, as well as emergency situations like wandering out of the home or falls.

Less intrusive than video cameras, sensors can go on doors, windows, cabinets, chairs, under bed sheets, and so on.

Coupled with Alarm.com’s home security solution, Wellness is about $50/month, after installation costs, but pricing depends on the service provider and the exact mix of devices and sensors.

Medication reminders and dispensers 

It’s a potentially dangerous scenario for many seniors: You’re on medication but you forget to take it (or worse, you cannot remember whether you took pills or not, so you take them again). This problem has attracted lots of innovation over the past few years, and a handful of products are designed to remind, dispense and/or manage medication. 

Smart speakers (like Google Nest Mini, $69) and smart screens (like Amazon Echo Show, from $89) can remind you to take your pills. Similarly, a product like the Reminder Rosie Talking Alarm Clock ($249), a voice-controlled clock with a large display, is ideal for one-time reminders or repeated tasks. The hands-free gizmo plays messages for you at the desired time—and can even be recorded by a loved one, if you prefer to hear a familiar voice.

From $99, pill dispensers are another popular category of products—with several players including LiveFine, Philips, e-Pill and others—that can remind you when it’s time to take medication and dispense the proper medication at the correct time, often when paired with a companion app.

Video cameras

Video chatting— via a camera on a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer’s webcam —is great way to communicate, consensually, with your aging relatives. In fact, compared to a regular phone call, video can be a much more effective way for caregivers to gauge how the senior is doing, based on how they look or act, or the state of their home in the background. A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words.

Popular video services—like Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, Teams, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or FaceTime— work on multiple devices, and do not cost anything when used over Wi-Fi connectivity with other users on the same platform. Often, younger and/or more tech-savvy family members can set the senior up with an account and show how to place and accept a video call.

Many seniors enjoy having a virtual “face-to-face” visit or meal with friends or relatives on a daily or weekly basis.

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