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Every caregiver needs their own system of keeping track of care tasks. This is mine.

My son Max has spinal muscular atrophy. (www.maxstrength.org) He requires round-the-clock care. If one of our nurses calls out, my wife and I split the nights. I like to use this time to get other things done, which means I set alarms to remind me when it's time to do the next thing.

This Instructable explains how I used Google Calendar, Zapier, and Remember the Milk to create a shared caregiver reminder system, turning my iPhone into a Caregiver Totem which has shared access (so my wife can update changes to medications, etc and I'll get them automatically), to-do list style interactions, alarms and email notifications, and is easily enabled/disabled depending on whether I'm using it.

Step 1: What I Started With Vs What I Wanted

What I started with:

My wife and I created a "Hourly Cares" document in Google Docs for training new nurses which lists all our son's cares step by step (so that they have documentation of what they need to do and where everything is). I had put the times for these cares (and brief summaries) into alarms on my phone (at 11pm, 1am, 2:45am, 3am, etc). When it was my turn to care for Max, I would enable all these alarms. However, if something changed, there was no convenient way for my wife to update my alarms (since they were on my phone).

Updating the Google Doc was useful when training new nurses, but it would be convenient if my wife could just add a reminder to a calendar or to-do list and know that I would get it.

The problem:

Max's cares change regularly (small adjustments to diet, new medications, etc), and I am not the primary daily caregiver. (That task falls to my wife, while I work outside the home.) When it's my turn to care for Max, I find myself at a disadvantage in two ways:

  1. I don't have as much repetition on doing his cares, which means it takes longer for adjustmentsto get locked into my brain / routine.
  2. When things change, I'm less likely to find out or remember -- I need to be notified and even reminded.

Also, if all Max's cares were stored as alarms on my phone, I needed to remember to turn all them on and make sure they were synced up with the latest cares. If something wasn't on the cares document (because my wife and Max's regular nurses didn't need to use it), I might not hear about it...or be told but forget to put it in my phone.

What I wanted:

Here are some descriptions of what I was going for with my "Caregiver Totem":

  • Shared access - both my wife and I need to be able to view and access the official listing of Max's cares. That way when things change, we can input those changes immediately onto that listing and have confidence that those reminders will go to me.
  • To-do list style interaction - I have used a to-do list app called Remember the Milk since college and prefer to interact with TODO lists in this sort of way (e.g. prompts you when it's time, gives you the ability to check it off once its done, plus a record of the fact that you checked it off).
  • Alarms - this was a must. Max's typical nights are very calm -- he sleeps through the night, and the caregiver can have stretches of uninterrupted time. I want to be able to concentrate on some other task and just have a reminder go off when it's time.
  • Easy to enable/disable - I'm not Max's primary caregiver, and on a typical day while I'm at work I don't want those reminders coming to me through all hours of the day. I wanted a simple way to turn this system on and off, so that at whatever time I became Max's caregiver (say, Sunday afternoon while Kristen is going out to an exercise class), I could just turn the system on and be confident that I was going to get my reminders.

My solution:

Make it so that any event on a "Max Cares" Google calendar gets automatically turned into a to-do list item shortly before it's due.

Read on to find out how...

Step 2: Enter the Cares Reminders Into a Google Calendar

Rather than add one more piece of technology to our lives, I wanted to use something my wife already used. Google Calendar was the obvious choice. Google Calendar lets you have multiple calendars with different names and settings. They show up in different colors on your calendar view (or you can "mute" them so that you don't see them at all), and you can share them with others in different ways.

Using the aforementioned "Hourly Cares" Google Doc, for each care, we entered a simplified, one-line summary into the Calendar. Don't be daunted by the number of events; we only entered one's day worth of cares and used the "repeating event" feature to replicate the events to all the following days.

Important:

  • Whenever you add a caregiver reminder, remember to set it to repeat every day.
  • If you modify an event, select the "Modify all following events" option to copy that change to all the future events too.

Above is the Google Calendar we came up with for Max's Cares.

Step 3: Configure Account and To-do List in Remember the Milk

Remember the Milk is a to-do list app similar to other popular to-do list apps like Todoist. However, it's been around a bit longer, and it has a few niceties I haven't seen in the other TODO list apps.

  • For one thing, you can interact with RTM through email to create new events, and these can be given not only specific dates but even specific times that they are due.
  • Also, it's possible to monitor RTM via RSS feeds...and not just for new events, but also completed events, overdue events, or any possible search to to-do's.

I already had a dozen Lists in my Remember the Milk account. I created a new one called "Max Cares." This is where the cares reminders will appear.

The following step is key for the "alarms" feature of this setup:

  • In your browser: set the notifications on your Remember the Milk account to email reminders.
  • On your smart phone: set the Notifications settings for the Remember the Milk app to "full blast" (e.g. notifications, sounds, alerts):
    • Go to Settings
    • Scroll down to RTM
    • Click Notifications
    • Enable all options (Allow Notifications, Show in Notification Center, Sounds, Badge App Icon, Show on Lock Screen)
    • Set "Alert Style When Unlocked" to "Alerts" (which require an action before proceeding). You probably don't want Banners (which appear and then go away automatically).

Hint: you can enable as many devices as you want simply by installing Remember the Milk on that device and logging it into this account.

Step 4: Create the Zap

I chose Zapier for this integration instead of IFTTT because Zapier's Google Calendar integration made it easy for me to specific which calendar I wanted. (I'm not sure if IFTTT or Stringify allow you to do this; if not, you could still use IFTT or Stringify by creating separate Google Calendar and IFTTT/Stringify accounts to keep things simple.)

First, create an account at Zapier. Connect your Google Calendar and Remember the Milk accounts. When you're done it should look something the first picture.

Next, go to your Zaps and create a new Zap by clicking "Make a Zap!"

  1. Set the trigger: Let the trigger be a Google Calendar event, specifically the event start. Edit the options to select the specific cares calendar you created (in my case, "Max Cares"). Set the "Time Before" for your Zap to some reasonable advance notification. (I suggest 5-15 minutes.) Run a test to confirm that it's connecting right.
  2. Set the action: Let the action be to create a task in Remember the Milk. In the Setup, set the Task Name to be the Summary from the Google Calendar item. Set it to be due "in 1m". (It will still run a few minutes ahead of when it is due, based on what you configured in step 1.) Add a tag to your task to make it easier to track in RTM. (I added "zapier" just so I coul easily track which tasks in RTM were automatically created by Zapier.) Set the Priority. (I chose 1; highest priority...just because I want these cares to always appear at the top of my TODO list when they arrive.) Run a quick test to make sure all's well.
  3. Test: Click Continue and your Zap should be enabled! Create a test event, say, five minutes from now, on your cares calendar in Google Calendar just to confirm that it's working. If it's all hooked up right, you should see a reminder email in your inbox and an alert notification on your phone telling you that the task is due!

When you're not caregiving, simply turn off the Zap to stop receiving the reminders. Your events are all stored in Google Calendar, so when you're ready to start receiving reminders again, simply turn your Zap back on!

Step 5: Voila! / Concluding Thoughts

So there you have it: turn your preferred device(s) into a caregiver totem accessible from anywhere which you can turn on and off at your convenience. Here are some screenshots of completed tasks in Remember the Milk and of the reminder emails arrived in Gmail.

Hopefully this saves you time and lets you spend more time doing things you love...whether that's catching up on the latest season of your favorite show, writing more Instructables to help other special needs parents, or sleeping a little easier (knowing that your spouse / family member has a more reliable system of reminders).

Future Expansions

It would be neat to connect these caregiver events with some of the medical monitoring in our home automation. For example, we can tell from the power level on the feeding pump whether it is on and running. We could use this information to create a social media style feed view of Max's cares (e.g. this event was due, this caregiver checked it off the list at this time, home automation says the feeding pump when on at this time) or even to place additional checks into this system (e.g. if it's time for one of Max's feeds and the feeding pump isn't on, send me an email or text).

Post a comment below to let me know what you think!

Yahnatan Lasko
maxstrength.org

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