How to prevent confused elder from dismantling technology components.
November 21, 2011 7:42 AM   Subscribe

An elderly relative, once technically savvy, now goes into fugue states where, in his confusion, he dismantles computer and A/V setups, with no one in the household to reconnect them properly. I'm looking for a way of securing A/V and computer connections while leaving the function of the devices still accessible. The alternative so far is spending endless hours with the cable company to get them to send someone to help, or paying someone else to come by. Phone instructions are no good, and there is no one in the household who can help.
posted by oneironaut to Technology (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Duct tape?
posted by saveyoursanity at 7:49 AM on November 21, 2011

Personally, I'd put all components in a locking cabinet with cable holes out the back so that the only thing accessible is the monitor, the TV, a remote and wireless peripherals. You may need an IR repeater hanging out as well for the remote and make sure it's placed close to power.

There's also the possibility of an all-in-one PC -- nothing really to dismantle since the monitor and computer are one unit. Sync wireless mouse and keyboard to it, it's all one bit. He could still unplug it, however.
posted by Gucky at 7:50 AM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks, Gucky, for the cabinet suggestion. But the front has to be accessible so he can, for example, put in a DVD. I'm trying, however, to not introduce any new technology either. Apple TV was supposed to be a simple solution--until it wasn't. Password re-entry and multiple remotes are becoming a problem as well.
posted by oneironaut at 7:54 AM on November 21, 2011

You can buy a locked PC cabinet that leaves the DVD drive accessible. You're not going to get a better solution than that, honestly.
posted by Jairus at 7:57 AM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

1. Using colored (red, blue, yellow, etc) tape to code the cables and the ports would allow non-techies to reassmble easily. This might also help with phone support if you kept notes on, say, the USB port being blue, the HDMI cable being green.

2. Provide the "mad disassembler" with a honeypot - a device, preferably with lots of cables and switches, he can mess with that doesn't affect equipment people count on.
posted by alittleknowledge at 8:19 AM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are any number of cable lockdown devices available on the market, for use in schools and libraries for example, to keep parts from wandering off. Ask at your local library where they buy their security bits.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:32 AM on November 21, 2011

Thanks, caution. I've been searching for such devices online but can't seem to find them. It seems that most of them are to keep parts from wandering off--they lock the components to something. This would be to prevent someone from unhooking the connections.

Alittleknowledge--the "honeypot" idea is interesting, but he's only interested in devices he's using at the time. The process seems to go like this--he forgets how to use a device he is very familiar with and has used for years, and reasons that the issue must be with the device and how it is connected, not with him. So he unplugs and resets everything, and then can't get it working again.
posted by oneironaut at 8:44 AM on November 21, 2011

Using a combination of a windowed locked cabinet (so the remotes can still function) along with a computer cage (Anthro among other computer desk manufacturers sell them) would be the best solution to keep the equipment out of reach physically.

While I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on tv, I will say that it may be time for your family to consider hiring a home health aide to mind your relative (or at least getting a family member to never leave he/she alone) at the very minimum. While right now your relative has limited what they take apart to household electronics, whats to stop them from moving to househould appliances, or even worse, the family vehicle? (if applicable) Perhaps a family meeting considering just what the implications of these "fugue states" happening means to how the care of and for this relative will have to be changed/modified will need to take place. Good luck.
posted by chosemerveilleux at 9:14 AM on November 21, 2011

The gold standard for this task is a 19" equipment rack with a locking door on the back. Middle Atlantic is the big name for racks designed to go in permanent installations, but their stuff is pretty pricy (you can buy a custom shelf from them to fit just about any piece of consumer electronics you've got, but the shelf will probably cost you almost as much as the dvd player. If you've got the money to spend, a professional AV integrator can install your equipment in such a way that it looks like part of your cabinetry, presenting only the front face of each piece of equipment and making the wiring completely inaccessible without a key.

If you don't want to spend thousands on parts and labor for this job, a good alternative might be to get a travel rack designed for musicians like this one and put all your equipment on simple shelves like these. You can then secure your equipment to the shelves with double stick tape, screws through the bottom of the shelf right into the feet of the piece, or with zip ties.
posted by contraption at 9:26 AM on November 21, 2011

Thanks for all the suggestions so far. I've used them to guide my searching and have found this, which might do the trick.
posted by oneironaut at 9:55 AM on November 21, 2011

That one looks good, assuming it's large enough for what you're putting in it. Some things to look out for when choosing an equipment rack:

- Make sure it's deep enough. That means enough depth to accomodate the equipment itself, then add 2 more inches at the bare minimum to allow for cabling.

- The "U" you see in rack descriptions is one "rack unit" which is 1 3/4". The rack shelves you purchase will be sized in rack units as well, and you should make sure that they're large enough to fit the gear (so, for instance, if your dvd player is 2" high you need a 2U (3 1/2") shelf, no way to fudge it.) Also check the depth on any shelves you're considering to make sure they're deep enough for the equipment and not too deep for the rack (width is standardized on these things but depth is not.)

- Consider ventilation. You should be sure to include a vented panel at the top and bottom, and should also make sure to leave plenty of room around heat-generating components (the worst offenders are amplifiers, surround receivers, cable/satellite boxes and the old style Apple TV.) Use vented shelves for these hotter components if they have intake grills on the bottom, and in general avoid blocking any vents in the gear, be they top, bottom, sides or back.

Feel free to memail with any specific questions, I work for a company that builds racks like this all the time.
posted by contraption at 10:18 AM on November 21, 2011

Last hotel room I stayed in had little metal covers over the cable connections, so that you couldn't grab them to unscrew them. Just a cup-shaped cap, with the open end of the cup pointed back over the top of the cable. You'd need a pair of needlenose pliers to grab and unscrew the cable. There were similar covers over the other cables (HDMI and etc.) going from the box to the TV. Where that wasn't possible, there were metal plates with holes for cables to pass through, but the plates were screwed down to stop anyone from messing with the cables. This is pretty much what I was thinking when I mentioned tamper-proof covers and locks.

(It's great to stop anyone from screwing up the setup, but frustrated me because one cable was loose and I couldn't access it to fix it.)
posted by caution live frogs at 10:39 AM on November 21, 2011

caution live frogs, I'd love to find those covers. Just a matter of the right search term I guess. No luck so far.
posted by oneironaut at 12:05 PM on November 21, 2011

I'm worried about what he might do out of frustration of not being able to dismantle the wires the proper way. Would he dare take scissors or other woefully inadvisable technique, to accomplish the task, if in a state? If that's a possibility, just color code the cables to the sockets so you know where what goes where, and make a diagram for future reference. I can't imagine an A/V setup being at all that difficult that color-coding can't fix, for like $20 in colored electrical tape.
posted by Quarter Pincher at 12:30 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having had two grandfathers with dementia, he's not going to just give up. If he's convinced the device doesn't work and needs to be fixed, he's going to fix it, by golly. I'd be concerned that he'd get frustrated with other household members for locking away his stuff. I'm for the color coded electrical tape option.
posted by desjardins at 2:13 PM on November 21, 2011

Quarter Pincher and desjardins, those are really valid points, and we may try labels first. This is also a caregiver sanity issue as well--she is uncommonly technophobic, so no matter how well color-coded, the prospect of coming home to a bunch of cords she needs to reconnect will be exasperating. A locked box would give her a lot more peace of mind.

On the other hand, maybe if he saw the cords color-coded, and in the right place, it might register at that moment not to unplug them.
posted by oneironaut at 4:09 PM on November 21, 2011

Electrical tape can be peeled off; colored duct tape is a bit better, or go to the dollar store and get 4 colors of nail polish, or 4 colors of model paint. color code everything. I use a 4 port A/V switch similar to this for Tivo, cable, DVD and Wii. You might be able to glue cables in place. Ideally, the teevee could have a built-in dvd player, the computer could be a laptop with wifi and a wifi router/cablemodem in a box. Here's a company with enclosures. Your town might have an A/V company; they'll know how to find what you need. Zip ties are your friend here.

When my aunt had Alzheimers, a loving caregiver gave her a big ledger, a box of old checks, and an adding machine. She went through the motions of her banking job, because the familiar felt comfortable. If Uncle Joe like to tinker, k'nex, Legos, Erector sets or old clocks to disassemble might make him happy. A measuring tape (esp the folding kind), some nuts, bolts and pieces to connect, pliers, wrench, etc., would be nice for him. Or some fidget/fiddle toys.

Thanks for taking care of Uncle Joe, who surely has his own name.
posted by theora55 at 4:10 PM on November 21, 2011

before you go spending a lot of money, may I poke at this assumption:

"there is no one in the household who can help"?

- could you take photos of the back of each component, showing the cable connections, possibly with closeups as well, as a cheatsheet for re-connecting? Might need to label the cables.
- could you pay neighbor to reconnect? possibly paying in cookies, or chess lessons, or letting them use your piano, or....? They might need the cheatsheet as well.
posted by at at 5:29 PM on November 21, 2011

On the other hand, maybe if he saw the cords color-coded, and in the right place, it might register at that moment not to unplug them.


could you take photos of the back of each component, showing the cable connections, possibly with closeups as well, as a cheatsheet for re-connecting?

equals a good solution. Post a picture of what the cables SHOULD look like directly above the components themselves. Perhaps your relative will see that yes, they DO look like the picture, and leave them alone. Failing that, his caregiver will know how to reconnect them.
posted by desjardins at 7:59 PM on November 21, 2011

Thanks, everyone, you've been great. This has been very helpful. I've got a few things to try here.
posted by oneironaut at 4:27 AM on November 22, 2011

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