Who uses it: Laura Reeves' father-in-law, who has Alzheimer's disease, takes 18 pills a day. He had been skipping some doses or popping too many. "We didn't want to take his independence away but had to protect him," says Reeves, who moved with her husband from Portland, Ore., to Green Forest, Ark., to be near his parents. Skipping doses or taking too many pills, at the wrong time or not at all, has serious consequences. Many older people need multiple medications multiple times a day; a memory issue compounds the task.
What it is: A digital pill dispenser that looks like a regular seven-day model. One type is locked until it's time for medication; the other is unlocked.
How it works: A caregiver fills the medicine tray that goes into the device. The adult child logs onto the Web, remotely programs the schedule and can see if the user has complied. The dispenser flashes (if locked, it unlocks) when it's pill time, then beeps if the medicine's not taken. Still no luck? A prerecorded voice from, say, a grandchild, reminds Grandma to take them. If she doesn't, she gets a call, and a family member receives an email, text or call. The system helped Reeves' father-in-law take his medications on time, and his health improved dramatically.
Who uses it: Mike Beadles' mom, 85, who has Parkinson's disease and dementia, lives with him in Lawton, Okla. She finds her son's voice on the clock soothing. Now Mike, 61 and a disabled vet, is using the low-tech gadget, too. "Rosie reduces my stress because I don't have to be nervous either one will miss a dose," says Beadle's wife, Heyyoung, who is 43.
What it is: A voice-activated talking clock that tells you to take your medicine at a certain time. You can use it for other reminders, too (feed the cat, take a short walk).
How it works: A family member programs the clock (perhaps "I love you, Mom. It's time to take two blue pills and one yellow pill"). Once the medicine is taken, the person either says "reminder off" or touches it to turn it off.
Who uses it: Telling her parents they needed an emergency button "was a hard conversation to have," says Susan Morrell, 50. "Nobody likes to admit they're getting older and need help." But she and her five siblings had that conversation last year when her father, Larry Beighey, 75, and her mother, Carole, 76, who uses a walker and has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), both wound up in the hospital at the same time. Now fully recovered, they use personal emergency response devices in their homes in Amelia Island, Fla., and Hubbard Lake, Mich.
What it is: A personal help button for home use that is worn around the neck or wrist and can detect if you've fallen.
How it works: The base station is plugged into the wall. Sensors in a button are connected wirelessly to the base station and distinguish between a fall and other movement. If it senses a fall, you're connected to the response center.
Who uses it: Gladys Jules lives in Atlanta and has used GrandCare to check on her aunt and mother in South Carolina and to keep them socially connected. Jules' daughter recently had twins and streams daily photos to her grandmother. Last September, Jules, 62, had colon surgery and now also uses GrandCare daily. She takes biometric readings, organizes her prescriptions and stores her medical information for her kids "just in case."
What it is: A multipurpose system that tracks daily activity, has medical monitoring (glucose, oxygen, blood pressure, weight) and can display anything: diets, discharge plans, exercises. An interactive touch screen lets Dad watch videos, view family or Facebook photos, listen to music, play games, read the news and video chat with family.
How it works: It uses an Internet connection that communicates with wireless sensors you've placed around the house. Caregivers log on to a website to see their loved one's activity, write them messages and make rules ("Alert me when ...").
Next page: Personal emergency alerts gone mobile. »