High-tech sensors make gains at home


Systems allow loved ones to keep an eye on senior relatives

As more seniors opt for living at home — specialists call it “aging in place” — new high-tech monitoring systems that track every move are becoming more common. These sensors allow seniors to stay under the watchful eye of concerned family members and caregivers.

As the baby boomer population begins to hit retirement, families face the challenge of supporting these seniors, particularly if they live alone.

And as this market grows, more companies are targeting this demographic.
Don Rogers is a part of a trial monitoring program for seniors at The Blakeford at Green Hills independent living facility in Nashville, Tenn.

Sensors track a variety of activities — from noting when his front door opens and closes, to a pressure pad under his mattress that keeps track of the amount of time he spends in bed each day.

Ultimately, the system learns his daily routines and can send alerts to the staff to check on him if he varies too far from his daily norms.

“I think it’s good for them to know if I’m moving or not moving,” said Rogers. “It’s another level of assurance.”

‘Logical’ solution

Traditionally, seniors living alone have had the option of wearing a “panic button” that they could press to call for help.

However, many seniors forget or choose not to wear the button. Experts say some seniors won’t press the button even after a fall for fear of being made to move into a facility. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury and death for adults older than 65.

Care Technology Systems of Nashville uses what its founder calls “fall detection by logic.”

The sensors work together to determine whether an emergency might have occurred. For example, if Rogers gets up in the night, doesn’t return to the bed for more than 15 minutes, the front door doesn’t open or the motion sensors don’t pick up any movement, the system sends an alert to the staff on duty suggesting they check on him.

The company is currently conducting a trial of the system in senior facilities, but its system and others are heading into the home market, as well.

Big market for tech firms

Seniors aging in place provide a sizable market for technology companies, as their children and grandchildren rely heavily on such technology to keep track of their loved ones. Now, checking up on mom or dad could be just a click, text or email away. There is a national surge in monitoring options for seniors, offering everything from GPS trackers for safety on the road to motion sensors monitoring activity at home.

Families can now evaluate grandma’s needs in stages. Nashville-based splitsecnd offers GPS tracking of a family member’s vehicle and access to an emergency call center. Care Technology Systems adds motion-sensor technology to the emergency call button for falls.

Researchers at the University of Missouri aim to go further. Their experiments show that certain automatic monitoring can spot changes — such as restlessness in bed or a drop in daytime activity — that typically occur 10 days to two weeks before a fall or a trip to the doctor or hospital. For instance, a change in gait, such as starting to take shorter or slower steps, can signal increased risk for falls. This could help medical professionals intervene and check out a patient to help prevent a fall before it happens.

Moral conflicts

Protecting grandma may seem fine to some families, but she might not always think so.

“I think there are some moral conflicts that are based on freedom and safety,” said Beverly Patnaik, academic director of the School of TransformAging at Lipscomb University.

Patnaik had a couple of key questions that concern her.

“Does (monitoring) lead to more social isolation?” For instance, if family members get constant alerts about activity, will they be inclined to visit grandma less often?

“Do you want your family and physicians to know if you’re getting more prone to falls?” While the new technologies are designed to keep seniors independent longer, the data the systems amass ultimately may lead families to encourage grandma to go to a facility, Patnaik said.

article first published in
The Poughkeepsie Journal
July 27,2013


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