How to Use Technology to Monitor Elderly Parents

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Updated: October 15, 2020

technology for monitoring elderly parents

No matter if you are caring for aging parents in your own home or from afar, you might wonder if you are doing enough to keep your loved ones safe. The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that you are not alone in your care-giving role…or in your state of stress. More than 32 million Americans report being an informal caregiver to their aging loved one, with just under half of those caregivers caring for older adults living with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.

Family caregivers are stressed out and overworked, trying to find ways to care for their aging loved ones while managing daily responsibilities, work tasks, and other family obligations. Thanks to this stress, family caregivers are more likely to have depression and use unhealthy coping mechanisms, both of which can lead to negative health outcomes immediately and in the long-term.

Fortunately, there are ways family caregivers can provide the care and oversight their aging loved ones need. Today, technology and tech-related innovations have made keeping up with aging parents a bit easier. On the top of the list? Using technology to monitor elderly parents through sensors, Life Alert Systems, and more.

Why Use Technology to Monitor Elderly Parents

Seniors living at home face unique challenges that can keep them from feeling safe and independent. Also, many older adults want to remain at home for as long as possible and turn to their loved ones to provide extra support and oversight. Family caregivers, however, cannot always live with their loved one or be there 24 hours a day to help with daily tasks or emergency response.

This is where technology comes in. Innovations have been made in the home monitoring space that are excellent and affordable options for seniors living at home alone, with a partner, or with their family caregivers. 

You might use technology to monitor your elderly parents because:

  • You are worried they are falling at home and not always reporting it to you or their physician
  • They have a diagnosis of dementia or cognitive decline
  • You aren’t sure if they are taking their medications on time and correctly
  • They have a history of falling
  • You want to make sure they are staying active throughout the day and not just sitting on the couch
  • You want to be sure they are safe when they are outside of the home or driving
  • They are up frequently in the middle of the night and you are worried about their safety

No matter why you choose to use technology to help monitor what is happening with your aging loved one, it is important to choose one that suits your needs and budget.

What do Elderly Monitoring Systems Do?

Elderly monitoring systems are as unique as the seniors and families they serve. Each type of monitoring system comes with its own benefits, drawbacks, and costs. It is up to you to find one that meets the needs of your situation.

Elderly monitoring systems can:

  • Give you access to an app that provides a daily dashboard of activity
  • Information about if your loved one is taking medications as needed, as well as if they miss a dose
  • Alert you if your loved one falls or if they call emergency services
  • Give you a way to communicate with your loved one without using their smartphone
  • Provide you with reports and insight that you can share with their physician

Types of Remote Systems for Monitoring the Elderly

Elderly monitoring systems are not one size fits all, and that is okay. After all, seniors have different needs and challenges. A majority of monitoring systems can be separated into two general categories: wearable technology and home-based technology.

Wearable technology is ready to monitor and assist seniors anywhere they are, whether in the home, in the car, in the garden, or at the grocery store. Home-based technology is designed to monitor the senior in the home and typically does not include a wearable device.

Grandparent Monitor

The general term “grandparent monitor” is most commonly used when describing home-based technology. This type of technology includes sensors or motion detectors as well as a central communication base. The Cherry Home system is an excellent example of this type of technology, ideal for older adults who live at home alone or with a partner and who are not good candidates for wearing pendants or other devices.

technology to monitor elderly parents

Systems like Cherry Home use sensors to establish a baseline for movement around the home, making it easier for the system to detect a fall. Image credit: Cherry Home

The Cherry Home system includes sensors that are placed throughout the home, typically in high traffic areas like the kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom. After the sensors are in the home for five days, the system sets a baseline for the senior’s typical movements. The system then uses this baseline to help determine if a fall has taken place. The system includes a communication device as well so the system can call emergency responders or family members if there is a fall or emergency.

If you are searching for a home-based monitoring system for your situation, here are a few good questions to ask when determining which one to go with:

  • How is my loved one’s privacy protected?  Look for systems that use stick figures instead of videos, especially in areas like the bathroom or bedroom
  • What are the WiFi requirements for my home in order for the system to work?
  • What is the monthly service fee?
  • How far outside of the home does the system reach?

Grandparent monitor systems are ideal for seniors who are homebodies, and who may feel nervous about being home alone in case of emergency.

Baby Monitors for Dementia Patients

If your aging loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, sleep disruption is quite common. If your loved one lives at home with you, it can be especially frustrating and even frightening when your loved one is up and about in the middle of the night. Some family members turn to an unlikely source as a solution to the nighttime concerns: a baby monitor.

While older adults are certainly not babies, a baby monitor can provide family members with an affordable way to monitor their loved one in the night without getting out of bed themselves. Baby monitors can provide:

  • Audio and video monitoring capability
  • A discreet way of checking in without diminishing dignity
  • 2-way communication so you can gently prompt your loved one back to bed without getting up

You can find a variety of baby monitors online or in stores, and you might have to try a few before finding one that works for your home. However, if nighttime is the source of your biggest caregiver stressor, the trial and error until you find the perfect one is well worth the investment.

Movement Sensors

Movement sensors are found in home-based technology, such as the Cherry Home system. However, movement sensors are also on wearable technology, giving seniors and their family members more peace of mind no matter where they are going.

technology to monitor elderly parents

Wearable devices that are outfitted with GPS and WiFi technology are excellent options for seniors on the go. Image credit: Medical Guardian

Movement sensors are on a variety of common wearable devices ranging from the Apple Watch (series 4 and beyond) and the majority of the Family Guardian line of wearable products. These movement sensors can detect a fall, giving the senior the opportunity to push a button to say if they need help or if they are okay. If the user does not respond in a timely fashion, the device calls the emergency responders in the area or the monitoring center.

Fortunately, most wearable devices feature advanced GPS capabilities as well, allowing emergency responders or family members to locate the wearer at any time. This way, there is never any extra waiting for the senior to say where they are when they need assistance. Further, most wearable devices also feature a corresponding app or desktop dashboard that allows the senior to input a list of family members who can see information about emergency calls, falls, or other situations.

If you are searching for wearable devices for your loved one that feature movement sensors, consider asking questions like:

  • Is there a monthly service fee and what does it include?
  • How much does the device itself cost?
  • How long does the battery last? How long does it take to charge it to full capacity?
  • Is it easy enough for my loved one to operate now and in the future?

Life Alert for Seniors

Life Alert Systems is perhaps the most well-known emergency and monitoring system among seniors and their family members. While the Life Alert started out as a simple wearable device that had a button for seniors to push in case they fell and couldn’t get back up, it now offers a variety of services and solutions for older adults and their family members.

The Life Alert price varies based on the services and devices you choose. When it comes to device options, Life Alert offers a variety:

  • Wearable pendant
  • Large call button used in the shower
  • An app
  • You can also opt to have a device that works within the home or one that is GPS enabled and can go with you while out and about

The Bottom Line

If your loved one is struggling to live at home independently, or if you are just looking for a way to have more peace of mind when you aren’t with them, monitoring technology can provide you with the solutions you need to keep your loved one safe. There are a lot of options, which is a good thing! But, it can also feel overwhelming when you start to narrow down your choices.

Make your decision a bit easier by beginning to list out your concerns or common frustrations to see what type of monitoring might best suit your situation. Then, determine if a home-based option or a wearable solution would make the most sense. After you narrow down your choices that way, you can begin to search for solutions that match your budget. Remember to ask plenty of questions prior to purchasing and then to expect a bit of a learning curve when you first install or use the system.

Soon, you and your loved one will be experts at the technology and system you chose. You both will have the extra support and peace of mind that will decrease some of your stress.