A brief departure from introspection to a discussion of some nuts and bolts. Specifically, for those of you embarking on the journey of caring for an elderly parent — whether or not you are sandwich generation — I thought it might be helpful to catalog some of the gadgets, devices and doohickeys that help make my father’s independence possible. Some of these were carefully considered and do perform the function that my brother and I hoped they would. Some are useful even though we didn’t expect it. And others… well, fails happen.
In no particular order…
Old Backup Hard Drive
We have this stashed by the front door. It’s a refugee from the Rube Goldberg contraption IT setup my father once had. Useless in his iPad world, it makes a great doorstop.
Sony Wireless Headphones
Because my father’s hearing is not the best (and never has been – see The Capital Letters for more on this), he used to blast the TV, with predictable results. These headphones connect to the back of the set and then project wirelessly. Everyone is happier.
“Lifeline” monitoring system
It’s typically assumed that the elderly need a “panic button” (a la, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” My father has one that’s provided by his community. He never, ever wears it. Amazing for someone with such a strong survival instinct.
The Coffee Table
When he moved here 2 ½ years ago, my family and I went to local mega-chain Jordan’s Furniture to furnish his apartment. Literally every single thing we bought was wrong. Here is a really cool coffee table where the top pulls up to reveal storage inside. Totally unpractical. Other misses include the uncomfortable wooden chairs (because now you need a pad – and my father has incontinence issues) without arms (because he can’t stand without using his arms to lift himself), the nice-enough wooden table that he coated with stains and crumbs within 2 weeks and the small table lamps which he can’t operate.
Somehow my dad discovered the pleasures of having a drink here and there. He’d never done this before. This is his go-to, roughly once a day. The apartment is always stocked.
Jack’s Abby Smoke and Dagger
This is for me. Sometimes as a caregiver you need something to get you through your visits. Also notice the cologne next to my beer bottle – my dad uses this to mask his scent when necessary. It somewhat works. Somewhat.
Two-sided covered hamper
When you invest in your parent’s laundry needs, get the biggest hamper you can find and make sure it has a lid. The lid should be easy to open and easy to close so that it stays closed. Enough said there.
Buy more than one. This is the one that lives in my dad’s shower. On a side note: your parent is going to leave things in places and in conditions that you might not. This thing is metal and is always wet. That’s just life. Move on.
One of the great challenges for the elderly is changing batteries. (Another is figuring out how to make the cellphone work – that’s why my father doesn’t have one anymore. And what exactly does he need it for?) One reason the headphones are so great is that they charge on a stand. If you are a product designer and you think that people over 80 might be a target market, make sure that your product recharges. These are for his Apple TV remote; we have another set for his hearing aid.
This empty shelf is where his photo albums used to be. We had them scanned at GoPhoto instead. They’ll take your photo albums and turn them into high quality electronic pictures (you know, the type we now take for granted because there’s always a high resolution camera in your pocket.) Now he can view pictures on his iPad and Apple TV, and share them. In an album, they’re hard to access.
Sometimes he needs a hammer – but most often, it’s what keeps the tension from the network cables from pulling his AppleTV off the shelf. No uni-taskers.
My brother came up with this innovation. Since my father relies on the Internet for pretty much everything, and cable companies can’t distribute equipment that doesn’t need to be reset constantly, it had to be easy to do. More than 2 years in, we moved the cable modem to a shelf he could reach easily and tuned the unit so that the cables and power switch were in front instead of the back. File that under “Why didn’t we think of that earlier?” Caveat: this trick has a lifespan because eventually, an elderly parent won’t remember to how to use this, or won’t listen when you describe it to them. This recently happened and believe me, it sucks.
Obi (Voice over IP) box
Many posts ago (Top Tech Tips for the Sandwich Generation) I wrote about switching to Google Voice and an adapter so that we could use it with a regular phone. This way, we can get a copy of my dad’s voicemails, which occasionally include something from his doctor’s office that someone should respond to. My dad relies on home visits so scheduling them in critical. This is the adapter.
We have it pointed at the front door so that we can see his coming’s and going’s. No, we never just watch this (imagine C-Span without the excitement). But if he is getting into a taxi to meet us somewhere, now we know when he actually left. Also helpful for seeing when the aforementioned home medical visits really happened.
My daughter Lily wrote this schedule on here. I love seeing her handwriting (and flower – she’s always loved flowers) and remember how earnestly she wrote it. She’s always been so eager. Of course, that was 2 years ago because we don’t really use this. Not practical, especially for someone who doesn’t really use his kitchen table that much.
Glade Air Freshener
During the worst of our incontinence challenges, these were lifesavers, especially because my father doesn’t naturally open the windows. Now we use them less as they can be pretty overpowering. Sometimes that’s what you’re going for though.
The picture sort of says it all – it also makes a handy surface for holding your most important stuff. It’s hard to fold and bulky but I think of all my father’s physical possessions, this might be the one that he’s most convinced he couldn’t live without. Even now that he has a scooter, it’s a security blanket for when he is out and about.
This is a new purchase – it’s meant to fix the problem we created by buying the wrong chairs the first time. My father has no power in his legs, so he has to rely on his arms to stand up. Close… but also wrong since the height is not adjustable. Find one that is. Now we have C-clamps on his kitchen table so that he can pull himself up instead of pushing off the table, which is close to breaking.
My father used to invite friends over for coffee, so we brought this up from New Jersey. Then I went to Dunkin and stocked him up so that he could do the same in Massachusetts. That’s the original coffee I bought more than 2 years ago. The jars have never been moved. Literally. I actually tried to remove the ‘decaf’ jar from the counter a few weeks ago and it’s become stuck to the counter somehow, so I couldn’t budge it. When we lose his security deposit someday, this will be why.
Large buttons, high volume, loud ring and easy to use. Perfect. We bought 5 handsets (by his TV chair, on his desk, at the dining table, by his bedside and in the bathroom).
The essential tool for the connected elderly.
Maybe the best thing we ever bought him.
What’s not interesting about this is the toaster itself – it’s that he asked to have it on the same table where he eats. (Note: I know that’s “interesting”, not interesting.)
By the time he used to shuffle across the room from the kitchen, his toast would be cold. So while now there are crumbs in multiple places in the apartment – something else I’ve had to learn to get over – now he’s able to avoid this problem. He’s pretty proud of himself, and sometimes building confidence in your elderly parent is more important than the thing that made them feel that way.
Also notice the Diet Coke stash. If the world ever ends and Diet Coke becomes the currency of the apocalypse, my father is going to be a king.
Everyone has these – we have 3. He loves having them now. I can’t believe he fought me about these at first. When your parent argues with about this, just ignore it and buy these anyway.