Best Buy bets on tech for monitoring elderly parents

Published 7:51 am Friday, July 28, 2017

By Martin Moylan

MPR News/90.1 FM

Amazon’s Alexa device is just part of the technology installed in Jane Helgesen’s home to help her four adult children watch over her.

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There are also motion detectors and sensors that track activity.

“They monitor my sleep, which is a big thing,” she said. “They’ll monitor people going in and out of my house. As I get older and if I need more medication, they can check and see if I’m taking it. The medication door should open and shut.”

Helgesen’s home also has high tech lights, thermostats, door locks and doorbell cameras that respond to voice commands or programmed settings.

Helgesen agreed to be a guinea pig for Best Buy, where her daughter Britt Stanton works.

Initially, she wasn’t too keen about being monitored. She’s 71 and still working as a nurse.

“My first reaction was, ‘I think I’m a little too young for that,’” she said. “My second reaction was ‘Boy, I want to be a part of that just to see what it could do.’ I’ve had two adult parents who have recently gone through some need for technology like this and they didn’t have it.” Stanton could figure out her mother was ill one night after getting multiple alerts about her mother getting out of bed. Stanton said she likes the peace of mind the monitoring can provide.

“I can see activity throughout the house,” she said. “I can see if her doors are locked or who comes to the door, to the doorbell. The thing I love the most is that I know what her sleep habits are because sleep is such an important indicator of her overall well-being.”

Equipment costs start at a few hundred dollars. Monitoring costs $1 a day. Other companies offer similar services, including GrandCare, greatcall and

But Best Buy is looking for new opportunities as arch rival Amazon moves into an area Best Buy pretty much had to itself — installing home electronics.

Best Buy is still testing its Assured Living concept, and only in the Twin Cities. If it looks promising, the company is hoping to use its national retail network and sales expertise to make monitoring a mass market.

AJ McDougall, general manager of Best Buy’s strategic growth office, is optimistic.

“We have customers every day standing in our connected home area of the store, saying, ‘What here can I do that helps me ensure that mom or dad is living independently, safely on their own?’” McDougall said.

A lot more devices could be integrated down the road, from smoke and water leak detectors to stove monitors.

For now, though, Best Buy is trying to find the right balance between useful and intrusive. The goal is just to determine if a parent is OK. So video cameras are out. Caregivers, not Best Buy, determine when they receive alerts and what triggers them.

McDougall said the service includes a free consultation to figure out what children and parents want to accomplish and how and assess how comfortable they feel with the technology.