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Sunday July 25, 2021

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How to Keep a Watchful Eye on an Aging Parent

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

Depending on how closely you want to monitor your mother and what she is comfortable with, 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-in to make sure your mom is okay every day, consider signing her up with a daily check-in call service program. There are telephone reassurance programs run by police or sheriff's departments in hundreds of counties across the country. These are usually provided free of charge.

This is 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 assumes everything is okay. If she does not pick up or if the call goes to voicemail after repeated tries, you (or her other designee) would get a notification call. If you are not reachable, calls are then made to backup designees who have agreed to check on your mom, if necessary. 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 is not offered, there are other organizations or companies you can turn to that provide similar services.

One completely free service is Mon Ami (, 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, make sure everything is okay and will 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 cannot be there.

Some retailers offer a wearable wrist device that provides activity monitoring, a 24/7 emergency help button, medication reminders or a GPS locator to determine your mom's whereabouts when she is away from her home.

These may be linked to a family caregiver smartphone or tablet application to keep you and other loved ones in the loop. Many of these retailers offer the devices for free, but require a monthly subscription fee. The subscription fee is dependent on the level of monitoring desired.

If your mom is primarily homebound, another option to consider is a sensor-monitoring system. 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 is watching TV. This will let you know if something out of the ordinary is happening. For instance, if she went to the bathroom and did not return, it could indicate a fall or other emergency.

Many of these sensor monitoring systems allow you to check up on her patterns anytime through a corresponding website or smartphone or tablet application. They also offer additional protections, such as emergency call buttons that can be placed around the house.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published August 14, 2020
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