How can I monitor my parent’s health and safety remotely?

While home health and retirement communities are possibilities, they may not be wanted by a parent or even affordable. What other options are there?
While home health and retirement communities are possibilities, they may not be wanted by a parent or even affordable. What other options are there?

By 2020, 45 million Americans just like you will need to provide care for some 117 million seniors. While some may wish to do that in person, we know that it just may not be possible for you due to your location or health, finances or family commitments, work schedule or personality conflicts. Sometimes, it may even be all of the above.

Hiring a caregiver or moving your parent into a retirement community, while possibly good options, may not be wanted by your parent or even affordable. That’s where a dazzling array of sophisticated new technology is coming into use—benefiting both the seniors who wish to age in place and their children who want to support them in doing it. Here are some options you might want to review:

Emergency pendants and bracelets

No matter how safe you may feel in your own home, there is always the risk of a slip, trip or fall. That’s why a personal emergency medical alert system may be a good idea. They can be referred to by many names, including:

  • Assistance call systems
  • Fall monitoring
  • Life alert
  • Medical alert
  • Medical call
  • Medical emergency response system
  • Personal emergency response services
  • Remote monitoring
  • Telemonitoring
  • Wander management
  • Other product names chosen by the companies that sell them

Unlike older systems, tied to a landline phone, today’s medical alert systems offer options that are cellular, work on mobile devices or even a smartphone app. They’re GPS enabled and can contact you to let you know exactly where your parent is—inside or outside.

Emergency pendants and bracelets are generally available through one of three pricing models:

  • One-time equipment purchase
  • Monthly service fee
  • Initial set up/equipment fee plus monthly service

The most basic system is available from $25 to $50 a month, while higher-end systems including wearable devices, multiple in-home sensors, two-way communication, online reporting, emergency response, multi-party notification, and add-ons can range from $500-$1000 for initial installation with a $50-$100 monthly monitoring fee.

The Senior List and Consumer Reports websites offer a comparison of the pros and cons of their recommended systems, including the costs and contracts.

Depending on the state in which your parent lives and their income level, there may be financial assistance available for Personal Emergency Response Services (PERS) of home safety monitoring through Medicaid HCBS Waivers or Managed Care Programs. Additional information and a detailed listing by state can be found here.

Health and wellness monitoring systems

If you’re looking for something a little more comprehensive, companies such as GrandCare, TruSense, and Wellness also offer easy-to-use, interactive touchscreens that can provide activity and health monitoring, medication prompts, as well as easy communication to family and physicians.


TruSense is a completely customizable smart home solution that works in homes of all sizes and can be personalized to both your parent’s needs and your concerns. It does not require an emergency pendant or bracelet because the passive monitoring system is instead installed throughout the home and works by analyzing data from a network of connected devices.

You can set up custom alerts to notify you when your parent has been in the bathroom too long, if the temperature has exceeded a given threshold, or any number of other personalized notifications using text messages, e-mail, automated phone calls or even through your Echo Dot. These notifications can include:

  • Too long in a room
  • Away from home
  • Temperature out of range
  • Vehicle out of the area
  • Water leaks
  • Door open too long
  • Fall detection
  • Assistance requested

A starter kit is available with one hub, four motion sensors, a contact sensor, smart outlet, and Amazon Echo Dot for a one-time fee of $299 and a monthly monitoring fee of $39. A wide range of additional sensors, pendants, and tracking systems are also available to enhance your basic package. More information is available at


The heart of the GrandCare System is a large, easily customizable touchscreen that would be placed in your parent’s home. There’s no worry if your parent’s computer skills are limited or non-existent for them to fully engage with the intuitive touch interface.

Through this touchscreen, your parent can access social communications, instructions, reminders (along with photos of pills and dosing information), as well as web-based entertainment.

You, in turn, access the system by logging in to the online Care Portal through any internet connection anywhere in the world. From there, you can add Tasks, Calendar Events, Reminders, Medications, Personalized Content, and Communications to the touchscreen. You can also check on sensors, view graphs, set up notifications and utilize care notes.

Optional wireless activity sensors, environmental sensors, and digital health devices can be added to the system as needed. These devices can be used to notify you by phone, email, or text if anything seems amiss or if wellness readings fall out of range.

There is a one-time fee of $999 for the Socialization/Reminder Touchscreen with a monthly fee of $99 afterward. A package of three motion sensors, one contact sensor, and one antenna is available for $599. More information is available at

Medication management systems

The National Institute of Health estimates that $100 billion to $300 billion a year in medication is wasted each year because people don’t take the medications they’re prescribed. Up to half the time, medications aren’t taken as directed—resulting in at least 100,000 preventable deaths a year.

To help solve that issue and ensure that patients take their medications regularly, a number of companies have created “smart” pill bottles, weekly pillboxes and medication reminder systems that could hold up to nearly a month’s worth of medication.

Do they work? The jury would seem to still be out. The fact of the matter is that you may be able to remind mom or dad that they need to take a pill through a variety of alarms, flashing lights and phone calls. That may succeed in getting them to take the pill out of the container. However, there’s one important step that remains completely out of technology’s control. Your parent still has to actually want to swallow the pill in the first place. Among available options are:

Pillsy ($49)

Pillsy is a computerized cap that replaces the existing one on a pill bottle. The system works through a smartphone to offer:

  • Intelligent reminders when a dose isn’t taken
  • A warning if a dose has already been taken
  • Automatic tracking when the bottle is opened, marking the dose as taken
  • Viewable history on phone app
  • Sharing feature for notifications when a dose is missed

Tricella Pillbox ($75)

The Tricella Pillbox has seven compartments for medications, sufficient for once-a-day doses of medication. Each chamber has embedded sensors that can detect when users are taking their pills. Like Pillsy, it works with a smartphone to offer:

  • Notifications if your parent forgets to take their medication or takes the wrong dose
  • A built-in messenger function to make it easy for you to send them personal reminders
  • A viewable history log to track progress
  • A chat room function to allow family members to coordinate health plans

Med-E-Lert Automatic Pill Dispenser ($80)

A monthly sized pill dispenser, the Med-E-Lert features 28 Compartment Trays that can hold up to 18 aspirin sized pills per compartment. While this does not offer you notifications if a pill is not taken or history tracking, its features are:

  • Audible alarm with blinking light (for the hearing-impaired) for 30 minutes or until medications are removed from the tray
  • Six Dosage Rings for Customized Dosage Settings
  • Medication reminders up to six different times daily
  • The unit retains program settings when changing batteries
  • Tamper-proof locking system helps reduce over-dosing

MedReady Automated Medication Dispenser ($149-$307)

MedReady devices hold up to 28 doses of medication and can automatically dispense medication up to 4 times per day. If your parent doesn’t take their medication within a set time (established by you), the device then notifies the  MedReady’s data center which, in turn, notifies you via text messages, email, and automated phone calls.

Livi (Single payment of $1,999 with payment plans available or $79-$99 a month)

Available through purchase or rental, Livi promises the ability to manage up to 15 prescriptions and supplement of any size and shape—the highest capacity pill dispenser for non-conforming pill sizes. Other features include:

  • Ability to dispense up to 24 times a day
  • After initial setup, no sorting necessary.
  • Stores up to 90 days worth of each medication
  • Audible and visible alarms at time medication is dispensed
  • Ability to dispense pills into portable travel packs for up to 14 days of extra independence
  • Remote management and text/email notifications to caregivers


While home health and retirement communities are possibilities, they may not be wanted by a parent or even affordable. Fortunately, there are other options available as you both journey along the gray mile together—even if you are separated by many miles from each other.

Tom Text


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