Long-Distance Caregiving: Using Unfrazzle to Take Care of Poppy


by Fred Andrews

POPPY IS NOT HIS REAL NAME, of course, but that’s what we’ve been calling him since we were little kids.

Poppy is our dad. He’s 82 years old, in great shape physically, but about six months ago we began to notice some changes. He repeats himself, sometimes asking the same question over and over. He seems disorganized and can’t seem to remember where he leaves things.

When Poppy couldn’t find his car after an afternoon baseball game, and my brother Jim had to go out to the ballpark to help him we knew something was wrong.

After considerable persuasion, Poppy agreed to let my sister Allison take him to a cognitive therapist, and to make a long story short, he was diagnosed with “early stage” dementia. 

Poppy has lived alone for nearly ten years as our mom died in an automobile accident. He loves his independence and insists that he wants to continue living alone. The therapist says that’s “OK for now” but we need to make this viable by being involved with his assistance on a daily basis.

Poppy lives in a suburban neighborhood in Fremont, California. My brother Jim lives in Oakland, Allison lives in Palo Alto and I live in San Francisco.

First Step

The very night of Poppy’s diagnosis, we three siblings met for dinner and for a family meeting. What were the things that needed to be done? Who was best suited to do them. How would we divide up these responsibilities and keep track of it all?

Allison, who has always been the best organized came with a list of things she thought Poppy might forget to do. Included were the following:

  • eat a meal
  • take his vitamins and medications
  • bathe
  • change his clothes
  • turn off the stove or other appliances
  • put his keys and his wallet in the designated place where he could find them later
  • feed and put out water for his cat

We discussed other potential problems. Is the house safe? Should we put in hand rails at the bath, shower and toilet? How about a clock with large, easy to read numbers to help him orient to the time. A timer to help him remember to take his meds. Should we put in a monitoring system?

Longer term, we realized we would need to help him manage his money and make sure he had all his legal matters in order. Is there a will, we wondered. Power of attorney? How would we find out?

And at some point, we’d have to make even more difficult decisions, such as getting Poppy to agree to give up driving his car, hiring a live-in caregiver or getting him to move to an assisted living facility.

Division of Labor

I’m single but my sister and brother are both married with children and all three of us have busy careers. Living in Oakland, Jim is the closest to Poppy’s home in Fremont, but it would not be fair to expect him to visit every day.

Luckily, we are not yet at the point where we think Poppy needs a professional caregiver, so we needed to divide things up.

Jim volunteered to find out about Poppy’s finances, his checking and savings accounts, the stock holdings we knew that he still had, and whether or not he still had a mortgage. Gradually, hopefully with Poppy’s agreement, Jim will take charge of paying the bills and keeping an eye on the credit cards, the social security and investment income.

Allison will do the same with the legal matters and I agreed to come over to Poppy’s house the following weekend to explain Poppy’s situation to his neighbors, friends, the stores he shopped at and even to the local police. I asked them to keep a tactful eye on Poppy and gave each of them contact information for each of us, just in case.

To make sure Poppy gets at least one good, balanced meal a day, we arranged with for a Fremont organization called “Life Eldercare” to deliver a hot lunch to him Monday thru Friday during the week. They will also check-up on him and let us know if anything seemed out of the ordinary.  On Saturdays and Sundays one of us will visit him and either take him out for lunch or dinner or fix something at his house.

We agreed someone needs to talk to Poppy on the phone every morning, ask him how he’s doing and remind him to take his meds and vitamins. We should visit Poppy at least two times during the week in addition to the weekend visits. On days when one of us doesn’t visit, he should get an evening phone call.

Dividing the labor up wasn’t so hard for us. Jim volunteered to visit Poppy two nights a week (Tuesday and Thursday) and Allison and I committed to split the weekend days. During the week, Allison agreed to call him in the morning if I will call him Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights.

Where Unfrazzle Comes In

Most important, though, was having a system to check-in and make sure things were done without having to constantly call and text each other. We decided to try the new caregiving app Unfrazzle for this.

Using the Unfrazzle caregiving app, we created a single account called “Poppy” that we can all log into. One of Unfrazzle’s useful characteristics is that any number of users can log into an account from multiple devices (iPhone, iPad or Android) as long as they know the user name and password. They can even be logged in simultaneously.

Later we might set up accounts for each of us to create an Unfrazzle family, but to get started one account will do.

Poppy’s Unfrazzle account has five journals: Message Board, Morning Call, Evening Call, Saturday Visit and Sunday Visit.

The message board journal includes a “List” Attribute, with the name “Entry By” and the choices: Allison, Jim or Fred, so we can see who wrote the message. Here’s an example of what a message screen looks like:


Morning and Evening Calls

As I mentioned above, Allison accepted the assignment of calling Poppy on weekday mornings. These calls are mainly friendly chats but there are some specific things we need to find out. We set up each of these as an “Attribute” of the Call journals. Here are the Attributes for the morning call: 

  • Did Poppy eat breakfast? (“Yes” or “No” List Attribute)
  • How did he sleep? (Scale Attribute where “0″ is “not well,” and “8″ is “like a baby.”)
  • Did he shower? (“Yes” or “No” List Attribute)
  • Did he take his heart pill? (“Yes” or “No” List Attribute)
  • Did he feed his cat? (“Yes” or “No” List Attribute)

After Allison talks to Poppy she opens Unfrazzle and answers these questions and if she wants she can leave a note at the end of the Journal entry. Jim and I can log-in to Poppy account anytime after this to see her answers. We are thus both reassured that everything is fine without having to call Allison.

The “Evening Call” Journal is similar, but has slightly different Attributes:

  • How is Poppy feeling? (Scale where “0″ is “crappy” and “10″ is “great.”
  • What did they bring him for lunch? (Text Attribute)
  • Did Poppy eat dinner? (“Yes” or “No” List Attribute)
  • Did he go for a walk today? (“Yes” or “No” List Attribute)

Saturday and Sunday Visits

The weekend journals, one for Saturday and another for Sunday, as also each different. During a visit we can find out things that are difficult to learn over the phone. For example, one of the Saturday attributes is, “How is it inside the house?” — a Scale where “0″ is “chaotic” and “10″ is “neat and tidy.”

Another Saturday Attribute is a List of “Things to Check”


To check off this list, we only need to tap on each item. Over time we can add or subtract items, as well.

The Saturday Visit entry screen looks like this:


Putting Unfrazzle to Work

Allison, Jim and I realize that taking care of Poppy is going to continue to evolve as his condition gradually deteriorates. We are going to be more and more involved with him and there is going to be some difficult decisions to make.

For now we have a system for regularly checking in with him by phone or visit. Using Unfrazzle we can keep track of these “events” and share what we learn from each of them in a convenient, hassle free manner.

Our plans are to follow the path we are on for a few weeks and then revisit it to see if we need some modifications. Along the way we will try to figure new uses for Unfrazzle and we will see if it can keep abreast of our evolving needs.

We’ll report back and let you know how it’s going.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about setting up shared message boards: How to Create a Shared Family Bulletin Board

Want to Know MORE About Unfrazzle?


Unfrazzle Android Link

Unfrazzle iPhone (iPad) Link


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