Consumer Reports published an article on May 13, 2015, entitled “Tech Support for Long-Distance Caregivers, Devices that Promise to Help You Monitor a Loved One’s Health and Activity”. The well-reasoned article provided surprising statistics in regard to long-distance caregivers, such as the fact that there are about 7 million long-distance caregivers in the United States, citing the National Institute on Aging.
The purpose of the article was to inform long-distance caregivers of all of the technological advances that have been made that would allow long-distance caregivers to keep tabs on their loved ones. For example, there are monitors that would enable a caregiver from a distance to be sent information in regard to their loved one’s weight, blood pressure, glucose, and heart rate, as well as indications as to whether there any irregular heart rhythms or irregularities.
There are even pill dispensers that will provide reminders to the person to take their pills, and in the event that they do not, their long-distance caregiver can be sent a text message or other alert notifying them of the fact that the medications were not taken. Other advances are things such as tracking the loved one’s activity and steps, to their sleep patterns, and even the ability to put GPSes into the soles of a loved one’s shoes to be able to track their whereabouts.
I was also intrigued by some of the sensors and other monitoring that can be done – everything from carbon monoxide levels in the home to information being sent in regard to the climate of the home, and video and financial monitoring. The financial monitoring was intriguing, as any time the parent spends money, the caregiver can be sent a notice of exactly what was spent and on what.
These advances are incredible, and certainly, there is value in them, particularly for a child who lives four to five hours away from a parent. However, there are significant privacy issues which must also be considered. By their very nature, some of these tools are quite invasive, so before anyone uses these technologies, a good exercise is to put oneself in the position of the elderly parent and evaluate how we would feel if these tools were used to monitor us.
Unquestionably, these tools are meant to be protections for our loved ones, and in the right circumstance, they can be extremely valuable. However, they also can be easily overused, and perhaps even be abused. As with so much of our technology today, we must walk a thin tightrope to find the balance, and avoid exploitation or abuse of seniors. Technology is developing so rapidly that it is outpacing the ethical issues which each new innovation raises.
Open, honest, and complete dialogue between long-distance caregivers and their loved ones is always the best way to approach these issues. In most cases, these technologies should not be used as a first resort, or without the consent and advice of the senior; if the senior does not understand what they are agreeing to or what the implications to their privacy are, then the caregiver should always look for a less intrusive alternative, and balance the need against the loss of privacy.
Consider the issue from the senior’s perspective, and only go as far as is absolutely necessary for the protection of the senior. For example, if a parent is prone to wandering off, then it might make sense to employ a tracking device, but if he or she is not spending improperly, do you need financial monitoring technologies? In making those determinations, never lose sight of the ethical and privacy implications.
Good luck to all of you who are in this unenviable position! If you have questions about your family situation and need support planning or caring for your elder loved one, contact us today!