Monitoring mother

Susan Flanagan
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Big Brother approach may be the future of caring for loved ones

— Photo by Thinkstock

My friend Peter lost his mother last month, a dynamo of a woman who raised seven children and obtained her medical degree in Ireland in 1955.

For Peter, like anyone who’s experienced the death of a close loved one, time stood still and he felt like the whole world should stop what it was doing to grieve his loss. Peter’s mother suffered from advanced Alzheimer’s, which robs the brain of its memory and capacity to think rationally.

One thing Peter and his siblings are grateful for is that their mother was able to stay in her own home with their father right up until her passing. Even though she was at risk of wandering and couldn’t be trusted to take her medication correctly, Peter discovered that there are in-home electronic aids that can be installed to help monitor a loved one’s daily activities. These aids even allow those living off the island to monitor their parents back in Newfoundland.

Keeping things as familiar as possible is one of the best things you can do for Alzheimer’s sufferers, and getting admitted to a nursing home is a frightening experience for someone who can’t understand what they’re doing there.

“In Dad’s house we had (sensors) on the front door that we set so that I would receive a call at home and on my cell if the door was open after, in our case, midnight. This would signal that my mother was wandering (or that someone was breaking in). In addition there was a similar pad on her bed that triggered a call if she got out of bed at night and didn’t return within, say, 20 minutes— again meaning she was lost or had fallen.”

Peter’s father wore a pendant around his neck — think the 1980’s ads “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” — that he could push to alert his loved ones if he or his wife needed help. And Peter had three cameras installed in his parents’ house that he could access if there was no answer on the phone. The system also tracked medication usage and sent him a picture of medication cards (blister packs) after his mother had taken her pills.

Is this the future of caring for loved ones?

Peter thinks so. Compared with $2,000 plus per month for nursing care, a deluxe package with Care Givers is a bargain, he claims, at just $200 per month.

What it boils down to, explains Matthew Head, senior director of operations with Care Givers, is a home security system that’s been modified to accommodate wandering seniors.

“The system can be as elaborate or as simple as a client wants it to be,” says Head. “Clients can add options as their parent’s dementia progresses. You can start off with a door alarm or bed sensor. Then you might move to a video clip on exterior doors, and then you might progress to the ultimate package where cameras can pan certain rooms and you can watch remotely in real time to see where Nan is.”

As for Peter, these aids allowed him and his family to care for his mother in the place she was most comfortable and to spend her last days with the man she loved.

“Dad always recounts the story of his father tying his big toe to Granny’s in the old days so he’d wake up if she wandered,” says Peter. “I guess (this) is the next best thing.”

Susan Flanagan is a writer whose father suffered from dementia and used to wander in the night. He spent the last four months of his life in Escasoni. Susan can be reached at

Geographic location: Ireland, Escasoni

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Recent comments

  • mom
    February 20, 2013 - 06:12

    Many families are making the decision to put their loved ones in a home. There comes a time in our society when this is the right decision for many. I would love to see more people be able to stay in their own homes. I watched an online video called "Dementia: pioneering city of Bruges" which shows one cities way of dealing with the early stages of dementia. As more is learned about dementia, more people are realizing the importance of keeping loved ones in familiar surroundings if at all possible. It is important for family members to receive counselling to help deal with the changes to their loved one.