GPS tracking for an elderly relative and a disabled relative
September 7, 2018 10:03 AM   Subscribe

These are two separate relatives who live together and co-caregive. We are slowly changing circumstances so that my husband and I can be there more often, but when we are not, I would like to know (without calling them constantly and worrying when I can't get through). Neither has a smart phone and please believe me when I say neither would adjust well (or at all) to one.

Ideally the tracker could give me (75-ish miles away) location data via an app on my iPhone 24 hours a day (like Find My Friends, but for non-smartphone people). So far I've only found options which work for 100 to 500 feet or spyware. Must be small enough to fit unobtrusively into a standard lunch bag (with lunch). Would be wonderful if I could have this data even when I am traveling further away. Going on vacation nowadays is quite stressful because of these worries. Both have health issues (which we are working on), and my disabled relative's transportation support staff is not always reliable (also working on this).

In case this is helpful, I intend to use this for answering the following questions:

Has relative X gone out and is that why he's not answering his phone(s)? [He does not reliably bring his cellphone with him while out and about - he has a land line and two cell phones, one of which is in his car and the other he occasionally remembers to put in his pocket]

Has relative X had an accident [car stopped somewhere on a road, not a parking lot at a store he frequents]?

Is relative X occupied at home (napping or possibly has he fallen) and that why he's not answering his phone(s)?

Has relative Y's transportation service picked him up as promised at the appointed time, or is he waiting on the sidewalk, not calling me because he doesn't want to worry me, and not answering his phone because he accidentally turned down the ringer again?

Has something gone wrong with relative Y's access to the house, and is he waiting outside (in the heat or in the cold)?

As you can see, the trackers wouldn't alleviate all worry, but would cut down on some. If the results are worrisome I have folks in the area I can contact to do a safety check if needed, and I have no qualms about calling the police if I need to - they live in a small town and know much of the police/fire/EMT folks in town. I just don't want to be calling in the cavalry every other day because of these worries.

I would use these trackers with my relatives' knowledge and consent. This would obviously be a temporary measure until I can work out a way to be more present in their daily lives (I live and work in a neighboring state).

Thank you in advance for any advice you can offer.
posted by pammeke to Technology (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The jitterbug phone has this feature without being a full-on smart phone. Plus it has a big button they can use to call the operator for help (which might mean just help calling you). They still need to carry it with them but that is going to be true for anything that isn't implantable (although I supposed there could be smaller, wearable options)
posted by metahawk at 10:08 AM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

In our case the relative is female and uses a wheelchair. We created a holster for the wheelchair so she just has to take it out of the charger in the morning to have it nearby all day. Before that, we had the holster mounted on her walker. YMMV
posted by metahawk at 10:09 AM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just realized I left out two important details:

Relative X has a standard flip-phone (I think a Samsung - I can check model when I see him tomorrow), and relative Y has a Jitterbug flip-phone. If I can use their existing phones that would be fantastic (relative Y is good about carrying his phone, and relative X has one always in his car).
posted by pammeke at 10:14 AM on September 7, 2018

I think last pertinent detail: relative X is relatively good about wearing his medical alert pendant, made by the same folks as Jitterbug phones (GreatCall) - I will look into tracking possibilities on the Jitterbug and the medical alert pendant, that might be ideal!
posted by pammeke at 10:23 AM on September 7, 2018

There are a lot of products that do this. Some are cellphone apps and some are standalone devices. A Google search for "elderly gps tracker" should find them.

As far as accuracy goes, GPS is stated by the government to be accurate within about 25 feet with 95% confidence, depending on what obstructions are between the tracker and GPS satellites. It's sometimes more accurate than that.

Personally, my wife and I used the Life360 app.
posted by davcoo at 11:19 AM on September 7, 2018

Jitterbug Flip and the Jitterbug pendant (Lively) both have an add-on feature with GPS tracking, and some other features, including the ability to see what the battery level is on their device, which is super useful if they don't always remember to plug it in. It's called GreatLink, you can see more info (and the other add-ons) on their health and safety services page.
posted by assenav at 11:21 AM on September 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you think they would wear a watch, most of the cell companies have something like this (that one's marketed for kids but would work for an adult and has swappable bands). In addition to GPS tracking, it allows incoming calls from a small handful of numbers, and usually can call 911 and a couple of numbers. The intent is for parents to give kids a wearable so they know where they are and the kids can call home or receive calls from parents, without the ability to call anyone they want. Generally you can add them to your cellular plan for $5/month, so I'd see what your own cell company has available.

On some of them, the watch will automatically answer certain numbers, with the idea being that if your kid doesn't "pick up," it connects anyway and you can just start talking to them out of their wristwatch and hear what they're doing. If your relatives are reluctant to call you, that might be a function to look for.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:37 AM on September 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

My autistic son has the Doki version of the kids' watch type that Eyebrows mention. It provides GPS information via app to the husband's phone and it has its own SIM so that text, and phone messages can be received and sent. The acceptable call list limits who can text and message. The phone needs to be recharged each night and has a small smart screen.
posted by jadepearl at 4:11 PM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

What about something like a Tile on the ring with their house keys?
posted by bendy at 2:03 PM on September 8, 2018

I have googled, and as I mentioned in my question, I learned that many devices (such as the Tile) only have a range of 100-500 feet (not an accuracy range, a range you must be within in order to get a reading). I am quite a bit further away from them than that. As I also mentioned in my question, an app wouldn't help us as neither of these relatives have smart phones.

Thank you all for your answers, I will try the GreatCall service first (on Jitterbug phone and medical alert pendant), and if that doesn't work out I'll see about convincing them to trade in their watches for a smartwatch.
posted by pammeke at 6:56 AM on September 10, 2018

While GreatCall's Link app is promarily set up for monitoring one device (I needed a separate log-in for my father's Lively and my brother's Jitterbug), and the data isn't as "live" as Apple's Find My Friends app (I can't follow their motion, I need to refresh in order to get "live"-ish updates), I've been quite satisfied with the GPS service.

Thank you assenav!!!
posted by pammeke at 9:46 AM on October 10, 2018

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