There are many different assistive technology products available today that can help families keep an eye on an elderly loved one when they can't be there. Depending on your dad's needs and how much you're willing to spend, here are some good options to consider.
Personal Emergency Response Systems
If you're primarily worried about your dad falling and needing help, one of the most commonly used and affordable products for seniors living alone is a personal emergency response system (PERS) - also known as a medical alert device.
For about a dollar or two a day, these systems provide a wearable pendent button - typically in the form of a necklace pendent or wristband - and a base station that connects to the home phone line.
At the press of a button, your dad could call and talk to a trained operator through the system's base station receiver, which works like a powerful speakerphone. The operator will find out what's wrong, and will notify family members, a neighbor, friend or emergency services as needed.
Some PERS today even offer motion-sensitive pendants that can detect a fall and automatically call for help. And some offer GPS mobile-alert pendants that work anywhere. Some top companies that offer all levels of services include Philips Lifeline (lifelinesys.com, 800-380-3111), Medical Alert (medicalalert.com, 800-800-2537) and MobileHelp (mobilehelpnow.com, 800-992-0616).
If you want to keep closer tabs on your dad than what a PERS offers, consider a sensor monitoring system. These systems use small wireless sensors (not cameras) placed in key areas of your dad's home that can detect changes in his activity patterns, and will notify you via text message or email if something out of the ordinary is happening. For instance, if he went to the bathroom and didn't leave, it could indicate a fall or other emergency.
You can also check up on his patterns anytime you want through the system's website. And for additional protection, most services also offer PERS call buttons that can be placed around the house, or worn.
Some good companies that offer these services are GrandCare Systems (grandcare.com, 262-338-6147), which charges $300 for their activity sensors, plus a $50 monthly service fee. And BeClose (beclose.com, 866-574-1784), which runs $399 for three sensors, and a $69 monthly service fee if paid a year in advance.
If you're interested in a more budget-friendly option, consider Lively (mylively.com, 888-757-0711), which costs only $50 with a $35 monthly service fee. Lively uses small motion sensors that you attach to movable objects like a pillbox, refrigerator door, front door, etc. These sensors will track your dad's movement/activity and let you know of any abnormalities in his routines. For example, if he didn't pick up his pillbox to get his medicine, or he didn't open the front door to go out and retrieve his morning newspaper, you would be notified and can check on him. Lively also offers a PERS "safety watch" in case he falls or needs to call for help.
Another affordable option to check out is Evermind (evermind.us, 855-677-7625), which lets you keep an eye on your dad by monitoring his frequently used electrical appliances through small plug-in sensors. So, for example, if your dad doesn't turn on the coffee maker in the morning, or if he's not watching his favorite television program before bedtime, you would be notified. Evermind costs $199 for the three sensors, plus a $29 monthly service fee.
Editor's Note: Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.