Caregiving and Cognitive Problems: Gadgets That Can Help

(WebMD) Devices, apps, systems, and services could make your life as a caregiver a lot less stressful. Plus, they can offer your loved one greater safety and independence.

Most assistive technology is pretty simple or user-friendly, so getting set up should be easy. If you get stuck, a relative or friend will likely be able to lend a hand and help you figure it out.

Check with your loved one’s doctor and other caregivers for suggestions. They could have great advice for your situation, be it a young child with Down syndrome or a parent with dementia. Some doctors’ offices have occupational therapists or social workers who can help you find resources. If yours doesn’t, ask about a referral or recommendation.

Also look for information and inspiration from a nonprofit group for your loved one’s illness or disability, locally or online.

Once you get the hang of it, assistive technology can improve the quality of life for both you and your loved one.

Staying Independent

Start with the basics. If your loved one has trouble because of a physical disability, look into low-tech assistive devices, like a reacher (a pole with a claw on the end), to grab stuff off a high shelf. Even simple tools like a can opener with thick, easy-to-grip handles can make a big difference. These gadgets allow someone to do things that they otherwise couldn’t without help. That’s good for both of you.

Get an inexpensive locating system to help find things that often get misplaced. First, attach a small tag to whatever tends to disappear, like their keys, wallet, phone, or glasses case. Depending on the system, they use an app or click a button to make the tag on the missing item ring or beep.

Apps for smartphones and tablets can make it easier for people with autism, MS, or Parkinson’s to communicate. With special software and hardware, computers can even be controlled by eye movements.


Caregivers have long used egg timers and digital watches to remind loved ones to take their medicine or get ready for a doctor’s appointment.

An app on a smartphone or tablet gives you more flexibility to schedule daily, weekly, or monthly alarms. A service such as OnTimeRx lets you set up automatic emails, text messages, or even phone calls to prompt your loved one to do things like take medicine, check their blood sugar, make an appointment, or exercise. You may be able to add a personal message to the reminder, too.

An electronic pillbox will give out medicines on a timer. Basic versions just spit out pills; fancier ones can tell you if a pill has been missed.

Prescription management services will deliver custom sets of medications in regular shipments. Pills are packaged together for specific doses during the day, like breakfast and dinner. Your loved one opens the pack and all of their medications are there. These pharmacies may also take care of refills automatically.

In Case of Emergency

Medical alert systems have a bracelet or pendant with an alarm button. When your loved one presses the button — if they fall or are in trouble — an operator at a call center answers. Depending on the company you choose, they’ll notify a specific person or an emergency service, or perhaps talk through a device like a speakerphone. Some wearables might detect that the person has fallen, too.

You may also be able to get more help buttons that you can place around their home, like near the bath, in case they aren’t wearing their device.

But these systems only work when the button is in the base unit’s range. Typically, you’ll pay a monthly service fee.

Look After Your Loved One

Simple motion detectors can be installed on doors. They’ll sound an alarm when opened, so you’ll know that your loved one’s gone out. If you don’t live in the same place, you can check some of these sensors online. Pressure sensors can help track motion, too. For instance, put one under a mattress so you’ll know when they get out of bed.

With a ”nanny cam” connected to the Internet, you can keep an eye on your loved one from home or work. If that seems too intrusive, you could use the built-in camera (or set up an inexpensive webcam) on a computer, tablet, or smart TV and check in with a video call using a service like Skype or FaceTime.

Going a step beyond bracelets and pendants inscribed with a person’s health condition, some medical alert system wearables come with GPS tracking, too. The service can help you find your loved one if they wander away from home. Other companies offer wearable products that make it easy for emergency medical workers to get to your loved one’s health information and records, such as a built-in USB flash drive.

Wearable fitness trackers and health monitors, like Fitbit and CarePredict, can record things such as sleep patterns and activity, which you can check with an app. The data could help you and their doctor spot possible problems.


Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on July 31, 2016


  • Beth Kallmyer, MSW, director of client services for the national office, Alzheimer’s Association, Chicago.
  • AARP: “Staying Connected to Those Who Care.”
  • Alzheimer’s Association: “MedicAlert and Safe Return.”
  • Family Caregiver Alliance: “Assistive Technology.”
  • McCarron, P.S. “Getting the Help You Need,” Take Care: (National Family Caregivers Association), Summer, 2008.
  • Pathfinders for Autism: “Plan Your Response to an Autism Emergency.”

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