HELP LINE: Help is only help if it’s wanted and understood

I JUST STUMBLED across something I presented almost exactly 10 years ago (please don’t be concerned, as I seem to stumble a lot).

While I’m sure the prices have changed and I’m absolutely positive that the technology is infinitely more infinite, I think there might be a line of thought here that’s worth repeating repeating

So …

Sometimes it seems that there is no escaping technology. Literally.

Some of us are taking care of kids and aging parents. Some of us are the aging parents and some of us are just … aging.

There’s a lot of us and there will be more.

Furthermore, a lot of us seem to have abandoned the Waltonesque, extended family model — whether out of geographic preference, economic necessity, love or plain good judgment — so we’re not all able to vault from floor to floor, caring for whomever needs to be cared for.

So what’s on the horizon?

Right: technology.

There is a system, currently in use, that will tell the good son what time his mother, two time zones away, got out of bed, what room she went into, how long she stayed there, where she went from there, what time she went into the kitchen and plugged in the coffee pot, then showered and took her weight and blood pressure — and what each of those measurements were.

Then, it will tell him what rooms she traversed throughout the morning, what time she opened the medicine cabinet and what time she closed it.

Oh yeah, and what time she opened the refrigerator, how long she kept it open, and what time she opened the kitchen door and went outside.


And all of this info was transmitted to her good son on the other side of the great divide via the internet.

I know — me, too — but there are always two sides.

Sometimes there are four or five.

The good son can know how Mom is doing: Did she get her medications on time? Is she eating? Is she moving? Do her weight and blood pressure look OK? Good.

He doesn’t have to worry, or call and nag (“Mom, you forget your meds”) unless, of course, the system says she didn’t.

So they can talk about other things such as Medicare, Lady Gaga or why she’s never been able to remember to close the darn refrigerator.

The system costs $8,000 to install, plus $75 per month.

Mom (at least, this Mom) wasn’t too keen on the idea, initially, but she’s come to appreciate and rely on it.

It helps her to feel more secure and cared for — and it apparently also provides her with benefits such as games, getting photos from the grandchildren, etc. — rather like the prize in the box of Cracker Jack.

Being a strong proponent of pretty much whatever works, within the somewhat flexible limits of legality, morality and good taste, I’m compelled to say, “Good.” I guess.

There are many other amazing little devices on the market, designed to help us all be able to age at home. For instance, one very cool, high-tech pillbox, that someone fills and programs, beeps and flashes when it’s time for Dad to dose. If he does it right, head child gets a mechanized phone call that all is well, while other siblings must make do with an email.

If Dad doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do when he’s supposed to do it, the device starts nagging, beeping, flashing and snitching him off to the head child — oops.

And believe me, as we boomers age and continue to, obstinately, survive we are going to see a lot more of these systems/gadgets/monitors/sensors/environments.

Is that bad? Well, it rather depends on who you are and how you look at it.

The kids think they’re a blessing.

They mostly think that because they’re good, caring kids who want Mom to be OK, but can’t be physically present to make it OK.

Many elders are often put off, at least at first: by the sense of invasion and intrusion, by the technology itself and/or by the message it sends: “You can’t take care of yourself.”

However, some say they adjust to it just fine, they come to rely on it and it allows them to stay at home, where almost all of us want to stay.

Good. But some don’t say that.

Some say … well, never mind what some say, but you can probably imagine.

And yes, virtually everyone draws the line at cameras, for several obvious or potential reasons.

So, what should we make of this? Good or bad?

Well, it depends, but here’s the part that I can virtually guarantee you is virtually universal: You’d better cut Grandpa into the conversation — make that negotiation.

Seriously, do you think you can just show up with your 8K, “Star Trek,” I know how much you weigh computerized system and expect Grandpa to rejoice at the prospect of suddenly being wired to the gills?

Not likely.

It’s much more likely you’ll hear words you didn’t know Grandpa knew.

These things have to be discussed — carefully — and understood, both for what they can do and can’t do, and they need to be presented as something that might be a good idea, between two equals — not between the hot-shot daughter and the poor, stupid mother.

Equals. Grown-ups. Adults. Two.

Because here’s what will happen, if you don’t present it that way: The sensors will get accidentally broken, the pillbox will slip into the garbage disposal and the refrigerator will become a very expensive nightlight. Believe it.

Everybody has to be onboard, or no one is on board.

Help only helps if the person needing help thinks it helps. Otherwise, it’s part of the problem.

Respect can’t be mechanized or programmed, and it won’t email you to let you know it’s disappeared, but Grandpa knows.

Ask him — if you’re lucky, he’ll tell you.

And you’ll learn a whole lot more than what time he got up in the middle of the night.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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