The following article was authored by our Head of Marketing, Susan Gallotti, about her experience using WiFi Motion to help her mother age in place.
My mom has always been set in her ways. She was a woman of routine who would do the groceries every Saturday at 8 a.m. like clockwork and vacuum the main floor every afternoon at 3 p.m. before her kids and husband arrived home. When I was younger, I can remember being constantly trapped in a cycle of grabbing a new water glass, placing it down somewhere, and coming back only to find it missing because my mom had already washed it. Rinse and repeat. As a true product of her 1950s upbringing, being the perfect housewife for my mom meant being the caretaker of the family and home. Her top concerns were always organizing the home — her sanctuary — and keeping her family healthy, happy, and well-fed. She would often have Campbell’s soup simmering on the stove ready for me at school lunch breaks and considered it her mission to serve a balanced dinner when the family came home at the end of the day. If I was lucky, it would be my favorite: spaghetti.
As my mom got older, much of this reality changed for her. Her children had grown up and moved away to start families of their own. Her husband, my dad, unfortunately, had passed away. Suddenly, my mom, who thrived off being a homemaker, now faced the reality of aging alone in her home without others to tend to. For someone like my mom, who was naturally introverted and a bit of a homebody, being left to one’s own devices for most of her days left her feeling without purpose. This woman, who was so focused on taking care of others, was not so great at caring for herself. So, she never complained or voiced any concerns about her comfort or health. She would avoid informing her children if the plumbing or appliances in her home needed repairs. You see, my mom never wanted to be a burden. And she most certainly did not want to end up, as my father had, spending her final years in an assisted living facility. My mother’s worst-case scenario was to move out of the house that she had helped build and lived in for almost five decades. Asking for help was rare.
Parents Age in the Blink of an Eye
When my dad fell ill, I remember looking at him; like, really looking at him as if for the first time in years. It was like a stranger was staring back at me. When did his hair turn completely grey? Has his forehead always been as wrinkled as a bulldog’s? His mortality kind of jumped up and slapped me in the face. I look back now and I wonder, if WiFi Motion had been available 10 years ago, would we have had more warning of my dad’s colon cancer or dementia? I mean, we all knew he spent an excessive amount of time in the bathroom off his den, but I just thought he was escaping the family while perusing Reader’s Digest. There were other signs that we pieced together in hindsight – erratic behaviours, like my dad fixating on a specific project in the basement or escaping with the car at odd hours – that WiFi Motion could have brought to our attention sooner.
Enter WiFi Motion
I did get a brief opportunity to try WiFi Motion with my mom. When I first joined Cognitive and was immersed in their technology, WiFi Motion was only being used for home monitoring; its eldercare applications were just beginning to be explored. I put a beta system in my parents’ house for about a year with the intent of learning more about our tech firsthand. What did I learn? The value of WiFi Motion does not lie in a specific service or function, such as alerts or fall detection or sleep data. Those features weren’t included in my straight-up-motion-detection beta. From my personal experience, WiFi Motion’s value lies in helping caregivers be better caregivers. Because let’s face it…
Being a Caregiver is Hard
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught me anything, it is that my community is blessed with so many amazing healthcare workers, personal support workers, therapists, and other compassionate caregivers. I am not one of them. While being a caretaker is undoubtedly rewarding for some, I’m more the type of woman who would slip her son’s teacher a $20 liquor gift card after chaperoning a mere half-day field trip.
Parents don’t age according to our schedule. It’s inevitably going to happen early into your new demanding career, amid your own health problems, at the height of your parenting challenges, or alongside your divorce proceedings. In those already overwhelming circumstances, the additional responsibility of caring for another human being could be debilitating.
I never expected to be taking care of a parent while I was still raising my own children. The anxieties associated with caring for an aging parent often bleed into other relationships in your life, with your spouse, children, or siblings, as you keep more and more plates spinning at the same time. Simply put, being a caretaker is an emotional rollercoaster. It’s rarely convenient, often fraught with awkward conversations, frays on your last nerves, and pulls on your deepest heartstrings. Those feelings can take a serious toll on your health.
I was lucky to have the help of siblings caring for my parents and can’t imagine how stressful it would be to shoulder that duty alone. At the time, I was working a full-time job, commuting around an hour and a half each day, juggling the schedules of my kids’ extracurriculars and my husband’s shift work, and regularly wracking my brain trying to remember if I had walked the dog or if I would come home to a stained carpet. Seemingly simple tasks, such as stopping by to take out my mom’s garbage or bring her groceries, could feel like a depleting hardship on top of an already overwhelming day. A phone call from my mom saying “the TV isn’t working again” could make me want to cry. My mom never wanted to be a burden. I never wanted to make her feel like a burden. But the truth is, sometimes caring for a loved one is a burden. It forces you to feel angry at the responsibilities thrust upon you, but then guilty for feeling that way. This is the part of being a caregiver that no one wants to talk about.
Why We Don't Talk About It
There is no shortage of media about senior housing, independent living, or the plethora of health tech tools that will enable a better experience for our aging populations. But I don’t hear much about help coming for caregivers.
It’s okay to admit that caring for a parent can be awkward and exhausting and draining and frustrating. It’s often way more than many of us are willing to take on in the middle-aged stages of life. But we don’t like to talk about it. It feels disrespectful to our elders. It causes conflicting emotions toward the people that nurtured us. We’re bitter at the unfairness of it. That’s why I believe the secret, most definitive benefit for most users of Caregiver Aware will be an alleviation of guilt.
A Guilt-Ridden Example
My parents had the same phone number for almost 50 years, making it a common target for telemarketers and scams. As such, my mom had the frustrating habit of leaving the phone off the hook. One time my brother alerted us that he had been unable to reach our mom. I also got a busy tone when I called locally. My sister was closest, but in the middle of a double shift. I was in a meeting over an hour away. My siblings and I exchanged numerous anxious texts and phone calls that day, trying to rearrange commitments so that one of us could drive over to check in on our mother. I remember it was winter because I kept telling myself to “calm down” and drive safely on the snowy roads, trying to ignore all the treacherous possible scenarios that kept playing in my head. Ironically, both my sister and I arrived at my mom’s house only a few minutes apart. Imagine how frustrated we were when we showed up to see our mom fine at home, with the phone off the hook again. Relief was almost immediately replaced by annoyance. All of our pent-up fears, stress, and inconvenience came gushing out in a lecture that I’m sure made my mother feel like a scolded child. When all that emotion finally boiled over and our mom was left looking guilty over yet another innocent mistake, we knew we couldn’t keep barging in on her, putting our lives on hold, and having everyone feel so frustrated.
Believe it or not, that was not the last time my mom left the phone off the hook! But, the next time, I was able to check motion history in the app and immediately relay back to my siblings that there was movement near the garage less than an hour ago. That small amount of additional data prevented the emotional tsunami from even getting underway. After that, the guilt-ridden exchanges lessened. It freed us to continue about our days without all the stress of letting our imaginations get the best of us.
More Caregiver Insights
WiFi Motion also helped us learn things about my mom that we would never have thought to ask about. For example, we noticed that she wasn’t leaving the house very often – even though during our visits she would tell us that she took regular walks. Or, we noticed less movement in the kitchen. Cooking had always been such an important part of my mom’s day. Now, living alone, she had lost that joy of cooking. A simple thing like knowing that she was not spending as much time in the kitchen was enough to prompt me to buy my mom some new frozen dinners that she would have never purchased for herself, helping her discover some new meals that were interesting to her and easy to make so she’d be more likely to eat a regular and balanced diet. It was these tiny insights about her behaviour that provided us with the information to make small changes that supported her living at home but weren’t confrontational or would threaten her independence.
The Seniors’ Perspective
I would describe my mom as having been technologically inept. Before bringing WiFi Motion into her home, she didn’t even have an internet connection. In a way, setting up the router and pods for the monitoring system was a soft onboarding for her into the world of technology. Sure, she didn’t fully understand everything you could do with a connected device, but she knew it was active in her home. After all, there was no device she had to manage or wear. She didn’t even need to understand the technology for it to work. She could go about her day and we could privately look into her well-being. I can’t speak from a senior’s perspective, but I know that, for my mother, WiFi Motion was invisible.
Statistics indicate older adults are becoming more comfortable with new technologies. I do not doubt that many seniors will appreciate the motion insights WiFi Motion can provide to gain knowledge about their health and well-being. For others, like my mom, it might just be an obscure part of their internet services that they don’t understand. Either way, the unobtrusiveness of WiFi Motion sets it apart.
My Advice for Caregivers
If this article has left you with the worrying realization that a parent is quickly approaching the age where they will need a more watchful eye, I would encourage you to put your own oxygen mask on first. Taking a proactive approach to keeping your aging parent safe, happy, and healthy could ultimately break the vicious cycle of anger, guilt, and frustration. Even if your parent is still active, WiFi Motion, and many other emerging technologies, can help you proactively recognize behavioural patterns, identify hazards, and unveil some of the everyday challenges in your parent’s life. It could prevent you from being blindsided by a host of new responsibilities being thrust upon you.
While my experience using WiFi Motion in a caregiving capacity was brief, I believe it to be a valuable tool in any caregiver’s toolbox. It seemed to be the ideal solution to help my mom age in place confidently and comfortably while providing us children with peace of mind.
Giving Mom Space to be Herself
We wanted to make sure our mom was still living the way she wanted without feeling like an encumbrance. Parents shouldn’t have to be accountable to their kids, after all. She saw herself as the caretaker, not the other way around. With WiFi Motion, we could get back to what mattered to my mom – being the rock of the family and home. Visiting my mom was no longer this big emotional tsunami that would leave people more hurt than before. We could focus on just spending time with our mom and enjoying her company now that we had a bit of visibility into her health and activity. We were finally able to get back to spaghetti dinners and leaving glasses where they shouldn’t be; the latter trait being one that I recently discovered is perhaps inheritable. After being chastised by one of my kids for twice putting his water glass into the dishwasher when he wanted to use it as a hydration reminder, I couldn’t help but think of my mom and smile. It’s those ironic moments that I am glad dominate my memory of her. Miss you, mom and dad.