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Can WiFi Help Solve the Caregiver Crisis

November 21, 2021

The following article was authored by our Head of Marketing, Susan Gallotti, about how she used 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. just before us kids and our dad would come home. It was hard for me to have that picture of my mom in my head change as she got older. I always knew the day would come when I had to take care of my mom, but I didn’t realize exactly how hard that would be. While being a caretaker can be extremely rewarding, it is also exhausting and draining to manage alongside other conflicting priorities, and for me personally, my own stress and anxieties. Working for Cognitive at the time, I was lucky to have access to WiFi Motion, which helped reduce the stress of becoming a caretaker for my mom.

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. So naturally, everything in our home had its right place. 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 put it back in the sink. Rinse and repeat. And dinner was always sacred for her. Never having worked a day in her life, my mom loved being able to have a delicious, warm meal ready when the family came home at the end of the day. If I was lucky, it would be my favorite: spaghetti and meatballs.

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 and her husband, my father, unfortunately passed away. Suddenly, my mom, who thrived off of 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 a bit of an introvert and a homebody, being left to one’s own devices for the majority of her days left her feeling without purpose. The woman who had always seen herself as the caretaker of the family no longer had family at home to take care of. She was the kind of person that was great at taking care of others, but not so great about caring for herself. So, she never complained or voiced any concerns about her comfort or health to me or my siblings. You see, my mom never wanted to be a burden. Admitting she needed help was the last thing she wanted to do. This would result in her refusing to call a repairman or a family member if the plumping or appliances in her house needed work. Instead, she’d just let the problem sit for months until the next time it happened to conveniently come up on one of our visits from out of town.

Taking Stress Out of the Equation
And for a time, that’s how things were in our family. More and more, my sister and I found ourselves pulled in a million directions, attempting to juggle demanding careers and raising children. I developed the worrying realization that my mom was quickly approaching the age where she would need a more watchful eye and I wasn’t sure how I was going to make add taking care of her to my already overwhelming list of responsibilities. Also knowing my mom, I wasn’t even sure that she would accept the help.

Since my mom was living alone, my sister and I were constantly worried about her. We weren’t sure if she was getting enough exercise, if she was safe, or even if she was eating right. However, since we were managing our own busy jobs, all we could do was regularly check-in with her through phone calls. My mom has always been bad with technology though. Being used to rotary phones and fearful about telemarketing calls, she had the frustrating habit of leaving the phone off the hook, no matter how many times we reminded her not to. My sister and I would spend hours, sometimes days, trying to reach her by phone, trying to juggle our work and family commitments to figure out who had the time to drive to check on her.

One time, we had been unable to reach my mom all night, but my sister and I had busy work days with looming deadlines, so both of us spent the day stressed and anxious, trying to re-organize commitments so that one of us could drive over to check in on her. Imagine how frustrated we were when we showed up only to see our mom absolutely fine at home, with the phone off the hook again. Annoyed that we had to reschedule meetings or fall behind on projects, we’d let out our irritation on our mom, even though she didn’t know better. 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. The guilt-ridden exchanges lessened once we got WiFi Motion set up in her home. It would be as simple as my sister texting me to say “I can’t reach mom.” I would open up the Live Motion view on the WiFi Motion app and immediately be able to relay back to her that there was movement near the kitchen less than an hour ago. That would prevent the emotional tsunami from even getting underway. It freed us to continue about our days without all the stress of letting our imaginations get the best of us.

Fearful of change, 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. As well, my mom has always been a bit fearful about going out into the normal everyday world. As she aged, she wanted less and less to go grocery shopping or even to the hairdresser. But on the flip side, mom was scared of living alone. She would obsessively check that the garage door was closed or that the windows and doors were locked.

We needed something that would allow her to age in place confidently and comfortably while providing my sister and I with peace of mind. We wanted to take a proactive approach to keeping her safe, happy, and healthy that would ultimately break the vicious cycle of anger, guilt, and frustration. Parents shouldn’t have to be accountable to their kids, after all.

This emotional turmoil I experienced was only made worse by how busy my life was at the time, and how stressed that made me about being a caregiver. I was working a full-time job, commuting over an hour and a half each day, juggling the shifting schedules of my kids’ extracurriculars and my husband’s shift work, keeping my dog happy and healthy, and all while having to remember to check in on my mom regularly for mundane things such as taking out the garbage or buying groceries. A simple phone call from my mom saying “the fridge died again” would be enough to send me into a panic attack in the corner. It forces you to feel angry at the responsibilities thrust upon you, but then guilty for feeling that way.

I never expected to be taking care of a parent while I was still raising my own children. This is the part of being a caregiver that no one wants to talk about. When you’re overwhelmed in your personal or professional life, you don’t want to have to deal with a parent’s demands on your time but then that leaves you feeling guilty about not being a better child or losing your temper at your parent. The anxieties with caring for an aging parent inevitably bleed into other relationships in your life such as your spouse, children, or siblings as you have to 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 own health.

Luckily, at the time I was working with Cognitive and was immersed in their WiFi Motion technology. Dealing with all of this in my personal life made me that much more passionate about the possibilities behind our technology. While its eldercare applications were yet to be explored, I could see the potential for a simple system that would allow my sister and I to remotely check on my mom and gain insights into her daily life. No more frantic check ins. No more anxieties about her safety. We wanted to be able to catch problems before they became too serious. Especially since we knew that mom could be obstinate when it came to asking for help or being truthful about her daily life.

Bringing WiFi Sensing into the Home
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 my sister and I could look into her well-being with Live Motion.

While this setup was great for quick check ins, it 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 thing for my mother, especially as a mom and wife. Now living alone, she had lost that sense of purpose when it came to 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 information to make small changes that supported her living at home but weren’t confrontational or would threaten her independence.

Giving Mom Space to be Herself
We wanted to make sure our mom was still living the way she wanted without feeling like a burden. 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 and meatballs 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 own 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 happy moments that I am glad dominate my memory of her in her old age. Miss you, mom.