Caring Currents

Home Monitors Watch Over Seniors Aging in Place

Last updated: Sep 30, 2008

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Do you worry about older relatives who live alone -- what if they fall down the stairs, or have a heart attack, and are unable to call 911?

If you share these worries, you're like me and enough another Americans that General Electric (GE) is anticipating a 5 billion dollar market for the electronic home monitors it just announced an agreement to market and develop.

The monitors GE will be selling -- already available from several smaller manufacturers and in use in a few hi-tech nursing homes -- are more sophisticated than the currently more widely-used Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS),  which require elders to wear a pendant or bracelet and push a button when they need help.These monitors are attached to the walls, silently track seniors' movements, and can generate a call for help if there is a fall or another medical emergency.

Is GE overly-optimistic in predicting huge demand for these devices in the coming years?I’m not a market analyst, but I know I'll be checking them out.

My 87-year-old father lives alone in a two-story condominium, has trouble with the stairs, and refuses to wear a PERS pendant -- he thinks it would be bothersome and (though he hasn't said so explicitly), I think he finds it humiliating. A daily calling service checks in on him once every 24 hours, but what if something were to happen at the wrong time -- right after they called, for instance? Odds are no one would know until the next day.

This isn't just an idle worry for me -- my grandfather, who also lived alone until the age of 94, fell in his bedroom shortly after he picked up his daily call from the service. By the time the service called again the next morning, alerted a neighbor, and she got someone there to help him, he'd been lying on the floor with broken ribs, unable to get up and get to a phone, for over 30 hours. He never came home from the hospital.

Maybe nothing like this will happen to my father. That's what he's banking on, but "hoping for the best" just doesn't do it for me. I check in as often as I can and have made connections with friends and neighbors who also help keep an eye on him. But if I knew an eye in the wall was watching over him -- without bothering, embarrassing, or otherwise interfering with the independence he values like nothing else -- I know I'd sleep better.

He threw away the PERS literature I brought him on the first, second, and third try. Let's see what he says about this one….

Image by Flickr user mpsfender182 under a Creative Commons Attribution License.