July 5, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Taking your meds? Sensors will know

Technology is making it easier for baby boomers to monitor their elderly parents.

Armed with everything from sensors, Webcams and GPS devices to pendants and bracelets with emergency buttons, caregivers are increasingly relying on technology to keep track of their parents remotely while allowing those seniors to have a sense of independence. While the market for this technology is wildly fragmented and not easily measured, few doubt it's growing.

"I believe the technologies on the market are very promising. And what is coming down the pike will be more integrated systems that include monitoring wellness, safety, physiological and medication monitoring all tied together into a personal health record," said Majd Alwan, director of the Center for Aging Services Technologies.

Perhaps of greatest interest to tech buffs is what a number of companies are doing to bring various monitoring pieces together. Home Guardian, a start-up that came out of a University of Virginia project, for example, is working on a detector that uses floor sensors, rather than a device strapped to the body, to detect when someone falls.

"Studies have shown that the greatest fear the elderly have is falling. And the second greatest fear, especially for those living alone, is they won't get help quickly," said Steve Kell, Home Guardian's chief technology officer.

Home Guardian sensors are designed to feed information into a PC, which transmits the information to either a monitoring service or caregiver. The fall detector system is scheduled for a commercial beta test in mid-July at a senior housing facility in Florida. The beta will run for six months.

Home Guardian, which has yet to set a price for the system, expects to license the technology to home health care monitoring companies, or home health agencies, which in turn will provide it to consumers.

In Australia, information technology lecturers Peter Leijdekkers and Valerie Gay of the computer systems department for the University of Technology Sydney, are developing a mobile heart rate monitor called Personal Health Monitor.

home monitoring

The monitoring system, which includes a wireless sensor worn by the senior, as well as smart phones, Bluetooth and GPS technologies, is designed to monitor falls, weight and blood pressure in real time--both inside and outside the home.

Information gathered through the wireless sensors is transmitted to the smart phone. That information is then remotely sent to a health care service, or patient's doctor, as well as their caregivers, via text messages.

Webcams linked up to the Personal Health Monitor provide a way to further verify if an elderly parent has fallen, but Gay cautioned: "Patients need to be comfortable (with Webcams). My guess is not a lot of people will want to use it, unless they are in danger."

Although a trial test was held with three patients to test the monitor's viability, a larger clinical test will be held beginning next month and will include 200 heart patients during a 12-month period, Leijdekkers said. The monitor has already generated interest from one large global company, which may ultimately take it to market. The Personal Health Monitor could run as much as $2,500, Leijdekkers said.

Red alert
Technology, some believe, can help people straining under family responsibilities. Long-distance caregivers tend to be 51 years old, on average, with 27 percent of them taking care of a minor living at home and an elderly parent, according to a 2004 survey of 1,130 long-distance caregivers by MetLife Mature Market Institute and the National Alliance for Caregiving. The survey also found that nearly 80 percent of these caregivers work either full time or part time.

To help, several devices are already available that send an immediate alert to a monitoring service, should a senior suffer a fall or ailment while in the home.

A senior wearing a bracelet or pendant with a personal emergency response system (PERS) could hit the emergency button if he or she falls or has a heart attack, for example.

A signal would then be triggered to a communicator device hooked up to the senior's home phone, which would call the monitoring service. The service would then use the communicator as a two-way intercom to talk to the senior and determine whether an emergency vehicle, family member or friend should come over. Philips Lifeline, for example, sells such a service for $35 per month for equipment and monitoring.

CONTINUED: Who will pay?…
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8 comments

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Who will pay?
"A lot of people think insurance companies should pay for it," Home Guardian's Kell said. "Right now, it's the consumer who pays for these types of systems."

Of course, we'll make the insurance companies pay! Insurance rates will go up further, and then we'll gripe when another 10-million or so consumers decide that they can't afford insurance anymore.
Posted by JohnMcGrew (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Medical alerts
Not only is finding what fits your situation and pocketbook difficult, so is trusting someone you don?t know to take care of your loved ones. Whether it is a disabled child, elderly adult, or someone just coming out of the hospital, we all know of someone that needs just a little extra help. Not always can we be there for them 24 hours a day. But I have found ResponseLINK, and they make it possible to have the 24 hour security that is needed. With 24 hour a day emergency response, voice to voice audio, live operator assistance when the button is activated, meal and prescription reminders this has taken a lot of stress off of my home life! If you haven?t yet checked into emergency medical alerts, here is the link www.ResponseLINK.com.
Yes we are paying for them at this point, but I do feel that insurance should help the cause, simply put, if they helped offset the cost with the alerts, then that would in return help keep some people out of nursing care, to which would help lower the over all cost of health care and insurance. We need to look at the bigger picture here.
Posted by whisper71 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The <a href="http://www.baskenterprisesllc.com/PersonalEmergencyResponseSystem/">personal emergency response system</a> market has changed a lot in recent years, and is continuing to evolve. Some recent developments include automatic fall detection, two-way voice included in the transmitter device, and GPS location. PERS technology is advancing quickly; it's quite exciting.
Posted by Andy_PERS (1 comment )
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Medical Alarm bracelets and necklaces are moving right along with the rest of technology. It seems to me that even in the hopefully near future, that we will all have a device that we could initiate for problems that may arise. Whether medical, life threatening or problematic. I hope that we do not take advantage of this power of these medical alert devices and that we will be able to get the most of them.
Its amazing to me how many older people with medical conditions are not taking advantage of medical alarm bracelets or necklaces. I dont know all the facts but I do know that older people are also getting broken into their homes more often as well, so this medical alarm could not only save your life in a health matter, it could also help you in a serious situation.

<a href="www.lifelinkmedicalalert.com">medical alarm </a>
Posted by brianhutchins (4 comments )
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ive been so impressed by how much a medical alert device can help a family member. We purchased one from Critical Signal Technologies and have never regretted the purchase of our personal emergency response system http://www.criticalsignaltechnologies.com/
Posted by weakkneeswillie089 (8 comments )
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As my parents are getting older I am relying more and more on technology to help with dispensing medication for them. I am so happy to here that there is technology out there like this. It will make things easier for both them and for me. (http://www.calvinscottinc.com)
Posted by natdalton (5 comments )
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My Aunt's <a href="http://www.alert-1.com">Medical Alert Bracelet</a> is great for my peace of mind. My aunt is 96 years old and lives alone. With a bracelet from Alert1 I know she has help 24/7.
Posted by Kara_Jeanne (2 comments )
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Man, you gotta love technology these days. Alert1 has a very similar accessory that resembles the aforementioned. The accessory piece is called the MedReady Medication Reminder & Organizer and it can be found here: http://www.alert-1.com/products/medready-medication-dispenser-reminder-and-organizer/206
Posted by Alert1_Medical (1 comment )
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