Last March, my client Don came to see me with his daughter, Janna. Everything in his plan was in good shape—but Don wasn’t.
At 81, his frailties and dogged, worsening memory problems were getting the better of him. He fell a couple of times and knew he was “darn lucky” he didn’t break a leg or hip. Janna was terrified that the next time he fell, he wouldn’t be so lucky.
Don was determined to stay at home, and while Janna preferred that he move to a senior community with support around him, she reluctantly agreed. Don accepted two hours of home care assistance each day, but no more. Janna desperately needed to find ways to make sure he was safe living on his own and to stay connected and keep an eye on him in a non-intrusive way.
Traditional planning wasn’t going to keep Don out of a facility and safe at home. Don and Janna needed a different type of planning or, more accurately, a new type of technology-enabled assistance.
Technology. Artificial intelligence (AI). Words that excite us. Words that scare us. Words and opportunities that offer hope to countless members of our client communities.
Many practitioners, not entirely without reason, fear that more powerful technology and AI will increasingly depersonalize our work efficiency on behalf of clients like Don.
Before exploring new tools to keep Don safe at home, consider the fact that the next generation of clients—like Janna—are comfortable with technological and AI-based services. They expect us to be similarly comfortable. They’ll reward those of us who position ourselves as trusted advisors who can address, in a multigenerational way, their challenges comprehensively.
We needn’t be technology experts, but we should offer information about different tools for aging safely at home. We’ll add them to our planning toolkits. Doing so can save clients immensely in caregiver expenses. It can help us to cultivate and maintain stronger, more lasting relationships with multiple generations of clients.
In-Home and Remote Monitoring
Janna’s worry about her father’s health, and the possibility of another fall, is common. If he’s living at home without a caregiver, how will anyone know if he falls and can’t reach the phone to call for help? What if he forgets to take his medication? How can she be sure that he stays safe when no one is there?
There’s a developing category of technologies and associated sensors that can help to address these concerns. Wearables, like watches or wristbands, can help to alert loved ones if there’s a fall or other accident. Sensors on a refrigerator or cabinets can help to make sure there are no sudden changes in a parent’s daily activities and health.
- Remote home access and video tools that monitor who’s coming and going from a home in a secure way, like the Ring Video Doorbell.
- Remote or wearable sensors or smartwatches that can detect or even predict when a fall or other health issue may be imminent, like the MyNotifi by Medhab, UnaliWear’s Kanega watch or SafelyYou’s wall mounted cameras and software algorithms.
- All-inclusive integrated sensor systems that can monitor an entire house for falls or other issues, like Alarm.com’s Wellness system.
Privacy is a major issue. How much monitoring is a parent willing to accept? A balance must be struck. However, these types of technologies can ensure that, in the event of an emergency, help can be on the way within minutes. They can also alert children and other loved ones to changes that warrant in-person check-ins. Paradoxically, seemingly intrusive monitors can allow a parent to live with greater autonomy and independence, without the need for round-the-clock in-person care.
Often, an inability to manage the house or to remember important or mundane tasks can result in the need for extensive in-home care or a move to an assisted living facility. In Don’s case, Janna was concerned about problems that she saw in his daily activities. He was forgetting to turn off the TV, heating the home excessively and forgetting to take his medication. He wasn’t keeping fresh food in his home.
Here, too, there are many tools that can address issues like those facing Don:
- Digital thermostats that can efficiently manage heating and cooling in a home without the need for daily management. Examples include: Nest Learning Thermostats, Ecobee4 or Honeywell’s Lyric. These can also be linked with full “Smart home” hubs.
- “Smart” refrigerators can keep track of food storage and even automatically order groceries when needed, such as the Samsung Family Hub.
- “Smart” pill dispensers that can help a user keep track of necessary medications with reminders and assistance, like the Medminder pill dispenser.
- Remote light switches and electricity management tools that can efficiently and effectively control when lights are on or off, for example the Wemo Light Switch.
Smart Home Hubs
How can a family effectively bring all of these technologies together in a simple way? Smart home hubs are one answer. Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are the two most prominent offerings in this area. Because they’re primarily voice-activated and they’re easy and intuitive to use for even those who aren’t technologically inclined. Because they’re backed by two of the most powerful tech companies on earth—Amazon and Google—they’ll likely stand the test of time, and numerous developers and partners will work to create new systems and sensors that are compatible.
These systems are also increasingly powered by AI. They’re getting better at understanding the nuances of verbal communication. They’re increasingly able to get to know their primary users and to effectively assist them. This is when AI can be most efficiently leveraged to help an aging parent.
I often recommend that families start with these systems or hubs. Many of the tools outlined above are already compatible with Alexa and/or Google Home. And, future systems likely will be as well. Amazon also recently introduced Alexa Echo Show, which now includes a video screen to make video communication easier—another enhanced way for families to stay in touch with an at-risk parent.
All of these options can seem a bit overwhelming, even for more tech savvy seniors. How can we effectively advise our clients about these tools? How can we thereby deepen our relationships and enhance our role as trusted advisors to our clients and their families on a multigenerational level?
Here are three ways to address these challenges:
- Add this to your client meeting checklist. When you meet with clients and their families about issues related to living safely and independently at home, make it a standard practice to bring up the idea of using these tools. Create a basic handout —it can be as simple as a bullet point checklist—that offers an overview of specific types of tools that are available.
The mere act of bringing this up in meetings enhances your position as a general advisor—beyond the legal realm.
- Offer client or community seminars about exciting new tools to help clients live safely and independently at home, longer. Urge clients to bring their adult children to the seminar.
Partner with a local technology expert, or even a merchant, who can speak knowledgeably about these new tools and how to implement them.
- Create a partnership with local experts, care managers or gerontologists who specialize in helping families in this area. Reach out to individuals in the community who appear to be offering such products or services. Get to know them. Vet them. Consider setting up a referral relationship with them. While you don’t need to be an expert and don’t necessarily have to give advice about these tools, your referral to a trusted third party will further position you as trusted advisor to clients and their families. Your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter, for example, will be thrilled to hear from you and know they have a supportive professional in the community. Look for a local chapter of Aging 2.0, a wonderful, national organization that’s helping entrepreneurs develop new technologies for elders.
It’s a brave new world we live in. Technology and AI are developing exponentially each year. As elders and their families face the challenge of remaining at home as health declines and frailty emerges, their need for expert guidance—legal and otherwise—is without limit.
We must embrace progress. By expanding and enhancing our role as multigenerational trusted advisors and reasonably savvy home technology advisors, we can help countless members of our client communities remain at home. Isn’t that where we all want to age?
This is an adapted version of the author’s original article in the July 2018 issue of Trusts & Estates.