August 21, 2014

Electronic Monitoring Gizmos Help Seniors Stay in their Homes

Staying in one’s own home – called “aging in place” – is way up there on seniors’ priority lists, along with “keeping my mind.”

The issue is important to me, and I’ve written about it frequently. Recent posts include:
As we might expect -- well into the 21st century -- a new way to help seniors stay safely in their homes involves "electronic high tech."

A recent article on MSN’s science and technology page outlined the new electronic techniques available to more closely monitor seniors at home. Here are a few of the new advances designed to keep seniors safely in their own homes.

Motion Sensors Around the House
Families and caregivers can place motion sensors in key locations – front door, refrigerator, favorite living room chair, bathroom door – to monitor activity. If there’s little or no activity logged at these key locations after a prescribed interval, the software will send an alert to family, caregiver, and/or nurse.

Sensors under the bed mattress can detect if the senior is sleeping normally. For example, they can monitor pulse and respiratory patterns to keep tabs on a senior’s heart disease… and send appropriate alerts even before the senior knows she’s becoming short of breath. The sensors will detect if a senior is getting out of bed more regularly than normal – raising a red flag for possible urinary track infection.

If a pill bottle isn’t opened on time, an electronic gadget will make the bottle buzz. If it isn’t touched within an acceptable interval, the software will send a text message to the caregiver.

A device will turn off a stove burner if it remains on too long, or after a particular hour.

Special high-tech gizmos can detect changes in a senior’s gait -- slower or faster, longer or shorter – since those changes might presage a fall. 

Initial Studies Look Promising
At a Cedar Falls, Iowa, senior complex where the technology is being tried and tested, on-site nurses received electronic alerts when sensors identified unusual behavior.

Marilyn Rantz, an aging-in-place specialist familiar with the project, said that after one year, residents who agreed to be monitored were doing better than their un-monitored neighbors, presumably because nurses intervened sooner, because the monitors alerted them to signs of potential trouble.

Rantz likes the technology, especially after her own mother had failed to wear around her neck the emergency alert button seniors can push to call for help in emergencies. Her mother fell, went untreated for way too long, and died soon after from complications of the fall.

Then There's the Privacy Issue
So far, privacy is the main objection to these electronic innovations.

Said AARP’s Jeff Makowka:
To work, the high-tech approach has to be less about, 'We're watching you, Grandma,' but 'Hey, Grandma, how come you didn't make coffee this morning?'"

Sensor packages vary in cost from about $70 to several hundred dollars, depending on selections. In addition, there are standard monthly service plans.

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