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Ask Slashdot: Bulletproof Video Conferencing For Alzheimers Home? 194

Milo_Mindbender writes I'm trying to find a bulletproof near zero maintenance video conferencing client for shared use in an Alzheimers living facility. It's used so the patients can regularly see their relatives who are often out of town. Most everything I've tried on PC or Mac requires tweeks/updates from time to time to keep it working, not good in a place where there are no computer savvy people. It looks like most of the low cost dedicated boxes have died out too. The ideal setup will be turnkey with little-to-no maintenance and if possible support auto-answering calls from approved users. It needs to be compatible with video conferencing apps the relatives can easily get on phone/tablet/pc such as Skype, Facetime, Hangouts...etc. Any suggestions?
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Ask Slashdot: Bulletproof Video Conferencing For Alzheimers Home?

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  • by Splab ( 574204 ) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:44AM (#47593543)

    Move the maintainance to something you control and deploy through a browser.

    One setup could be:
    Crhome/Firefox as VoIP client
    SipML5 []
    Webrtc2sip (see above)
    Asterisk for handling the RTP exchange and authentication.

    The security aspect is handled by Asterisk via. simple sip.conf, all clients use a webcam + browser and connect through a simple client (see the call.html example at ).

    This way you have a linux box somewhere at your control running asterisk, apache and webrtc2sip (needed for dtls proxying); the clients can be a simple kioskmode setup with a webcam and a single page served from your apache.

    • still need to update the base system as well.

      • by Splab ( 574204 )

        There is always a weak point.

        The way I read OP is he needs something that doesn't need to be maintained at the Alzheimers home.

        This setup moves the responsibility to a server of his choice. Granted, if that is too much, he needs to pay someone for doing it, but the suggested setup is a weekends worth of configuring and you are good to go, all updates are automatically handled by clients, you just need to make sure your linux box is up to date and perhaps ensure some sane firewall rules for the OS.

      • Someone should invent SSH!
    • If you don't want to set up and maintain Asterisk in house, there are many SIP servers with Free SIP accounts. Many include free voice mail. One example includes If the solution is in the US, Google Talk with Gmail works and includes video like Skype, but can be tied to Google Voice so clients can get a free phone number and place free calls to phones (voice only), SMS, and voice to text email for missed calls. If residents can log into their own Gmail account, this may be a solution.

      • I'd simply buy proper hardware SIP phones. Polycom VVX series, Yaelink vp530pn (nice conferencing for 3 or more parties) or something made by Cisco (i haven't played with those). As long as it isn't made by Grandstream, it is practically maintenance free. You just set up a SIP server in the middle or buy the service from a third party.

    • This has to be the worst possible setup for a low maintenance reliable system. Is it possible to make it any more complicated?

    • bullet proof video conferencing is exactly the idea behind the xbox appliance

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:45AM (#47593545)

    Have a full time tech on site with that and bill each patient health insurance a monthly or daily or per use fee.

    That is how most things healthcare marketplace work.

    • I have never seen an insurance plan that covers communications from the ill or aged with someone else . Please elaborate if you have.

    • >"Have a full time tech on site with that and bill each patient health insurance a monthly or daily or per use fee. That is how most things healthcare marketplace work."

      I work in healthcare, and no insurance company is going to cover such things unless it was legitimately part of a communications rehab program or something (supervised by a speech pathologist).

      >"Well we just bulk bill it as some other thing or change the home and they deal with the billing."

      That sounds remarkably like fraud which can

  • I might set up a computer with a VNC server, so that you can maintain it remotely. To make the machine addressable, you can use dynamic DNS or a VPN.
    • But that may not work to well at a site with a some what locked down firewall / router with limited port forwarding

      • Just give it up. You have no idea what you are talking about. Just accept that you were trying to poke holes in a great idea by identifying non-issues because you are a newbie and move on with your life. Seriously.
    • You can use Teamviewer or similar for maintenance. I've found that Oovoo is one of the easier video calling platforms available, install and turn off any automatic updates on the computer.

      The problem is not just at the care facility end, but with all of the families and friends who may call. You could set up one account for the whole home, and anyone who wanted to video call would have to arrange a time in advance.
  • Take a look at Polycom's RealPresence CloudAXIS Suite. It is supposed to be an interface between their dedicated video conference boxes and Skype, Google Talk Video, etc. I haven't used it myself.

  • Video phones? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MindStalker ( 22827 ) <> on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:49AM (#47593573) Journal

    Or how about you just buy the video phones like []
    There are some that are skype compatible. You can then encourage the families to buy a video phone or if they are tech savy they could skype as well.

    • Definitely - there are plenty of phone options that do NOT require a PC adding complexity.

    • The families do not have to buy a video phone. They can use a PC based client. No need to use Skype.

    • There are some that are skype compatible. You can then encourage the families to buy a video phone or if they are tech savy they could skype as well.

      That's what I did, and Skype/Microsoft grew tired of the old protocol version and it stopped working after about two years. They either killed their embedded edition or the vendor (Grandstream) didn't want to license it to update old phones. Same thing happened to me with proprietary D-Link devices before that - I figured going Skype would avoid the problem,

    • Yes I'd use simple SIP video phones. There's no need to go to Skype. You can either have your own SIP server, or use one of the many SIP providers which can even give you connectivity to the public telephone network at decent prices, if you want.

  • Keep it COTS! (Score:4, Informative)

    by amjohns ( 29330 ) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:54AM (#47593601)

    You're dealing with nontechnical folks at both ends... You want ease of use and commercial customer support

    Easy answer: Smart TV w/ Skype camera. Here's Samsung's version []

    • Our family tried those. We bought 2 of them to talk to mom, but while they work for a while, they seem to just die after a few days. Sure, a reboot, reconnect to wifi and re-login sets it all good again, but that's a lot to ask.

      We went with regular skype on an old thinkpad.

      Do yourself a favor and install TeamViewer as well.

      • You don't need TemViewer with Linux so WTF would you even mention it? He said he wants something that just works without requiring a lot of maintanence. He clealy doesn't want a microsoft product anywhere in the mix.
  • FaceTime (Score:5, Informative)

    by orlanz ( 882574 ) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:57AM (#47593623)

    An iPad with FaceTime. Sorry, but this is really the simplest one out there. Setup an MDM on it for remote management.

    Create an app that posts family pictures that with a click will call them. Or it can hook into the fingerprint reader and call the right family. Or, get a personal iPad for each patient and set it up in their room and have the MDM only allow Facetime to the family.

    If you are talking about hundreds of iPads, then even Apple will help you setup all this.

    • Yeah this is really the only answer to the question.
    • ...or Skype. Yeah I know it now belongs to the Borg, but it still works.
    • Yea, because those MDMs work without a hitch an nothing ever goes wrong with an iPad. There is also no possibility the patients would suffer from anything like arthritis that might make holding it up or using the small onscreen controls difficult. They also never run out of power or suffer from battery degradation over time.

      Use the Samsung TV method above, nice big screen, loud speakers to compensate for hearing or vision loss.

      Honestly, not every solution is an iPad or an Apple product.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by orlanz ( 882574 )

        Right... cause everyone HAS to hold an iPad to use it. Cause iPads can't be plugged in like TVs. Cause iPads can't integrate into a sound system. Cause Alzheimers patients far enough along to require assisted living will remember how to undo any channel changes or plug cords that get pulled.

        Personally, I don't integrate into Apple products in my house or my families'. I have a mix of Androids, Cromecast, Windows, and Apple. However, I have seen the pure iPhone side and when you see the requirements of

        • Right... cause everyone HAS to hold an iPad to use it. Cause iPads can't be plugged in like TVs. Cause iPads can't integrate into a sound system. Cause Alzheimers patients far enough along to require assisted living will remember how to undo any channel changes or plug cords that get pulled.

          Wait so your solution to the simple wireless ipad - better because it does not need cords plugged in - is to plug cords and devices into it making it way more complicated. Have you heard yourself. A smartTV is also soooo complex, with the single power lead, the built in wifi and camera on some models. It is all of two button presses on the remote to get to Skype and it is not like there are not nurses about that would be helping anyway. Add to that, the latest gen ones take voice and gesture input so a

          • by orlanz ( 882574 )

            Sound integration systems actually do it via a very simple cradle in the Apple ecosystem. My buddy's apartment complex has a community area with multiple wall & flat table ports that accept iPhones. You just pop it in, and that zone (or more) now has your library playing in it. You can simply redirect the audio to a different zone like the gym, pool, bbq, or sky deck with a single button. The wall ports also have enough space to just store an Android that just hooks to an audio cable. And this is in ad

      • Just from a compatibility standpoint... I know iPads can work with Skype, google hangouts, etc. is a samsung smart tv compatible with FaceTime?
    • Re:FaceTime (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rworne ( 538610 ) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @11:17AM (#47593707) Homepage

      For distant relatives that were not tech savvy, I did this. Worked very well over the years with several times a week usage. The iPad 2 that was left there was loaded with iOS 5 and was not able to do the on-air updates Apple pushes out now.

      It worked fine until I had a chance to visit at the end of last year where I updated it to iOS 7 and the latest everything. Still works.

      This is about as bulletproof as you can get. Even the UI (once FaceTime is set up properly) is easy to manage. It chimes with the name of the caller, swipe and you are talking.

      Added bonuses are:
      Lots of people already own Apple devices, so they have everything they need.
      You can use the lowest model offered by Apple (iPad 2, non-retina mini) to keep the costs down as much as possible.
      Devices can be locked down as much as desired
      Development costs are cheap, you can get a dev license for $99 and roll out your own app ad-hoc (but you will have to renew and redeploy once a year before the dev cert expires). Still, no app is really necessary.

      • by msim ( 220489 )

        I wrote down a whole spiel why this is a good idea but accidentally nuked it when i decided to log in and not post as an AC.

        Abbreviated version:
        I'm not an apple fanboy, but this is definitely the best solution. Keep the device locked down to only run facetime and skype, keep the carers in control of scheduling when people call and charging the ipad when it's not needed (it has a fantastic battery life anyway so overnight charging ought to suffice unless there's a busy day). Keep an applecare contract open f

    • Build a fixed mounting kiosk so it doesn't walk, use the MDM to lockdown apps, etc, and it's golden.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Posting AC, so I don't undo the moderation I've already done.

      Create an app that posts family pictures that with a click will call them.

      The rest of your comment is fine, but for Alzheimers patients, this is a complete waste of time. We've had to stop bringing my grandmother to large family functions, as she gets so confused and possibly frustrated when she doesn't recognize anyone. (luckily, my cousin's daughter is good at telling when she's getting frustrated, and distracts her with hugs).

      We were all toget

    • It's a nice idea, but it requires the calling party to have a Mac or iOS device to call in from. I would have thought they need a solution that would support PC users as well.

      • It's a nice idea, but it requires the calling party to have a Mac or iOS device to call in from. I would have thought they need a solution that would support PC users as well.

        If only there were a way that you could install cross platform third party apps like Skype or Yahoo Messenger on the iPad.....

    • Re: FaceTime (Score:2, Insightful)

      by s4m7 ( 519684 )
      Much as I hate to shill for Apple, this is the correct answer. iPads do silent updates and don't complain much if they cannot. They have tremendous battery life and the simplest power connector ever. Works with all services, interface simplicity cannot be bested. The smart tv solution would probably work too, but there's more room for problems to arise. Not sure how the costs break down but this would even work with used iPads if you need to keep costs down.
    • An iPad with FaceTime. Sorry, but this is really the simplest one out there.

      Why is it better than a good Android tablet with Google Hangouts? Serious question, looking for a serious answer. I'm wondering if there really is anything that Apple has done here that's significantly better, or if it's just a question of inertia/bias.

      • Mainly because FaceTime "just works" whereas Google Hangouts still to this day has "issues" wherein there'll be audio without video, weird disconnects, etc. For non-technical users FaceTime is a simple one-click solution that's the closest thing we have to the "video phone" of the future as shown in the past.

        • Mainly because FaceTime "just works" whereas Google Hangouts still to this day has "issues" wherein there'll be audio without video, weird disconnects, etc. For non-technical users FaceTime is a simple one-click solution that's the closest thing we have to the "video phone" of the future as shown in the past.

          Hmm. I haven't experienced the issues you describe with Hangouts -- and I use it for hours every day, on many different devices (most of my business meetings are via Hangouts). Not sure if I'm just lucky or what. I guess I do see disconnects, once in a blue moon.

      • by orlanz ( 882574 )

        Personally, I prefer Skype for video and WhatApp for chat, even thou the former is a battery hog. Google hangouts isn't as polished as Skype. Maybe in 2-3 years and Google stops changing things, it will be on par with Skype. Then it would bug me a bit if they integrate it too much with Google+, but if it is better than Skype, I would still switch. But by that time, I expect Microsoft to make some nice integration leaps with Skype.

        However I wouldn't push either on the "It just needs to work" crowd. Real

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 03, 2014 @11:02AM (#47593651)

    No account is necessary. You only need to send the other party (or parties) the name of the room.
    Firefox, Chrome of Opera are currently necessary I believe.

    Service is free, there is currently no ad. I don't know what is there business model and how long they'll be able to sustain it, but it looks like they got video-conferencing right.

  • Cisco has been working hard to productize video conferencing, and has hardware and software solutions for it, from telepresence suites down to desk phones with screens, as well as applications.

    Don't know all about the fit and price, but probably worth a look: might beat a duct-taped solution where no onsite maintenance is required.

  • Skype on Xbox one (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alen ( 225700 ) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @11:19AM (#47593715)

    Get an Xbox one with Kinect and set up a shared skype account on it. The camera even moves and zooms automatically to whoever is talking

    • Nice but it's a totally viable smart solution, is not an Apple or Linux product and worst of all is a Microsoft product. Be prepared to be modded to hell for this one, this site is not about good answers anymore.

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        The problem with this one isn't that it doesn't use the right brand, but it requires a TV be on Xbox Skype 24/7. Wanna watch TV? No Skype. Some of the others (like the iPad ones) don't require a re-purposing of a large shared resource to run.
  • Stop arming seniors afflicted with alzheimers.

  • I did something like this recently with Skype and Ubuntu 13.10. You can set up auto-login on Ubuntu, auto-start on Skype, and set up Skype to auto-answer and auto-activate the camera. In theory, it could get torpedoed by some kind of random dialog box, but it hasn't happened in two months. To make a it a little more bulletproof, you could set up a cron job that reboots the system nightly.

    One warning: since Skype was acquired by Microsoft, the standard Skype login dialog was replaced with some kind of weird

  • by E-Sabbath ( 42104 ) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @12:04PM (#47593921)

    Easy for the elderly to see? You'll need a large screen. So get a large screen of the kind they're used to seeing. Use a television. []
    This Logitech camera has Skype built right into it, plugs in via HDMI. What more could you ask for?

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      Compatibility with a standard like h323 video conferencing. Would be a great start. Skype only = locked in.

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        Nobody uses h323 for home use. And you are an asshole for complaining without suggestion. What would you have them do, Android on a stick with an external cam? That'd "support" h323, not that anyone uses it for home VC.
      • For me and you, that's important. For people with Alzheimers? Not so important. What's important is that it be simple, replaceable if needed, bulletproof to configure, and always functional, with something that you can tell the families on the far end to have access to.

  • Google's offering for video conferencing, albeit through plus, ive found to be really reliable. I am however at a loss for a solution to the problem of all those bullets whizzing through the house though...
  • by ilsaloving ( 1534307 ) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @12:09PM (#47593943)

    You want low cost AND no maintenance AND compatibility with existing systems?

    Sorry, you're SOL. There is no such thing, never was, and never will be. Even non-low-cost systems require at least some maintenance.

    At the absolute minimum, you will need an on-premise machine with some kind of VPN access so that you can remote in and perform updates. You can do that with windows or linux.

    What you require can't be given via a slashdot q&a. There are too many options, and too many give 'n take decisions that need to be made. Is it video conference only? Do you want to support instant messaging? What platforms will the system support on the families' sides? What hardware and how much bandwidth is available at the facility? How much are you willing to pay for monthly service contracts and maintenance? If you want Facetime, then you *have* to use a Mac, or iPad or something.

    Your best bet is to talk to a telecom consultant who can help you out. But you're going to have to adjust your expectations because what you want is physically impossible.

  • by Bowdie ( 11884 ) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @12:09PM (#47593947) Homepage

    Take a look at the Logitech Skype TV box. No computer to speak of, just plugs into a HDMI and Network (they do a wifi version) []

    hope that helps.

  • Maintenance (Score:4, Insightful)

    by machine321 ( 458769 ) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @12:15PM (#47593979)

    If you don't want to maintain a system, then don't deploy it. Either pay someone to maintain it for you, or plan to maintain it yourself. You seem to want to be a hero and give unknowing non-technical users a complex system and then abandon it because it takes too much time.

  • [] That s what I think Google uses internally. It should be stable... Never used it in that form...
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @01:35PM (#47594439) Homepage

    Polycom or Cisco. Nice devices that work great and cane even be automated.

    Problem is no nursing home will pay for them.

  • Get a video phone, such as: []

    In the Alzheimers facility the phone is used just like a regular phone.

  • Thoughts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jon3k ( 691256 ) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @01:50PM (#47594519)
    I work in IT in LTPAC (nursing and rehab). This is something we've discussed many times. The best model we've found is a TV with Skype (either PC or SmartTV) on a cart. Family schedules a time and staff (eg CNA) brings cart into the room and answers call. I'm in a higher acuity environment most likely (mostly SNF, some ALF) so this might not be ideal for your environment. We do have "Memory Care Units" at some locations. Generally it's a specific hall that has some additional accommodations (read: Wanderguard).

    Reply to this post with contact info if you'd like to discuss in detail. I can talk to our reimbursement folks, but I believe this is billable via Medicare and Medicaid.
    • Why can't you use a video phone?

    • by msim ( 220489 )

      Genuine question:
      Have you considered ipads, what pro's and cons have you come up with?
      To me the positives are as follows:
      * Portable
      * Great battery life
      * Supports a number of software (skype, facetime, etc)
      * can be locked down if required.
      * Apple care support is pretty low cost and the guys seem pretty helpful from my interactions with them.

      The biggest negative I can see is the requirement for wireless coverage, or failing that, cost of a cellular/mobile link. However I see this as a limiting factor for any

      • by msim ( 220489 )

        Wow, I just noticed how poor my grammar was there.
        Sometimes it sucks you can't go back and edit your posts.

  • by Karlt1 ( 231423 ) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @01:52PM (#47594533)

    If there were only a simple low cost low maintenance device that could do FaceTime, Skype etc. that costs less than $299 was portable, automatically updated itself, and was foolproof. I wander when someone will invent such a device. It wouldn't even need a keyboard and it could be wireless! It could have a front facing camera and be a simple touch screen device.

    Nahh we will never see something that simple in our lifetime....

    • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

      Yeah, we got our grandmother an iPad, showed her repeatedly how to use it over the course of a week, but she has never once been able to do a conversation unassisted. I think you greatly underestimate how difficult it can be for an old person.

  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @01:55PM (#47594553)

    That's easy!

    Start with a computer that doesn't need tweaks/updates from time to time, and then add video conferencing software that allows you to not upgrade it in order to support new platforms because the basic protocol never changes, but is already ubiquitous on every platform someone might want to use, and get it all from a vendor who has no monetary interest in forced updates!

  • I use Skype on the remote Windows laptop; the patient has only to start the computer (unless you want to keep it on full time). Then I use chrome remote desktop to reply to my own Skype call, do updates etc.
  • by wirefarm ( 18470 ) <> on Sunday August 03, 2014 @03:51PM (#47595071) Homepage

    Forget trying to set it up for the other residents as a group. The staff and administration will likely freak out over the privacy implications and HIPAA laws or whatever. Offer to help other families do it on a one-by-one basis as I outline below:

    My mother is in a rest home for the past few months and she's lost the ability to do much of anything on a computer.

    Still, we manage to video conference with her every day, with almost no problems and no work required on her part.

    The cost was negligible and the setup trivial. Here's what we did:

    Scrounge an old laptop. For this, my brother donated a late-model thinkpad. It runs some version of Windows, currently. If it gets a virus, I'll wipe it and install Ubuntu, but it's been fine so far.

    Install Skype, with an account created for the elderly person. Set it so that only people on their friends list are allowed to call. Set it to auto-answer incoming calls. Add family members to the person's friends list, but do so carefully, as anyone you add will be able to pop on any time they like.

    Add TeamViewer, in case you need to log in and restart Skype, add someone, or even start a movie on Netflix or YouTube.

    Our setup has worked well in practice for two years, including scenarios like talking to ambulance crews and LifeAlert, before she went into the home and talking with her doctors and other caregivers at the home. She spends time every day visiting with an infant grandson she hasn't yet met, so it's had a huge impact on the quality of her life.

    Some people will complain that they don't like Skype, or they want to use FaceTime, but another family member isn't on IOS or whatever, but by now, everyone knows that if they want to call mom, they just use Skype.

  • Jitsi [] looks realy nice. I want to try it myself when i need videoconferencing later this year. There is also Jitsi videobridge [] which you can deploy on your server and use Jitsi meet [] web client to connect to it. Or you can use 3rd party maintained instalation of videobridge available at []

  • Kills just about anything else.

  • It's not going to be no maintenance This sounds fairly similar to the market GrandCare Systems ( was designed.

    I'm unsure of the costs, but I'm sure they'd be happy to work it out with you.

    Discloure: GrandCare was started by someone I went to high school with. Though it's still a cool product.

  • FaceTime.... Even if the relatives don't have an iDevice someone near them will or they can probably go to an Apple store.
  • I work in the AV industry and see a good share of VTC technology that is the de-facto current industry standard, and the main turnkey systems are Cisco/Tandberg (C40/C60/C90 series) -or- Polycom (either the HDX series or RealPresence Group Series), -or- LifeSize.

    Cisco (who bought Tandberg) and Polycom have been VTC leaders in the industry for over a decade, and make some of the best VTC hardware around. They can also be expensive, but both companies have more economic lines in the VTC codec line-up as well

  • Samsung TV solution is a bust. The assloads of apps mentioned above is a bust.

    You can download camfrog server. It runs on Windows or Linux, and set up a free video chat room.

    There are clients Win/OSX (and Camfrog operates just fine in WINE) and apps for the two dominant smartphone OSes.

    There's a cloud version of the server if you're worried about reliability, so you can set it up on an instance or four if you are worried about uptime.

    Or you could rent a web-based room from (based on the Cam

  • It's a blanket technology allowing you to do any authentication model. It's supported by Chrome & FF, so the standard won't break anytime soon.
    You'll need someone to build out the web app (like me) and then the app can get pushed easily.
    After that, a simple but modern browser locked into a kiosk mode should do it. Then I'd seriously consider reducing updates to zero by limiting the kiosk to only your server's domain.

    Yes, it could break. Anything can, but this gives you control over the:
    - UI
    - updates (si

  • So as I understand it, what's desired is a solution that will just plain work out of the box as soon as you plug it in, and will require no work/help from the users at the other end to keep it working. Teleconference (video and audio) calls need to be auto-answered at the remote end, provided it's the right party calling them; effectively, the remote endpoint needs to have neither control over the system nor responsibility to keep it running. I presume to some degree this is to be able to check up on them

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