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For Caregivers, New Tracking Technology Offers Peace of Mind

Monitors and phones that ensure your loved one's safety, 24/7

By Sherri Snelling | November 30, 2012
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Sherri Snelling, executive director at Keck Medicine of USC and author of A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self-care” while caring for a loved one.

A wealth of new technology is becoming available to make the lives of the nation’s 65 million family caregivers easier, and to better protect their loved ones. Having a conversation with elders about using these products, especially tracking and monitoring devices, may be stressful or uncomfortable, but as two new studies show, there is common ground in a shared concern for safety.
 
In the first study, conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and UnitedHealthcare, seven out of ten caregivers said they would like a product that provides remote monitoring to ensure that their loved one is safe, or so that they can track their medication adherence and vital statistics. In the other study, almost half of Americans over age 65 surveyed by AARP said they are interested in technology that keeps them safe, such as devices that can prevent falls, turn off the stove, or regulate the thermostat. Further, 46% said they would be willing to give up a little privacy in exchange for a monitoring device that could alert their family or others when they needed help.
 
Wearable Safety
 
Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) and Mobile PERS (MPERS) represent an emerging category in the aging technology space. These products typically feature GPS-based tracking devices that enable family caregivers to locate their loved ones at any time and ensure they are safe.In a departure from the clunky designs of earlier models, the unobtrusive trackers produced byLifecomm (a joint venture of Qualcomm, Hughes Telematics, and American Medical Alert) are built into stylish wristwatches, pendants, and belt clips. Lifecomm devices can detect an accidental fall and instantly connect the wearer to emergency assistance. They offer access to emergency support 24 hours a day at the touch of a button and two-way communication via cellular service. They can also provide the wearer and his or her caregiver with activity reports detailing, for example, how many steps the wearer took in the past 30 days. (The products will be available later this year.)

As the 10 million caregivers nationwide who look after people with Alzheimer’s disease know, wandering can become a serious issue as the disease progresses. However, many patients cherish their independence and resist being cut off from the world at large. The walking shoe called simply the GPS shoe may help families balance those needs. Initially designed for use by marathoners and small children, and made in the USA in New Jersey, the shoe has a tiny GPS tracking device embedded in its heel. Older PERS devices had limited range, but products like the GPS allow for more freedom. Family caregivers and their loved one agree to a set perimeter known as a “geofence” or “virtual wall," be it no further than the corner store, or into the next town. As soon as the shoe goes beyond that perimeter, a warning signal is sent to the caregiver via a text, email, or phone call. Google Maps then directs the caregiver to the exact location of their loved one. The GPS shoe brings peace of mind, but at a cost - it runs $299 a pair, and the monthly service costs about $35.
 
Another, simpler service, Comfort Zone, is officially endorsed and offered by the Alzheimer’s Association. With trackers built into pagers, wristbands, or pocket or purse devices, it operates like other MPERS, with a monthly service fee starting at $42.99 plus a $45 activation fee.
 
Phones With Less, and More

More than 60% of Americans over age 74 have a cell phone and many of them have embraced Great Call's Jitterbug phone, with its oversized buttons, large type, powerful speakers, and a minimum of apps and extras. Now Jitterbug offers the 5Star Urgent Response service as well, delivering immediate, 24/7 emergency assistance at the push of a button. It joins other valuable Jitterbug services, such as a 24/7 LiveNurse app and a medication reminder function. Jitterbug phones start at $99 with service plans that begin at $14.99 per month. There is no yearly contract and no cancellation fee. The 5Star Emergency Response service costs an additional $14.99 per month.
 
How to Have the Conversation

If you're a family caregiver seeking to start a conversation with your loved one about obtaining one of these tracking devices, there are four Ps to keep in mind: prevention, protection, privacy and peace of mind.

Begin your discussion with prevention and protection. I counsel caregivers to make sure their loved ones know that caregiving is a partnership (that's another P word for you) that can only succeed when you work together. For example, the federal Centers for Disease Control reports that 2 million seniors are treated in emergency rooms every year because of falls. That's a real risk. If you can establish that you both share the goal of ensuring your loved one's protection and making sure he or she gets attention as quickly as possible to prevent the risk of even more serious injury, then you can move on to the privacy discussion.
 
Most people do not want to be “monitored.” They believe it strips them of their dignity, or worse, infantilizes them. However, if your loved one acknowledges the danger of falling, or becoming lost, with no way to communicate or get help for hours or perhaps days, then you can discuss that these scenarios cannot be prevented without some loss of privacy, and that the GPS technology embedded in the products discussed here simply ensures that help can reach them in an emergency as quickly as possible.
 
This brings us to peace of mind. Your loved one wants independence, but, as our founding fathers found, independence can only be achieved with some sacrifice. Losing a bit of privacy to be safer at every moment will help both you and your loved one sleep more soundly. That sounds like a prescription for health and happiness.