Savvy Senior: How to keep a watchful eye on an aging parent

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Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you recommend any services or technology that help me monitor my elderly mother who lives alone? Since the coronavirus pandemic started last March, my sister and I have noticed that my mom’s health has slipped a bit, so we would like to find something that helps us keep tabs on her when we’re not around.

Concerned Daughter

Dear Concerned

Depending on how closely you want to monitor your mother, and what she’s comfortable with as well, there are check-in call services along with some new monitoring technology devices you can turn to for help. Here are several to consider.

Check-In Calls

If you just want a simple check to make sure your mom is OK every day, consider signing her up with a daily check-in call service program. These are telephone reassurance programs run by police or sheriff’s departments in hundreds of counties across the country and are usually provided free of charge.

Here’s how they work. A computer automated phone system would call your mom at a designated time each day to check-in. If she answers, the system would assume everything is OK. But if she didn’t pick up or if the call goes to voice mail after repeated tries, you (or her other designee) would get a notification call. If you are not reachable, calls are then made to backup people who’ve also agreed to check on your mom if necessary.

The fallback is if no one can be reached, the police or other emergency services personnel will be dispatched to her home.

To find out if this service is available in your mom’s community, call her local police department’s nonemergency number. If it’s not offered, there are other organizations or companies you can turn to that provide similar services.

One that I love that’s completely free to use is Mon Ani (monami.io, 650-267-2474), which offers a volunteer phone bank that provides phone or video calls daily, weekly or anything in between. The volunteer will connect with your mom, provide companionship and make sure everything is OK. And, they’ll let you know if they detect a problem.

Monitoring Technology

Technology also offers a variety of new ways to help you keep an eye on your mom when you can’t be there.

One nifty new option is the Electronic Caregiver’s (electroniccaregiver.com) “Premier” product, which is a wearable wrist device that provides activity monitoring, a 24/7 emergency help button, medication reminders and a GPS locator so you can determine your mom’s whereabouts when she’s away from home.

It’s also linked to a family caregiver app to keep you and other loved ones in the loop. The device is free with a monthly subscription that costs $40 to $60 a month, depending on the level of monitoring.

If your mom is primarily homebound, another option to consider is a sensor-monitoring system like Caregiver Smart Solutions (caregiversmartsolutions.com). This uses small sensors (not cameras) placed in key areas of your mom’s home to track her activities – everything from whether she used the coffee pot to how much she’s watching TV – and will let you know if something out of the ordinary is happening. For instance, if she went to the bathroom and didn’t leave, it could indicate a fall or other emergency.

You can also check up on her patterns anytime you want through the system’s website or app. And for additional protection, it offers emergency call buttons that can be placed around the house. Caregiver Smart Solutions starts at $99 for their activity sensors, plus a $29 monthly service fee.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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