Modern technology can be a tool put to good use for care, writes Mae Rosukhon
It was early days in my caring. My mother had died unexpectedly and I flew immediately from Thailand to Sydney to become my stepfather’s full-time carer. But I had to go back overseas for a few weeks – to pack up my home, attend a wedding, and say goodbye to my life before returning to Australia.
How would I know my stepfather would be okay?
He was elderly and lived at home, though luckily not alone, as my parents had rented out a room. But the kind lady who was his housemate worked full-time and couldn’t take my place as his carer. I had organised for Meals on Wheels for food delivery, and a home carer came for half an hour on weekdays for personal care and medications.
The idea came from our home care coordinator, almost half-joking. “You could install cameras,” he said. This was a new idea to me. To catch burglars, yes. But to check in on my stepfather from afar? Time was running out and it seemed like the best option at the time, so I took it.
I got the name of a local tradie who could set it up. We installed two cameras, one in the open-plan living and kitchen area, and the other in my stepfather’s bedroom. It ran via the internet, so this always had to be connected. I downloaded an app, set up my passwords, and suddenly I could check in 24-7 and see what was happening at home.
Of course, it was a big privacy issue. Yes, it was our own home, but we also had someone else living there. Our kind housemate was supportive and understood the peace of mind I’d have during this time away. My stepfather trusted me with his privacy. I would honour this to the best of my ability. Only I had access to the cameras.
Checking into the app gave me an incredible sense of relief. I could see how my stepfather was doing, whether he was home, watching TV or sleeping. I could see him eating, moving and breathing. The basics give you relief when everything else seems in turmoil. After my mother died so suddenly, I felt that anything could happen.
And I was worried my stepfather would fall down the stairs, slip on the tiles, go to sleep and not get up. The world was full of dangers for him and I became a helicopter parent, hovering to check the risks abounding his life. But seeing those images of him at home, doing normal things, made me relax.
I checked the app after I checked in at the airport for my flight out. I logged in again when I reached my destination. I saw him chatting to our housemate on a Saturday morning as I was packing my items for storage. I watched him sleeping after I had a big night at my friend’s wedding. This technology was a miracle and it soothed me. One click and I would know his condition. And if anything happened, I could phone and raise the alarm. It was my best companion on my trip overseas.
When I got back to Sydney, it became my monitor that allowed me a bit more freedom. I could go out more and check my stepfather was eating dinner at his regular time. I didn’t have to be at home to ensure that he made it home from his daily outing. And soon after I discovered another piece of tech that would be a great help for both of us.
My stepfather often lost his keys. He couldn’t remember whether he dropped them under the sofa, misplaced them in his bedroom, or lost them outside on his walk. Sick of cutting multiple key copies, I heard of an electronic tracker that could be attached to keyrings. Through its app and using Bluetooth, you can find its location. If it was inside the home, you can press a button and it would start ringing.
So we found his keys when they were ringing from the garage and ringing inside his sock drawer. And since my stepfather was pretty good about never leaving the house without them, I could also track his whereabouts outside. Luckily he wasn’t a wanderer and kept generally to his routine, but if he did go off track the app was the best place to start looking. For someone who didn’t have a mobile phone, this was definitely the next best thing.
Eventually it was technology that showed me exactly how much care he needed. I went away for a few days with friends, having organised respite care to check in on him to ensure he was still eating his meals. I watched a respite worker coming to the door but my stepfather insisting he was fine and not needing any help. The full fridge of food when I returned from my trip betrayed him. And I saw exactly what happened between him and the worker on replay, where he wouldn’t let the worker inside the home.
My stepfather required more care than what was possible at home. As the time came for him to enter residential care, I felt a bit reluctant to give up the tech that had given me so much peace of mind. I seriously considered asking about installing a camera in his room. But the facility, with its dedicated team of workers, gives me more peace of mind. We kept the keyring tracker on but then coronavirus stopped all in its path. While video chat wasn’t a big offering at the facility before, it has now become a mainstream way to stay in touch with family and friends online. So I’m still seeing my stepfather through a screen, but now it’s more interactive.
Mae Rosukhon has worked as a case manager, researcher and policy adviser in health and aged care across state and federal agencies. She became a full time carer for her stepfather after the unexpected death of her mother in 2016. Mae spent the past 3 years navigating care for her stepfather from home-based to residential. She now lives in Thailand but continues to actively manage and care from abroad. She encourages others to explore how technology can be used across caring situations.