Treating elders as well as dogs in day care- how about webcams for assisted living?

My husband told me recently that some of his coworkers watch their dogs via the internet at “doggie daycare” every so often to check on their status.  We don’t live in a very sophisticated or high-income area of the country, so I can only imagine how people can interact with their dogs from afar in LA or NY!

As crazy as I initially thought that concept was, I’m now feeling pretty strongly that it might be a helpful idea for our aging parents with dementia.  Obviously, there are kinks to work out.  You don’t want personal care broadcasted on the web, and staff need their privacy.  But what about a connection that only the family caregiver could access, focusing on the resident’s central living area or bedroom?

Yes, there would be costs involved for businesses, but that’s something I would pay out of my own pocket for at this point.  Anyone who has a family member in a residence that’s even slightly understaffed or has uneven quality of care during the nights, weekends, and holidays knows how awful it is to have to worry about what’s really happening with Mom or Dad.

Since my mother lives a good drive away (45 mins.) I often wonder and worry about her status.  This is true especially after a few recent cases where I called the staff to ask how she was doing (“oh, she’s doing great – she just had dinner”) and later popped in and found her distressed, crying, and unable to operate her call light to get help.  She had also not gotten any dinner!

In this case, there wasn’t an intentional plot to deceive me, but bad communication between different staff members, and clearly not enough checks on Mom.  The place she lives, in general, is one of the best for middle-income people.  I get really concerned thinking about what it’s like for lower or no-income people.

Besides my concern about the inconsistent communication with Mom the nights she missed dinner and was isolated, my mother also has told me about a few more incidents with her staff lately that really concerned me.

When football season started, she told me that the night staff took away her call light lanyard because she was pushing too often to ask for help during the game.  She named a staff member who’s a big sports fan as the culprit, so I didn’t doubt her.  She also said that one of the male staff came entered her room swearing in the middle of the night, after she’d pushed her button again to request a third trip to the bathroom (she feels she has to go and then can’t release her muscles sometimes, especially if an impatient staff member is waiting).  Despite her dementia, unless she’s having a medication-induced episode of delusions/hallucinations (which is very obvious)  she doesn’t make up things that didn’t happen, and she doesn’t forget things that hit her hard emotionally.

I can’t say that I’ve never been impatient or severely frustrated with Mom.  Sometimes when I visit it’s a grueling test of my maturity and patience.  She’s one of the most challenging residents, so I do feel their pain, but I also know they’re getting paid to deal with her politely and professionally.

I’ve been in their shoes, losing my cool with Mom.  That’s another reason why I think more accountability would help everyone.  Ideally, I don’t want tired, frustrated staff alone with my vulnerable, very high-maintenance and agitated mother in the middle of the night.  But if there were at least some way to check in and know what’s going on, I’d feel a bit better about taking these risks.  And if they knew they were in “public” view, their manner would be likely be much different.

I know this is not a solution to a much deeper issue in our society.  I’m well aware that it’s a fantasy to think that virtual surveillance can solve the problem of ever-increasing numbers of older adults needing so much care in a system where the most essential staff are rarely paid more than $10/hr.  But in any case, I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity for a webcam view of my mom’s room that I could access when I was feeling strong enough to handle whatever state I would find her in there.  I’m thinking that it might be one more step toward raising the standards for care, at least to the level of our pets!

Although it would be very hard to handle at times, I started wondering why elder care residences couldn’t allow family members the same priviliges that dog owners receive for accountability and so that family members feel connected, even when they can’t be present.

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6 Responses to Treating elders as well as dogs in day care- how about webcams for assisted living?

  1. Dear Megan,
    I think this would be a great tool for all the reasons you mentioned. It must be very hard for you to not know so often just how your mother really is doing…it sure was for me the six months she was at an assisted-living place before we brought her home. I rely on our audio/visual baby monitor here at home for so many reasons.

    I imagine that it would be an uphill battle to get these in place as the norm in caregiving facilities….although, I just did a search for “use of cameras in nursing homes” and there are many, many articles about pros and cons and places where it is being used, etc. Lots to read there. Do you think you might put the idea forward to your mom’s place?

  2. Megan says:

    Hi Lesley,

    Nice to hear from you, and enjoyed your thoughts, as always. It was good to hear that I’m not out on a limb with this. Thanks for letting me know that the idea is out there a lot more than I’d realized.

    I feel shy to suggest this idea to my mom’s place, mostly because I’m already one of the most involved family members, and I regularly give them lots of feedback. I try to balance positive and critical, but it seems to be a delicate balance to be there so often and not be a thorn in their sides.

    In any case, I’m going to search for and read the articles you alerted me about. Maybe that will help me get clearer on where I stand.

    Even though I do think I have some very valid concerns, it also seems that every step along the way of the path of this journey seems to also be about giving up control and letting go. Figuring out what is changeable and what can’t be improved. Some days I feel like I really get it and can walk away gracefully, and others I’m a train wreck and want to haul her back home.

    I’m sure many people in this situation feel similarly, like you mentioned about your own experience. I hope that better solutions will arise as the next huge generation starts moving into these kinds of facilities. And as small as it seems, I always hope that writing about it publicly helps in some small way to support that change.

  3. JudyDearing says:

    Megan – the words in your post and comment resonated with me and my experience with my mother. I totally support room cameras. And, giving up control and letting go sound within reason and even has a sense of freedom – though, easier said than done as I’m sure you know.

    • Megan says:

      Hi Judy,

      Nice to hear from you again. I had not been to visit your blog in a while and just found out your mother was no longer with you.
      Wow.

      I’m constantly aware that caregiving blogs about dementia never seem to last very long, for this reason, and although I think we all live the reality of the possibility of their death every day (and sometimes fear that it will never come), it’s always a shocker to me when it does happen, never the way or time you would have expected.

      Your last post (chai) was really poignant for me. There are so many new rituals in my life that involve Mom, and as much as it’s hard and stretches me, I like sharing that space in my life with her right now, and can’t imagine what it will be like afterward.

      I’m wondering how you’ll continue your writing. Do you have plans, or going to just wait and see how it unravels?

      Take care!
      Megan

  4. momsbrain says:

    Ironically, the doctor who runs my support group just last week recommended a camera – in a private home for a woman whose two sons live nearby. But it was just something I had never thought of. I think you have a right to do it; I guess I worry about the effect on YOU of the added stress of that monitoring. As for the facility – as long as your mom is considered appropriate for their level of care, they have a responsibility to tend to her needs. My mom’s assisted living facility worked with me when it was clear Mom was becoming too much for that staff to handle. I know the staff members are not paid well and do yeoman’s work, but dang it, I don’t have much tolerance for them complaining about your mom or letting her even sense that they are frustrated when she is having a rough time. She is ill. It is not her fault. They are in the wrong. For that reason, I love the camera idea. They might rethink their behavior.

  5. Megan says:

    Thanks Emily. I appreciate your support!
    Megan

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