Technology For Seniors To Live Safely At Home

  • Sensor networks monitor motion, vital signs and look for breaks in routines
  • The sensors can be installed in mattresses, on doors or on refrigerators
  • The networks try to alert family members or doctors if something is wrong

Columbia, South Carolina (CNN) — The sensors know when Charlton Hall Jr. wakes up to go to the bathroom. They know how much time he spends in bed. They watch him do jigsaw puzzles in the den. They tattle when he opens the refrigerator.

Sound like a Big Brother nightmare?

Not for Hall. The 74-year-old finds comfort in monitored living. “It’s a wonderful system for helping older people to stay independent as long as possible,” he said, sitting in the living room of his 7,500-square-foot house, a sensor watching him from an elaborate bookshelf. “They know where I am — all the time.”

Sensor networks, which made their debut in hospitals and assisted living centers, have been creeping into the homes of some older Americans in recent years. The systems — which can monitor a host of things, from motion in particular rooms to whether a person has taken his or her medicine — collect information about a person’s daily habits and condition, and then relay that in real-time to doctors or family members. If Hall opens an exterior door at night, for example, an alert goes out to his doctor, a monitoring company and two of his closest friends, since he doesn’t have family nearby.

“They want to know if I’ve fallen, and where I am,” he said, noting that he’s fallen several times in recent years and also has a chronic heart condition and diabetes. Hall’s monitoring network, made by a company called GrandCare Systems, features motion-sensors in every room as well as sensors on every exterior door. A sensor beneath the mattress pad on his bed tells health care professionals if he’s sleeping regularly.

All of this connects wirelessly with vital sign monitors, which send his doctor daily reports about his blood-sugar levels, blood pressure and weight. He can see charts about how he’s
doing on a touch-screen monitor that sits on a desk in his home office. This type of set-up may only be the beginning. University researchers are testing robots that help take care of older people, keep them company — and even give them sponge baths. Meanwhile, some younger people have taken to collecting information on their own, often going to extremes to document exercise routines, caffeine intake and the like and posting the data online.

Jeff Kaye, director of the Oregon Center for Aging & Technology, said this monitored-all-the- time life will become the norm for older people in the United States within five years, and will be common for people of all ages soon after.

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