4 tools to help you care for loved ones remotely
You can use technology to find out what elderly relatives or sick friends are up to.
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Technology has transformed the way we communicate with each other, making it possible to chat with someone on the other side of the world in seconds, after just a few taps on a smartphone or a laptop.
This also means we can check in on people even when we can’t physically be with them, including elderly relatives and friends who are unwell. Even if you’re miles apart, you can care for someone remotely using your choice of gadgets.
Which approach is best depends on what you and the other person are most comfortable with, but there’s plenty of choice—from wearables that detect serious falls to smart devices that let you know if someone else is feeling unwell.
Google Nest Hub Max
The benefit of the Google Nest Hub Max—as opposed to, say, the Google Nest Mini—is that it has a 10-inch touchscreen display that’s perfect for video calls. Add in the stereo speakers, the 6.5-megapixel camera, and the two far-field microphones, and you’ve got everything you need to see and hear the person you want to keep in touch with.
You can use Google Duo, Google Meet, or Zoom with the Nest Hub Max, so you’re not just limited to one video-calling platform, and for your friend or relative who has the device in their home, taking the call is as simple as tapping Answer on the screen. If they want to call you, they can just say: “Hey Google, video call…” followed by your name.
[Related: How to keep your video calls private]
On your end, you can use whatever technology you want to get on Google Duo, Google Meet, or Zoom: a phone, laptop, your own Nest Hub Max—whatever. There are, of course, many other ways to make video calls, from FaceTime to the Portal box that Meta manufactures, but the Nest Hub Max is one of the most straightforward options from both a hardware and software perspective.
Amazon Alexa Together
Amazon Echo Show smart displays can also make video calls, but if both you and the person you’re looking after have Echo devices in your home, there’s another feature you can make use of: Alexa Together. It enables you to set reminders for your friend or relative, check up on what they’re doing, and get them assistance.
Alexa Together will cost you $20 a month or $200 a year, and a 6-month free trial is available. Sign up on the web, and activation emails will be sent to you and the person you’re caring for. Once you both click the links in those emails, the Echo devices associated with your Amazon accounts will be up and running with Alexa Together, through the smart speakers themselves and the Alexa mobile app for Android and iOS.
You can get alerts when your friend or relative uses Alexa for the first time each day (through a “start my day” command, perhaps), and when no activity is detected on a device for a certain time period. You can set reminders for the other person, have Alexa call you if the other person asks for help, and connect a compatible fall detection service such as the Altumview camera system.
Speaking of fall detection, that’s something the Apple Watch can do—specifically the Apple Watch SE or the Apple Watch Series 4 or later. From the Apple Watch app on the iPhone, enable fall detection by choosing My Watch, Emergency SOS, and Fall Detection (you may have to set this up for the person you’re looking after).
If the Apple Watch detects a fall, it displays a message on screen asking if the wearer is okay. It also gives them the chance to select one of two options: EMERGENCY SOS and I’m OK. If no arm or body movement is detected for a whole minute, the smartwatch starts a 30-second countdown with an audible alarm before automatically calling emergency services.
[Related: Smartphone settings that could save your life in an emergency]
When the call connects, the Apple Watch plays a message saying that it’s detected a hard fall, together with location coordinates. If the person wearing the Apple Watch is able, they can speak through the watch as well. When the call ends, the smartwatch sends a notification about the fall to the person’s emergency contacts—you can make sure you’re one of them by having them go to Health and Medical ID in the Settings app on their iPhone and adding your details there.
The options we’ve mentioned above are all relatively common gadgets adapted to do remote caregiving, but there are dedicated pieces of hardware built for helping the elderly and sick. One of the best we’ve come across is ElliQ, though it doesn’t come cheap—it’ll set you back $40 a month (or $30 a month if you pay for a whole year up front), and that’s after a $250 enrollment fee.
However, you do get a lot for your money—or rather your friend or relative does. ElliQ works a bit like a smart speaker, engaging its owner in conversation, making suggestions about healthy habits, and providing companionship and interaction. It can play music, read out the news, and report on the weather forecast.
When it comes to checking in remotely, ElliQ enables its user to check in with their loved ones via video calls, audio calls, and text messaging, and can notify specific contacts when they’re feeling unwell or in pain. As a trusted caregiver, ElliQ will provide you with updates on any relevant activity, and allow you to, say, check in on your friend or relative’s daily routines and medication reminders.