Monitoring that Helps Seniors Live Independently

Advances in Monitoring Technology

Monitoring that Helps Seniors Live Independently
October 9, 2015

Many of us remember the famous ad for the Life Call alert systems from the 1980's — "I've fallen...and I can't get up!" That line has been used in jokes and parodies ever since, but the concept is no joke to many seniors. Falls are the leading source of injuries in older Americans, and they can lead to a loss of independence, or worse.

However, seniors face other risks that can threaten independence. Everything from mixing up or forgetting important medications to leaving a stove burner on unattended can have catastrophic consequences.

An AARP study shows that 87% of seniors prefer to age in their homes and communities instead of in assisted living facilities or nursing homes, but as seniors become frailer and more forgetful, it is increasingly dangerous to leave them at home by themselves. Many of the 87% will not be able to fulfill their wishes.

Fortunately, advances in sensors and monitoring technology have made it easier for seniors to remain independent. These new systems, sold by companies such as Lively, BeClose, and SimplyHome, use networks of advanced sensors placed throughout the home to monitor typical patterns and regular scheduled events. Unusual activity (or lack of activity) can send an alert to caregivers, family, or both to check up on the senior's condition. Wearable location sensors can be added if necessary.

Examples include pillbox sensors to verify that the right medicine has been taken on schedule, sensors noting when appliances such as stove burners are left on with no movement detected in the area, or alerting that a door has been left open. The alerts can be sent to the senior via a wearable device or to caregivers for a quick follow-up.

SmartThings offers a highly customizable system that connects all these sensors into a wireless hub, and includes the capability to add other third-party control loops. Door locks, cameras, thermostats and other devices can be incorporated along with the senior monitoring sensors in one relatively simple control system. You can mix and match the components that make the most sense for your senior's living conditions.

Research is underway to make these sensor systems predictive in nature rather than reactive. Sensors in mattresses, kitchens, and toilets can check for unusual sleeping, eating, and bathroom habits respectively. By comparing current and past data patterns, caregivers can look for possible signs of oncoming trouble — for example, are more frequent trips to the bathroom a sign of a treatable infection?

Home monitoring sensor technologies are coming down in price to the point where some are available at big box retailers. They are still not cheap — although they pale in comparison to the average nursing home costs. The University of Missouri estimated through their Aging in Place and Eldercare research efforts that aging-in-place systems with coordinated care by registered nurses (RNs) could save almost $9 billion annually with implementation in only 10% of the elderly population.

The technology is not without its concerns. Privacy advocates raise concerns about the information being gathered and tracked, and some seniors may consider the sensors as privacy violations. It is important to present the tracking systems in as positive of a light as possible, and not as a heavy-handed alternative to the nursing home.

Most importantly, seniors need the assistance and care of family and friends to be contacts and help with the monitoring process. If you have a parent or other loved one that needs help to stay independent, consider these new technologies as an alternative. Remember, someday you may be the senior that needs help.


Photo ©iStock.com/PonyWang

  Conversation   |   23 Comments

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Erin | 10.09.15 @ 14:16
I love seeing these new technologies that keep people living the lives they want to for longer.
Debbie | 10.09.15 @ 14:17
I think these are awesome ideas as long as the senior just needs reminders. It shouldn't be used in place of one on one care and contact.
Steffanie | 10.09.15 @ 14:18
Great ideas for those seniors who need it.
Sara | 10.09.15 @ 14:18
It is amazing what they are able to come up with. I am glad they have improved things to help seniors.
Leslie | 10.09.15 @ 14:21
It's great to see the advances in technology that are helping to keep seniors live more independently. I worry though, that some who really need to be in an assisted living facility or nursing home will use these devices to put off getting the care they really need and wind up getting badly injured or worse anyway.
Owen | 10.09.15 @ 14:22
This is great for seniors. They deserve this
Nancy | 10.09.15 @ 14:22
These new technologies are a wonderful way for our elderly to live their lives. Love it.
Daniel Dohlstrom | 10.09.15 @ 14:26
I remember that commercial well .. It is great to see how the advancements in technology are used to help make those in need feel safer
Christina | 10.09.15 @ 14:29
This is wonderful.The longer they can stay at home where they want to be less stress on them.
George Middleton | 10.09.15 @ 14:32
I'm glad they come up with this. Helping others is what this world needs more of.
Beverly | 10.09.15 @ 14:35
My 78yr old mother lives on her own and I could definitely see a lot of benefit from these. Very informative article!!
Wanda Langley | 10.09.15 @ 14:38
I really like the that there are monitoring devices to help Seniors to feel safe knowing that they can live in their own home and know that they can get help if it is needed.
Alec | 10.09.15 @ 14:41
I didn't know about any of this except the wearable alarm button. It absolutely amazes me how far we've advanced and what is available! As someone who has witnessed the damage that can be done when a senior falls via two grandparents, I think this tech would be well worth any cost!
Heather | 10.09.15 @ 14:55
For older people wanting to stay in their homes for as long as they can these new technologies give their lives ones a sense of security as well.
Kamie | 10.09.15 @ 14:59
I think this is awesome, there is nothing like those elders who do not need to be babysat, but they sure do feel useless when someone is hovering over their every move. We all worry about our parents/grandparents, but they are not helpless.
Christina | 10.09.15 @ 15:02
So happy to see some new technology to help those seniors in need.
trish | 10.09.15 @ 15:04
With two 80 year old parents, I love that they have this option to allow them to live in their homes the way they want to for longer. Brings us security to them, as well as us.
Crystal | 10.09.15 @ 15:07
Love the new technologies. And so thankful that commercial has mostly gone off the air!
Carla Truett | 10.09.15 @ 15:08
Good to know that the senior monitoring is steadily being improved.
Jo Ann | 10.09.15 @ 15:12
This is interesting. I am disabled, and i would be open to this type of monitoring as I get older and as health deteriorates.
Bobbie | 10.09.15 @ 15:13
Love how far technology has come. I'm sure I'll be looking into some of these in the next 10 years for my mom, but am fully prepared for her to just move in with me at some point.
Tina | 10.09.15 @ 15:14
These are great! But definitely assisted living still has a place. Always a tough decision.
Stokes | 10.09.15 @ 15:17
Any dispatcher will tell you, they still think "I've fallen and I can't get up" when they receive 911 calls from monitoring services. But I can't guess how many thousands of people they help.
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 12.11.16 @ 00:27
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