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.