See the tiny lady to the left of the bride? That’s Nana, who brought my hubby into the world along with five other siblings. Nana lives a happy and healthy life in the mother-in-law apartment attached to her youngest son’s house, and the other kids work together to coordinate social outings, doctor visits, health monitoring and all kinds of other caregiving duties.
When the hubby and I went home for this wedding (the first grandkid of the family to get hitched!) last weekend, my nerd neurons started to tingle when I realized how some simple technology might solve some of the challenges the kids have with dividing the duties and keeping everyone updated.
The Challenges of a Caregiver
I interviewed Paul about the challenges they were having. NOTE: Please turn the audio on all these because you’re gonna LOVE the accents!
Solution One: Google Calendar for the Helpers
Nana’s schedule was written on a big calendar and kept in the kitchen drawer. Paul has had to send pictures of the calendar to his siblings to keep them all up to date. So the easiest solution was to set up a calendar in Google Calendar that everyone can see and update. All the siblings can add the group calendar to their regular one (keeping their work and other appointments separate). They can get reminders for different events. I used Paul’s Google account as the base calendar, then went into settings to invite his family members. If they didn’t have a Google account themselves, they could receive the invite via their regular email address then sign up for an account later.
Solution One-A: Keeping the Hard Copy Calendar
Nana was concerned when she heard that the calendar was going to be electronic, but we decided to keep the handwritten one in the drawer as well. The siblings can just write a note on the printed version and add the appointment to the digital version via Alexa.
Solution One-B: Keeping Calendar on the Alexa Screen
We wanted to be able to see the calendar on Alexa at any time, and after goofing around with the settings a while, I found that Alexa will only display the calendar if an event is scheduled during the next few days. So our work around was to add a recurring event daily so it’ll always show up. This is the event Paul added. (Super adorable)
Solution Two: Alexa for Communication
The other challenge Paul talked about had to do with communication. Nana’s apartment is on the bottom floor of Paul’s house. What if Nana has a problem and needs help? Paul has video monitors, but they don’t monitor them 24/7. And what if Nana just needed to ask someone upstairs a question? We wanted to find a way to make communication easier and safer.
It’s Alexa to the rescue! Paul and his family already had two Alexa speaker devices upstairs. We decided to add two more devices that would provide video conferencing opportunities as well as screens that would display reminders, appointments and more.
After I set the devices up, I worked with Nana to introduce her to all the things it can do. Here’s one of her first attempts:
Since Nana sometimes has problems with her short-term memory, I suggested that they write out specific phrases for common tasks that she might want to do:
- How to play music
- How to get the news
- How to add things to shopping lists
- How to set reminders
- How to add appointments
- How to increase/decrease volume
- How to drop-in (intercom) to different devices around the house
- How to cancel an activity, such as “Alexa, STOP” or “Alexa, CANCEL”
- How to call for help
- How to call people’s phones (Alexa can call regular phone lines)
Of course, even when Nana gets the words right, Alexa can sometimes flub things up. Here’s what happened when Nana asked Alexa to add “A Party at Ann’s” for the Fourth of July.
Solution Three: Alexa for Safety
One of the family’s biggest worries is that Nana is pretty independent and refuses to wear one of those “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” buttons. So I gave them the info for a safety communication tool that I’ve used forever. SafeTrek (which they renamed last month to Noonlight) started out as a bug button on your phone. If you’re walking along and feel uncomfortable, you just open the app and put your thumb on that big button. When you release your button, you have ten seconds to put in a code. If you don’t put in that code, emergency services will be called. It was made by college students for college students, and I adore it.
SafeTrek (Noonlight) just expanded to Alexa and other platforms as well, so after it’s set up, Nana can say, “Alexa, tell Noonlight to send help.” I just tried it out, and Alexa told me to stay calm while she contacted Noonlight. Then not even 1 second later I got this text on my phone: “Hi, Beth. This is Karen from Noonlight (formerly SafeTrek). We received an alarm from Alexa. What’s your emergency?” I told her that I was testing for this blog post, and she had me provide my code to cancel the alert. The whole thing took less than 60 seconds.
Next Phase: Expanding the Technology
I cannot tell you how over-the-moon happy I was to be able to give the family a hand. I wish I could go back every couple of months to keep tweaking the system and adding capabilities. But alas, I have to do that “making a living” thing. So I left them with two ideas for expansion.
- Amazon Skill Blueprints lets you create your own Q&A for caregivers for questions like “where are the spare hearing aid batteries?” and “What time does Nana like lunch?” They can make up a list of FAQs that caregivers need to know and just program them into Amazon’s template.
- IFTTT and Zapier are tools that help connect one cloud service to another. When I lose my phone, I just say, “Alexa, trigger find my phone,” and IFTTT sends a little signal to make it ring. As they fine-tune the caregiving system, they can use these tools to be even more efficient.
The Best Moment I Didn’t Get on Video…
The last day we were there, I was visiting with Nana, and she asked me where my hubby was.
“He’s upstairs… use Alexa to call him down!” I said.
Nana walked straight up to Alexa and (with very little coaching) said, “Alexa, drop in to the upstairs kitchen.” Her Echo Show hooked up with the video camera on the upstairs Echo Spot, and my husband’s face appeared on the screen.
“David,” Nana said to the screen. “You don’t have a minute to come say hi to your mother?”
The hubby is smiling and waving. “Yes, mother dear, of course I’ll be right down.”
Nana hit the button on the screen to hang up and looked at me. “Isn’t that marvelous?” she asked. Oh my lord. Yes, yes it is.
The Best Moment I DID Get on Video…
Now that Nana has Alexa down pat, perhaps she can help her son Michael. Again, you guys, PLEASE WATCH WITH AUDIO! So flippin’ funny.