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Technology Report: Digital Check-In Services and Apps Can Ease Concerns if an Aging Loved One Lives Alone

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For millions of adult sons and daughters, there is one source of anxiety that more than any other preoccupies their minds: the safety of an aging parent living alone. Even if your mom or dad lives fairly close by, you simply can’t be there 24/7, especially if your parent insists on maintaining their cherished independence. Moreover, if you and your parent are separated by any distance at all, you likely can’t help worrying over any period of silence. Is Dad okay? Did Mom fall down the stairs with no one there to help? What’s the solution?

Once again, this week we turn to Jim Miller, who edits a popular website called The Savvy Senior, for a practical article on how to use technology to help – at least to some degree – to put your mind at rest. Miller, in his regular column in the newspaper The Oklahomanreceived an inquiry from a reader who called herself “Worrywart.” Her 82-year-old mother lives 200 miles away, and the daughter said she is in a constant state of concern. She asked Miller if he could recommend any services that will check in on elderly seniors who live alone.

Fortunately, Miller had several suggestions to offer, as we’ll see. Most involve using some of today’s digital solutions which, even for “technophobes,” are well worth another look. The devices have become more capable and simpler to use, and costs of services keep dropping.  Here’s how Miller answered Worrywart. Maybe his answers are what you’ve been looking for.

A Variety of Technical Solutions to Keep Loved Ones Safe

“There are actually several different types of check-in services, along with some simple technology devices, that can help keep your mom safe at home while providing you some peace of mind,” Miller responded in his Oklahoman column to “Worrywart”.  Here are his top picks, grouped by category:

Use a Check-in App with a Smartphone

In his column, Miller suggests that, if your elderly loved one uses a smartphone, there are easy-to-use solutions available. He cites a free app, available for both iPhone and Android, that can help you check in regularly, called Snug. “This app is used by thousands of elderly seniors who live alone and want to make sure that if something happens to them, their loved ones will be notified quickly so they can receive help in minutes, rather than days,” Miller writes.

Snug is described as very user-friendly, and the idea is quite simple. Miller explains: “After downloading the app, your mom will choose what time(s) throughout the day she’d like for Snug to check in. Snug will send a push notification at those times asking your mom to check in by tapping the big green check button on her smartphone screen. If she doesn’t check in within 10 minutes or respond after multiple pings, Snug will notify her emergency contacts and share her last known location so that she can receive fast help.”

As stated, the app is free. But it does have a premium option that adds a few more perks. For $10 a month, Snug will not only alert emergency contacts but “will request an in-person wellness check by a police officer who will visit her house to confirm she’s OK and provide assistance as needed.”  Depending on your loved one’s needs, this service could be well worth it. The Snug system is described here.

Use the Telephone for Automated Check-in Calls

But if your loved one doesn’t use a smartphone, never fear: there are still viable options. For an approach using trusted, old-school technology, Miller suggests using a daily check-in call service program. “These are telephone reassurance programs usually run by police or sheriff’s departments in hundreds of counties across the country and are usually provided free of charge,” he writes. They work with regular cell phones and land lines.

Once again, the basic concept is simple, and still relies on automation. “A computer automated phone system would call your mom at a designated time each day to check in,” Miller explains. “If she answers, the system will assume everything is OK. But if she didn’t pick up or if the call goes to voice mail after repeated tries, you (or whoever her designee is) would get a notification call. If you are not reachable, calls are then made to backup people who’ve also agreed to check on your mom if necessary.” If no one can be reached, police or other emergency services will be dispatched to your loved one’s home.

This service is not available everywhere, but it’s worth finding out if it’s active where you live. Miller suggests, “To find out if this service is available in your mom’s community, call her local police department’s nonemergency number. You should also check with the Area Agency on Aging in your mom’s area — call 800-677-1116 for contact information. If, however, her community doesn’t have a call check-in program, there are businesses like CARE (Call-Reassurance.com) and IAmFine (Iamfine.com) that offer similar services for under $15 per month.”

Explore a Wide Range of Digital Devices

As you may have guessed, there are also lots of great technology-based aids to help keep your loved one safe and give you peace of mind. Miller writes, “One of the most commonly used devices for this is a medical alert system that cost about $1 per day. These systems come with a wearable ‘help button’ that would allow her to call for help 24/7.”

But he adds, “Another option that’s becoming increasingly popular is smart speakers, like Amazon Alexa or Google Home. These devices work with third-party applications — AskMyBuddy.net and MySOSFamily.com — that would let your mom to call multiple emergency contacts with a simple verbal command.”

For the millions of families who use Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker system, you may want to look into Alexa Together (Amazon.com/AlexaTogether), which is, according to Miller, “a new $20 monthly subscription service that helps families support and keep tabs on their older loved ones who live alone through an Alexa-enabled device.” We found an interesting recent review of the service here.

Living with constant worry over your aging loved one’s health is a tough burden to bear. But fortunately – and increasingly – there are technological solutions that can help, even though there’s no substitute for the human touch. The bottom line is clear: no matter your circumstances, there are programs and devices available for your situation. We hope that this list gives you some great places to start your research.

My Life, My Plan, My Way: Get Started on the Path to Retirement Success

At AgingOptions we believe the key to a secure retirement is the right retirement plan – yet statistics show that 70 percent of retirement plans fail. That’s why for nearly two decades we’ve been dedicated to the proposition that a carefully-crafted, fully comprehensive retirement plan is the best answer to virtually any contingency life may throw your way as you age.  Our slogan says it all: My Life, My Plan, My Way.

When it comes to retirement planning, most people focus on one fairly narrow issue: money. Financial planning is an important component of retirement planning. However, people heading towards retirement often make the mistake of thinking that a little financial planning is all that’s required, when in fact most financial plans are woefully inadequate. What about your medical coverage? What if you have to make a change in your housing status – will that knock your financial plan off course? Are you adequately prepared legally for the realities of retirement and estate planning? And is your family equipped to support your plans for the future as you age?

The best way we know of to successfully blend all these elements together – finance, medical, housing, legal and family – is with a LifePlan from AgingOptions. Thousands of people have discovered the power of LifePlanning and we encourage you to the same. Simply visit our website and discover a world of retirement planning resources.  Make certain your retirement planning is truly comprehensive and complete with an AgingOptions LifePlan.  Age on!

(originally reported at www.oklahoman.com)

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