I want to Stay in my Home – Technology

This week’s blog continues the discussion of an aging adult who wants to stay in his or her home.  The introductory installment (on February 11, 2016) discussed the emotional turmoil that can face the adult children in deciding whether to accede to the aging parent’s wishes to stay home.  The February 18, 2016 installment discussed home modifications that may make it easier for an aging adult to stay home.  The February 25, 2016 installment discussed medication management.  The March 3, 2016 installment discussed hiring someone to help with activities of daily living.  Today’s installment will discuss technologies that can make it easier for an aging adult to stay home.

Perhaps, the most well known device that helps aging adults stay in their homes is the pendant monitor.  (If you’re old enough, you remember “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.)  The older adult wears the pendant.  If he or she falls, the pendant has a button to push that allows the person to talk to a base receiver in the home.  (Push the button, and talk is much like a walkie-talkie.)  As the older adult talks into the pendant (well, actually, talks into the air and the pendant picks it up,) the pendant sends the message to the base.  The base is connected to the phone line (or to a cell number, if the house doesn’t have a land line.)  When the senior pushes the button on the pendant, the base places a phone call to a designated monitoring service.  The monitor will hear what the senior says “into” the pendant and can initiate a response, like calling an ambulance, for instance.  The monitor can also speak to the older adult through the pendant, keeping him or her up to date on what is happening.  (It’s kind of like GM’s On Star system that way.)

Of course, if the older adult suffers from some form of cognitive impairment, he or she may not remember to use the pendant to summon help.  (I worked with a family in the past in which the mother’s ability to remember her pendant was a big issue among the adult children.)  A pendant isn’t much good when the wearer doesn’t remember to use it.  Likewise, a pendant isn’t much help if a fall knocks the person unconscious and incapable of pressing the button.  To avoid these problems, there are pendants now available that detect when the wearer has fallen.  The pendant will call the base itself if it detects a fall.  (Unfortunately, these systems sometimes detect a fall when the person has not, in fact, fallen.)

With the availability of security cameras and video feeds over the internet, adult children can keep an eye on aging parents from their computers.  With one or two cameras, children can check whether their parent is moving around the house.   With a number of cameras, children can keep an eye on their parent anywhere in or around the house.

In addition, if the parent has a cell phone or something else that he or she keeps close all the time, the children can attach a gps locator, allowing the children to check the parent’s location at all times.  While gps locators may not be sensitive enough to follow movements in the house, they are useful to find the aging adult if he or she has wandered away from the house.  (If the parent has a medical monitoring pendant, a gps locator may be attached to it.)

If the aging adult lives in a “smart house” (or in a house that can be updated with smart technology, the house’s technology may be used to keep the adult safe.  Smart houses can often monitor for a stove left on too long.  The can monitor the temperature inside the home (to make sure the aging adult isn’t living in an overly cold or overly hot house.)  Motion detectors can check whether the parent is moving around.  Contact switches can monitor doors to see if they’ve been opened.

New technology can be used to help keep an aging parent home.  To be fair, the technology is more reactive than proactive.  The technology allows a monitoring company or the family to respond more quickly to a problem or to an usual behavior pattern.  The technology won’t get the aging adult up and out of bed.  It can, however, let family know when the parent is staying in bed overly long (possibly indicating a problem.)  Technology allows the aging parent to stay in his or her home longer by making the family less scared of emergencies.

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