Help me track my mother's computer usage
September 21, 2014 9:47 AM   Subscribe

My mother is 90-years-old and lives alone. We worry when she doesn't pick up for the phone or we haven't heard from her for a couple of days. She is actively-opposed to any sort of regular check-ins by phone or e-mail to us, and she also does not want to use any type of monitoring service for the elderly (such as Lifeline) She does, however, use e-mail and her computer on a daily basis. Is there any software I can install that would send out e-mail alerts to us when she has (or hasn't) used her computer in x amount of hours? I would, of course, ask her permission to do this, and I am fairly sure she would be okay with it. (Don't ask me what exactly the difference is between this and Lifeline, I think it has to do with the stigma of aging that a service like Lifeline implies, something she is quite sensitive about.)
posted by nanook to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if any of them work on the timeframe of hours and not days, but there are a number of Dead Man's Switch options that have popped up to allow you to choose actions that should occur (emailing people being one of them) if you haven't logged into an account in X days. If she has Gmail, I think the Google version is called "Inactive Account Manager," but for a non-Google solution you might want to search around and find something with a more euphemistic name.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:07 AM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Leave something like Skype or a chat program running on her computer, and yours, and note when she becomes available and isn't available to chat?
posted by straw at 10:12 AM on September 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

Yes, a chat program could work. I would use Miranda IM and set it up to connect using your protocol of choice.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:19 AM on September 21, 2014

Maybe RescueTime?
posted by aniola at 10:29 AM on September 21, 2014

If she uses Gmail, the built in google chat has a notification when people are on or off (if it isn't manually turned off). If she keeps her computer on all the time, this might not be helpful. But if she turns it off and logs in regularly, this would effectively do what you are asking.

It does sound to me like the "checking in" thing is a bigger deal than the method, though. But less invasive attempts would be to use built-in features that are already pretty commonly accepted in certain program.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:04 AM on September 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I wonder if you can do this behaviorally. Check in without checking in. Like, instead of asking how she is, ask if she heard about interesting local news item?
posted by J. Wilson at 11:13 AM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get her hooked on a two-person online game! I started playing Words With Friends with my mom and we've been playing steadily for over a year now. An unintentional benefit is that I'm always aware of how long it's been since she last played a round and use that as a rough estimation of her well-being.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:20 AM on September 21, 2014 [22 favorites]

What about a Dropcam aimed at her coffee/tea station that you can see from your smartphone?

With her approval of course.
posted by cda at 1:59 PM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These are some great suggestions.

I would love to be able to play an online game with her, it would be fun, and a chance to bond, but my mother is not very consistent (hence the desire for some kind of passive ability to monitor her). She is a very active person and is often out and about despite ill health, and she still drives (she shouldn't be). She is way past her pull date on safely being able to live on her own, but, well, she is adamant about not moving, and she is mentally competent so it is her decision, despite how worrisome it is to us. Trying to find some way that is agreeable to her that we can get some kind of daily information that she is okay.

I like the idea of leaving Skype open, that is workable. And the cam, that sounds intriguing.

Keep the suggestions coming.
posted by nanook at 3:32 PM on September 21, 2014

I get that we want our parents to feel independent, but sometimes they have to grow up and realize that they're getting old and that we need to be able to insure that they're okay.

Jesus, why tiptoe around this? "Mom, you're old, I'm pretty sure this isn't a news flash, because I'm old too, and I know it. While it's nice that you sometimes feel up to getting out and going places, it's also important for us, your family to know that you're okay and not trapped in the laundry room with a badger. Your stubbornness in this issue causes us to worry about you, and frankly you inconvenience us by not allowing us to check in on you."

I'm pretty angry with her driving. If she's not fit to drive it's as bad as a drunk on the road, worse because there's this feeling that it's not really that bad. If it really is an issue, have her license revoked.

It's scary to see our family member age, especially if we're not too far behind them. But she's holding you AND the rest of the family hostage to her whims and desires. Not being brutally honest and letting someone who has NO business living alone without special checks in place is just a way for YOU to feel better. It's easier than having the hard conversation.

We make much of Mental Competence, but what of physical competence? What do her doctors say about her living situation? Could she pull herself out of the tub and phone for help if she slipped? Is her home equipped for declining mobility? If she's not even agreeing to a daily phone call, I'm guessing no.

This is serious, and while cajoling and thinking up little ruses around this shit is totes adorbs, it's a real problem and a real concern.

Says the person who worked on a lady in the emergency room who laid in a house for a week after having a stroke because these checks weren't in place.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:00 PM on September 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

I know you asked about online, but could you have a cleaning person and or meal delivery sent to her at regular intervals and check in with them instead of her?
posted by cestmoi15 at 4:18 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

she still drives (she shouldn't be)

She can make her own decision about continuing to live alone, as it's only her own safety she's risking, but for this insanity you can and should take steps to get her license revoked. Contact her doctor. Call her state's DMV, and maybe they can arrange for a test. She's lived her life, but she could kill someone with theirs still ahead of them.
posted by palliser at 4:19 PM on September 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

I dislike what I'm about to suggest, because it's not answering your question and because you've already dismissed it, so I apologize for this...

... but I think Lifeline (or some such service) is probably the way to go, despite your mother's objections. We got my grandmother this service and it gave us a ton of peace of mind and it didn't bother her at all.

The setup was this:

- Lifeline bracelet that she wore like a watch. It had a button on it for her to press if she had fallen/etc.
- The button was linked to the Lifeline machine, which would call the service. If she wasn't able to be heard or did not respond, Lifeline would call the family members (in the order we gave them). If she needed help and was able to respond, an ambulance would be dispatched.

It wasn't one of those "oh, let me press this thing every 24 hours" thing, which is what my other grandmother had (and didn't mind). It was just "if you fall, use this". There was a testing period every 30 days in which you had to hit the button to open a call to Lifeline just to ensure it worked, but aside from that, she could just ignore it.

It's not as great for the family as the 24-hour "hit the button" type, but maybe it's a nice compromise.

Regardless of what you decide, I know this is a difficult thing to deal with and you have my best wishes. Good luck.
posted by juliebug at 4:21 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

She can make her own decision about continuing to live alone, as it's only her own safety she's risking, but for this insanity you can and should take steps to get her license revoked. Contact her doctor. Call her state's DMV, and maybe they can arrange for a test. She's lived her life, but she could kill someone with theirs still ahead of them.

Absolutely this. A million times over. My dad tried to suggest that he continue driving (with no actual need to) while experiencing multiple TIA/seizure type episodes per week. Fortunately he agreed not to pursue it voluntarily but if he hadn't I absolutely would have reported him to the DVLA (UK equivalent to the DMV) with no hesitation. It's tragic that he died relatively young, it would have been exponentially worse if he'd killed an otherwise healthy person by driving when not well enough to be responsible for a vehicle.
posted by *becca* at 4:36 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ruthless Bunny, yup, I hear you. Been there, had the tough talk (multiple times) regarding her living alone. Bought that t-shirt a loooong time ago. Talked to her doctor about whether she should live alone as well. Outside of arriving with a moving van and putting her in restraints there is no way I can coerce her to move, and I am guessing that is illegal. Ha.

She just passed the driving test in a tough province to keep a license, so I think she is safe enough in terms of not being a danger to others, but I just worry about her just being out there, winter is coming, and it is hard enough for an agile person to navigate the snowbanks and ice to and from a car. Sigh.

She has home care, the most they come is once every two weeks to do some light housekeeping (which is great), but does nothing towards checking in on her more regularly, she has some food delivery but they come and drop off a bunch of frozen stuff, maybe monthly. She is not isolated, she sees lots of people, but it would take some time for someone to notice if she didn't show up somewhere. (And, yes, I have witnessed that scenario first hand including the hazmat clean-up.)

Juliebug, I agree with you, Lifeline would be the easiest. Had THAT conversation as well. This is a woman who doesn't want to use a walker, because, what would people think.

Sorry to be a threadsitter, this will be the last.
posted by nanook at 4:37 PM on September 21, 2014

OK, in terms of your question, could one of the fitness activity trackers (Jawbone/Fitbit/Fuelband) be helpful? Many of them communicate via Bluetooth - if you could persuade your mother to keep it charged and a smartphone or other bluetooth device charged) and could also log in to her account you would be able to see her step counts/activity tracking.

It's a bit clunky as a solution but since this is very much "young person" technology she might find it more acceptable (but still fairly easy to use if set up for her).
posted by *becca* at 4:53 PM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

She is not isolated, she sees lots of people, but it would take some time for someone to notice if she didn't show up somewhere.

Something dawned on me, and I'm not sure if it would be helpful for you or not. My grandmother, when she got older, had a carrier alert service that would alert the mailman if the mail wasn't picked up after a couple of days or so. I believe it may have been this service. One of the default options can be to contact family members if anything seems amiss. It's pretty noninvasive, so perhaps your mom wouldn't think it an inconvenience to her independence. I imagine it would be most helpful if your mom had a predictable relationship with her mailperson or a predictable pattern for picking up the mail from her mailbox.

Some info:
Delivering mail to the same residences day after day, letter carriers become familiar with customers' habits and often notice changes in routine that mean a patron is in distress. Accumulating mail is a common clue, but lights burning in midday, pet dogs crying, drawn draperies, or no tracks in the snow—all can signal trouble within.
posted by SpacemanStix at 5:45 PM on September 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

One issue is, most chat programs are set up so that you *can't* stalk your contacts. Gmail chat will say if you mom's currently online or not, but if her favorite time to log on is at 3pm and you're always at work and don't see that she was there and gone again, I don't see how that would look any different than her having been trapped in the laundry room with a badger for 24 hours.
posted by aimedwander at 5:53 PM on September 21, 2014

Microsoft Lync is made for business users, and is stalker friendly. Since your coworkers want to know you haven't arrived on 8:30 on the dot.
posted by politikitty at 6:29 PM on September 21, 2014

Not exactly an interactive solution but the Crashplan backup service will warn you by e-mail if a particular computer hasn't been backed up in X time frame. A very reasonably priced service will let one account backup 5 computers so you could have your mother's computer be on your plan and your e-mail address would get the alerts.

You get notifications and you get to backup of her computer all in one.
posted by mmascolino at 8:31 PM on September 21, 2014

SO agree with Ruthless Bunny (once again). A couple of comments to OP:

If your mom passed a driver's test, then worrying about her getting stuck in snow is borrowing trouble. She seems like a lady with a cell phone she keeps charged. The thing is, I find it hard to believe is that she did pass an actual driving test. Very very few people after 90 are even flexible enough to look back over their shoulder for oncoming traffic, and reflexes are much much slower. Was this really a driving test? Might want to be sure.

And your statement that you've had this conversation, what can you do, she just won't budge, you can't move her out, etc. is playing the victim. If your quite elderly mother is doing things that worry you, and refusing to acknowledge that worry enough to set up a system to reassure you, then you do what you can do, and what you need to do. "Mom, since you won't take me seriously when I say I'm worried and would like you to stay in regular touch, I'm withdrawing from the situation. I am not going to talk to you or see you until you stop acting like a stubborn toddler and can come to some accommodation with me." And then don't. Don't call her. Don't visit her.

I know you're thinking "I can't do that"!! But actually, you can. If I did it -- and I did, with a mother who had a SHARP tongue on her -- you can do it. None of us get our own way all the time, and just being 90 doesn't grant you a free pass. There are always consequences of our actions. And when the consequences of her total insistence on her own way was me not being there at all, we quickly and easily worked out something that worked for both of us.

Good luck!
posted by kestralwing at 10:42 PM on September 21, 2014

I installed TeamViewer.

It starts when the user logs in. It alerts me if I am on another machine that has TeamViewer installed and logged in. Works like a charm.

You can even write a small custom application and put it in the Startup folder, that automatically emails you or something.
posted by harisund at 7:40 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding TeamViewer. I have it installed on my Mom's laptop and it will actually grab focus from whatever program I'm using whenever she logs in. This is actually kind of annoying, but almost perfect for your purposes.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:33 AM on September 22, 2014

I realize this is an unpopular opinion on metafilter, which tends to hold more than I do with doing things to and for people against their will for their own damn good, but I don't think people should lose their rights when they get old.

I'm going against the grain here, but I would have a very serious conversation about how worried you are, and won't she please PLEASE give up just a little bit of her autonomy to set your mind at rest? And that, by the way, if something happens to her, you can't afford to pay for it. (Also, talk to her MD about making sure she has a living will, and if it asks for something from you, it would be nice to know that ahead of time.)

If not... I'd let her do as she liked, and if it kills her, it kills her. She has watched bad things happen to all of her friends by now, so she knows the risks. She doesn't sound like she has dementia. Let her choose her own way of life. The price of it is your discomfort, but the price of forcing her is HER discomfort.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:37 AM on September 22, 2014

Seconding the online game - the point is that it makes your mother consistent. I have a friend who does this exactly for the purposes you state.
posted by suedehead at 8:41 PM on September 22, 2014

I believe she's making an informed decision, knowing the risks, and that just because she's elderly, you don't get to coerce, manipulate or blackmail her in to anything.

She knows what could happen, she's happy to take that chance. It's patronising, ageist and disrespectful to insist on these. If she falls, deal with that then. Our aged care team told us that usually elderly people have to fail at home before they'll agree to make big changes or move. Sounds like that's what you'll have to wait for with your mum.

But it may not happen. My grandmother lived at home till she was 96, dying (in care)18 months later. She was in great health till 94.

Your mum is a sprightly 90 year old, this is about you, not her. Any person living alone can fall or become sick. Back off. But you can step up your social phone conversations (don't ask her how she is!). Whinge about your life and ask advice. Give her local politics gossip, rant with her about Rupert Murdoch or whatever her interest is, and make your phone calls interesting and desirable. That's all you can do. If you detect increased frailty, ring back because you forgot to ask her X, but don't make it a welfare check call. Everyone hates making and receiving those.

Step up your non ageing related interactions and respect her decisions.

I love texting people for this. Eg- "Bloody hell mum, I'm in the supermarket and they don't have thickened cream, is pouring cream a reasonable substitute for watermelon salad?" Doesn't matter if she doesn't text back in exactly the right timeframe to solve your problem because you'll text her and say, "Ended up using sour cream and petroleum jelly and it was terrific. Do you know if I can buy flavoured petroleum jelly somewhere?" Rinse and repeat.

She most certainly has small (and big) wisdom to offer, take this as an opportunity to learn and enjoy it.
posted by taff at 12:14 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

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