Long-Distance Caregiving Made Easier with Technology

Bethesda Health | June 21, 2018

A dizzying array of technologies are available to help caregivers remotely monitor activities of seniors in their home. Studies show that about 15 percent of caregivers live an hour or more away from the senior or seniors for whom they are caring, so these technologies are becoming vital for staying in touch.

The following is a sampling of the available devices and systems to assist in long-distance caregiving. Decisions about what is the most appropriate for seniors, family members, and caregivers should only be made after careful research and group discussion.

What’s happening in the home?

According to Chandelle Martel, Manager of the Bethesda Care Management Program, the technology must equate to the care and safety needs of the senior loved one. “Out of love and concern, you can overwhelm an aging loved one with everything that is available,” she says.

“The primary concern for the remote caregiver is wanting to know what is happening in the home,” Chandelle continues. “Has the senior fallen? Are they taking their medications correctly, or at all?”

BeClose is a sensor technology in which wireless sensors placed throughout the home transmit information to the BeClose website, allowing caregivers to log in and monitor daily activities. The information can also be sent to handheld devices.

Users can tailor the technology to monitor specific areas and situations in the home: Has the senior stayed in bed for an abnormally long period of time? Which doors have been opened? Is the senior engaging in activity that is not the norm for her or him?

Another option, the GrandCare System, uses a large touchscreen in the home to provide seniors with social communications, instructions, reminders, medication prompts, and web-based entertainment. Caregivers can log into a portal to access the system. Wireless activity and environmental sensors can be added to notify caregivers by phone, email, or text if something seems amiss or wellness readings fall out of range.

Some of these systems can detect falls and track seniors that are prone to wander. According to Chandelle, Bethesda uses medical alert pendants that residents can use to call staff in an emergency.

Did they take their medications?

Thanks to technology options, long-distance caregivers can learn the answer to this question and more concerning their loved one’s health. A system called “Lively” provides a sensor to be placed on pill containers to monitor usage. Sensors can also be placed on refrigerator and pantry doors as well, to see if their senior loved one is eating and drinking on a regular schedule.

TabSafe is a medication management system that reminds seniors to take the medications that it dispenses. It then posts information on compliance, the medications’ remaining in inventory and other health information. Remote caregivers are kept informed via a secure website.

“The caregiver notification, is a vital part of these systems,” says Chandelle. “Keeping seniors on a medication schedule that may be complex and change quickly can be a challenge for both the senior and the caregiver, and distance only adds to the complexity.”

Voice-first technology

Ask My Buddy is an app accessible through Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Microsoft Cortana. When a senior tells Alexa or Google Home, “Ask my buddy to send help,” a text message, email, or automated phone call is made to everyone on that person’s list. The group is then advised to check on the senior. The alerts can be sent to groups of any size, including an individual.

Another voice-first technology designed for seniors, LifePod, can activate on its own without a verbal command. It will initiate a conversation based on preconfigured schedules. It could be a reminder to take medications, call a family member, or get some exercise. If the senior does not confirm taking the medications or doesn’t respond to a number of pre-set checks, a text is automatically sent to a caregiver or family member.

‘Easier’ long-distance caregiving isn’t easy

Yes, technology can make long-distance caregiving “easier,” but that doesn’t mean it is easy.

“As the adult children of seniors, many caregivers who can’t be in the home struggle with guilt,” says Chandelle. “It’s a destructive emotion that takes its toll, so you have to accept what you can do.”

However, she also advises not to make technology a substitute for human contact. Older adults and seniors require ample socialization for their overall well-being. “Technology can’t tell you about the physical and emotional state of your loved one,” she says. “And when you can’t be there, the most important act of caring is still extremely low-tech. Tell them you love them.”

As the primary caregiver of a senior loved one, you may need a helping hand. Bethesda’s Care Management team will create a customized care plan for your senior loved one and ensure that they receive all the care they need. To learn more about our Care Management program, give us a call.

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