back to article Be your own Big Brother: Keeping an eye on Mum and Dad

Time was, when relatives started to get old, they'd move into the spare bedroom. My grandmother's generation seemed to do a lot of that, with assorted great aunts taking up residence. But it's much less common now. Else and Alf Garnett, Mike and Rita Fancy an alternative to regular visits to Mum and Dad? Source: BBC, Till …

  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Tried that

    I have had some basic sensors at my mom's house for 4 (or 5) years - bluetooth scan to see if her phone is around and on (she refuses to use a "smart" phone wants a simple clamshell), CCTV, etc.

    The problem is that there is a very high rate of false positives and bitrot. If you do not tend to it regularly you will find another glazed china mouse collecting dust right in front of the motion sensor or the cctv camera exactly when you need them to work.

    In any case, the setup misses the most reliable indicator that your fav pensioner is all right. Tracking that is trivial. All you need is LIRC with the correct files for her remote controls. If a 70 years old has not touched the TV for more than 3 hours, that usually means trouble.

  2. Adze

    Repay the love and attention lavished on your childhood by the simple purchase of some tech to spy on Mum and Dad, so you don't have to bother yourselves with their second one.

    I'll pass thanks!

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge


      You didn't read TFA then ?

      It's not about caring, it's about different lifestyles and expectations.

  3. Richard Jones 1
    Big Brother

    The Wonderful Internet

    There is no subject that cannot attract the mindless rambling of a troll.

    The subject is serious, the intent is serious and the requirement is obvious. I was fortunate in that my mother did not reach vascular dementia until she was in her late 80's and still had father there to deal with her. That was until it all became too much for him and her condition became too impossible to handle Telephone calls morning and night helped him for a while but as he was in his late eighties by then, a home for mother became the only answer. By that time Mother was barely able to walk and the strain of it had caused father's health to suffer. She died at 93 and father who was a little younger lasted another 18 months. My options were limited by living well over 200 miles away and having two disabled children to sort out and support. Operating at a much lower level I tried to think of ways to use technology to help but many of the issues raised in the article and in the links are very familiar. One of the greatest issues is wandering, itself an off shoot of memory failings and a sense of not belonging, even if it was their home of 50 years. On one occasion on seeing policemen Mother 'chased out of the house' to report her parents were missing. They had died 20~30 years before, no technology is going to help much with that situation. Once mother went into a home where she needed 24 hour support - none of which was paid for my any aspect of NHS, father was alone. For a while he still drove I am not sure how well, but a couple of falls meant that he had to go into care. I am not sure how much help technology could have provided for him either.

    To be effective it would need to be built in with sensors that function as part of the furniture - though as the mental aspects of dementia take hold even furniture can be a target for movement if not outright abuse.

    In short any and all technology would need to be in place well before it is needed and even then might be of use for only a few years perhaps 1~5 years at best.

    The value of any technology can only be assessed once it is in use and by then if it achieves nothing it is too late to 'un-spend' the time and effort. In any case a one size fits all old people situation is never going to be of value. In cases like this, one cannot have too much choice of methods or too much guidance as to how to assess the needs.

    The assessment problem is a vital one, unless you specialise in the subject, (from experience no one does!) you will not understand where problems might be eased, only with that data can one start to assess what, if anything might help. However, I suspect that while it might help for a short time and it does depend on each individual, once the skids of decay have been greased there is no real way to stop the downhill progression. The one real benefit is that it can ease the feelings of isolation and, prevent the issue of a faller remaining undiscovered for too long. However, that is an issue for more than the old and lonely.

    One other monitor that might be valuable is one that checks such things as the vacuum cleaner, or items needed for personal hygiene since cleaning in various forms can be an issue.

    For all that, I end up wondering if this is not just another example of trying to find a home for homeless technology where actually people would do it better?

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: The Wonderful Internet

      People can do some of this better, certainly (though they might not always spot small day to day changes, such as the example where the sensor systems can spot that someone is now moving around more slowly).

      Unfortunately, people have their own costs. In some situations, a move to assisted living of some sort might be required, or regular visits from a family member or home care assistant. I don't think anyone here is likely to bedgrudge family contact, notwithstanding the snotty comment earlier, but as you point out, distance, or other family commitments, or work can be an obstacle.

      It's certainly true that you might only get a few years use out of some of these systems, before you have to move on to something else, (and that in itself is perhaps a good reason for the subscription via service provider model that Green Peak was talking about), but for many people I would think those few extra years of independence in their own home are likely to be quite precious.

      Of course, in the longer term, if systems like this prove to be effective (and remember, they can be used for other things too, like letting you know the kids are home from school, or basic home security) then they're not just used for keeping an eye on the elderly.

      I suspect that companies like GP would very much like to see a wider adoption, but as with many such things, making the case for something can be tricky. For a lot of people, I think they can quite easily see the utility in the case of senior monitoring, which makes it a good place to start.

  4. Adrian 4 Silver badge
    Black Helicopters


    And then there's this thing, but it's sort of weird. Reminds me of Psycho.

    1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge

      Re: Mother


      Peace and joy friend. Are you of the body?

      1. Jes.e

        Re: Mother

        "Peace and joy friend. Are you of the body?"


        I'm feeling so old now...

    2. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Mother

      It does look interesting... might have to see if I can get one to play with.

  5. Gray

    US options are far, far simpler ...

    Unable to care for that beloved old parent, relative, or sibling at home?

    NO PROBLEM! Here in our human-rights-loving American nation of fee-based health care, endorsed and promulgated by the world's richest economy and the globe's most powerful government, we have taken the issue of elder care well in hand, unsurpassed anywhere on the planet!

  6. Metrognome

    Nothing too extensive

    I guess my mum isn't as advanced in her years being in her late 70's so I keep the monitoring simple just checking on her location on G+ (used to be called latitude).

    Uncharacteristically for people of her age she has discovered computers and smartphones and tablets in the last 5 years and now chooses which friends to accept invites from on the basis of their WiFi speed and resilience.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Nothing too extensive

      I'm not sure that it is as rare as some people imagine. - there certainly are quite a few people of that age who are online. Though my mother doesn't do social networking, she does use it for email, online banking, submitting meter readings, and so forth.

      She's often told me how when dealing with some companies, if they know her age, they automatically assume she won't be able to do things like send a meter reading, which is somewhat patronising.

    2. Salts

      Re: Nothing too extensive

      My mum when she was in her 60's decided she needed a computer now at 76, she is quite comfortable with them, but the old man refused to have anything to do with computers. Then a few years ago we bought mum an iPad and he started playing a few games(dominos, sudoku etc.) ended up we had to buy him his own iPad for the sake of family harmony. Now it's not just games, it news, sport and he is learning more everyday, he is 79. Interesting thing he has a friend who is very ill and can't get out, but has an iPad, online dominos I believe is being experimented with, FaceTime is also useful.

      Now they only watch TV when the iPads need recharging:-)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have a more pressing problem re. senior IT

    Why the f*ck do all high range TVs need to have so many confusing menus you cannot disable?

    My dad's eyesight sucks, so we got a large TV (think 55cm diagonal) which has an excellent picture and the size means subtitles are legible for my dad without the need for glasses. It's even clever enough to switch on the cable box and flip the channel on it, so he only needs one remote.

    However, there is NO way of locking in the input from accidental mistakes. There is NO way to kill off the smart hub and the many, many apps inside which confuse the crap out of my dad, and there is NO way to get back to a sort of usable home position so I had to write a routine for him to follow if things went awry (which can happen by simply pressing a channel button before the TV is on as it will then go to analogue TV - which won't work. Have looked everywhere, but there isn't a good TV around that you can lock down so it remains usable without almost a degree in computing, why?

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: I have a more pressing problem re. senior IT

      I suspect that a lot of the manufacturers haven't even thought about addressing that yet - though, that said, when it comes to other technologies for the elderly, the Japanese are fairly keen to remind us in their press conferences that they spend lots of money on research, so perhaps once they feel smart TV has reached a more stable state, they'll tackle this.

      As you say, settings that can be locked down, for example offering access to catch up players, but hiding all the other IP content, media players and so on, would be useful. Even, in some situations, being able to lock out functionality such as switching from the tuner to a different input (or vice versa, in the case of a Sky customer) could solve some of those annoying problems we've doubtless all faced.

      And perhaps, it wouldn't be beyond the wit of man to allow for, say, a five second press of the 'Exit' button to reset the TV to those defaults.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: I have a more pressing problem re. senior IT

        One major obstacle here, is that the TV manufacturers seem to be under the delusion that their smart TV stuff adds value - and that they're competent to design user interfaces. However, neither of these seems to be even remotely close to reality.

        What they don't seem to want to accept is that many, in the UK probably most, people now use their TV as simply a display for one or more box. Whether that be Sky, Virgin, Youview, a console or something else. So all it needs to do is cede control to the other end of the HDMI cable, and leave us alone.

        I've just started using my TV's Freeview tuner, as I've cancelled Sky. And I think I'm going to have to get a box. Partly as I miss PVR, but mostly because I can barely read the horrible program guide on the telly, and the remote is so badly laid out that it's too easy to dump myself into the menus, rather than the EPG.

        I have no idea why they thought that only about 14pt type was acceptable on a 50" screen. I only bought one that big because of my poor eyesight in the first place... Similarly I don't favour remote controls that are so tiny and piss-poorly designed that I'm required to dig out my reading glasses to use them.

    2. deadmonkey

      Re: I have a more pressing problem re. senior IT

      I've had three different Sony TVs over the last 5 years and they've all had the ability to choose which inputs are selectable.

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Notwithstanding Richard Jones's comment (we have similar issues with our daughter's FiL) this sort of article & its comments, however well-meaning, seldom manage to avoid a condescending air. Some of us have been using this stuff longer than some of you have been alive.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Well, yes, the point of the article is not whether or not people have been using the technology, really, but how it can be harnessed to solve some of the problems I outlined, with families tending to be far less nuclear and close-knit than in the past.

      In some cases, like Mindings, they can be a way of helping someone not used to the technology to keep in touch. But monitoring systems, in themselves, don't necessarily imply anything about the technological savvy of those being monitored, I think. Though, of course, the degree of tech savvy is likely to have an impact on the sort of system you choose.

  9. DougS Silver badge

    Smartphones run for days, no need for "ancient Nokia" for better standby time

    The reason most of us find a smartphone needs a nightly charge is because we use them all the time, and for much more than just calling. If the ancient Nokia lasts for days, the smartphone would too, because they last a long time in standby. Go look at the specs for standby time on what you have, you might think it is fantasy but it is "standby" time, i.e. you aren't touching it at all (and it assumes a strong cellular signal, if you have only a couple bars at home you'll do worse, naturally)

    This was brought home for me a few weeks back when I accidentally left my phone at home on a Saturday when I was with friends from 7:30 AM until past midnight. When I returned I found my iPhone 5 sitting on the edge of the bed where I'd left it, with a 93% charge. Along with a couple missed calls and nearly 300 messages (the bulk from my friends teasing me about forgetting my phone...probably shouldn't have told them!)

    1. Marvin the Martian

      Re: Smartphones run for days, no need for "ancient Nokia" for better standby time

      Err... No.

      My 1-y-old samsung galaxy fire with Bluetooth and GPS turned off and not opened for 14h (remove from charger in morning, look at it when reconnecting to it) has lost over 25% of charge.

      My Nokia 100 can be on for 8days without recharging. And that's when travelling that I use it, so I actually have to check it more regularly (and change the local time) -- as a clock, and because my provider keeps sending me texts about tariffs etc.

      Try again.

      1. dotdavid

        Re: Smartphones run for days, no need for "ancient Nokia" for better standby time

        Unfortunately smartphones' batteries don't last as long in standby, mainly because they're usually doing things (like checking emails, checking for social network updates, uploading your photos) when they're not actively being used.

        Turn off background sync and it can last quite a few days.

      2. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Smartphones run for days, no need for "ancient Nokia" for better standby time

        So maybe Samsung should make wall hugger commercials about their own customers if they have such shitty standby life.

        If you don't believe me, you can do this experiment yourself for free if you want: Go buy an unlocked iPhone (5 or 6, doesn't matter) and charge it up all the way, toss in a disposable SIM and let it sit for 24 hours and see what the battery life is. Then return it for a full refund - Apple lets you return for any reason with 14 days or something like that. This experiment costs you nothing but your own time.

        Not saying you should buy your gran an iPhone to get decent standby time, but just because your particular Android phone has absolutely horrid battery life doesn't mean they all do, and certainly doesn't mean that iPhones do.

  10. IHateWearingATie

    Surprised at the lack of progress in this sector...

    ... as I remember working for a short while (in one of my brief departures from Public Sector work at the time) with a system that seemed to work pretty well in 2004/5.

    The system had video cameras in each room for image recognition to track the movements of the person within the home. I saw it tested and it was pretty good at recognising when someone had fallen over and wasn't getting up or was moving much slower than usual, or hadn't visited the kitchen for the day (comparing with normal patterns, you could assume the person hadn't eaten yet).

    Given that was 10 years ago, and the cameras and processing power was pretty crappy compared to today's capabilities I'm surprised that something like this hasn't been commercialised so far.

  11. Nigel Whitfield.

    Update on Mindings

    Just a quick update on Minding, who I was in contact with again this morning; the latest version of the app is now, apparently, exclusively for iPad.

  12. alwarming
    Paris Hilton

    Big Brother ?

    More like Big Son, innit ?

    Paris, coz does watching her makes me her big brother ? Ugh..

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