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home | Safety | Senior Home Monitoring Systems

Senior Home Monitoring Systems

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Leslie Schneider, 86, is never alone. Motion sensors on his walls report to a remote monitoring station when he moves from room to room in the house where he has lived by himself for more than 20 years. A pressure sensor under his mattress reports when he lies down and when he rises. If he spends too much time in the bathroom, which might indicate a fall or other emergency, an alert is created. Door sensors let his family know when he goes out and when he returns. An automated pill dispenser beeps when it's time for him to take his medications and reports if he fails to remove his pills from the dispensing cup within a pre-determined length of time.

Mr. Schneider's family has never been more comfortable with the idea that their father, who has become rather frail and forgetful recently, is by himself. For years they worried about him. Although they tried repeatedly to convince him to move to an assisted living residence, Mr. Schneider stubbornly refused.

"At least now," says his daughter Linda Hawthorne, "We don't feel like we have to call him several times a day to check that he's OK. If he falls, or if he doesn't get out of bed, or if he isn't moving around in the house in a normal way, the monitoring system will let us know. We can check in on him through the network any time. It's given us much more peace of mind."

The available technology for monitoring seniors as they "age in place" at home is expanding rapidly. From the original "I've fallen and I can't get up" panic button to whole house monitoring systems, families can now keep in touch with their senior's daily activities without having to be there.

Therein lies the rub, of course. While these products and systems can monitor someone's the comings and goings, they can't prevent accidents before they happen, nor do they provide the human contact that every human being needs. A frail elderly person may be well monitored and receive emergency assistance as a result. Yet, there are many cases when having someone available to give reminders might have prevented the accident in the first place. Isolation and the lack of mental stimulation can be just as injurious as a fall for someone who rarely gets out and who lives alone.

Keeping that important fact in mind, here is a brief rundown of the monitoring technology for seniors as it exists today:

1. The portable telephone / cell phone is most often the first line of defense for a senior. "You don't have to worry about me. I carry my phone with me wherever I go" is a common refrain. This is a good solution when a senior has a reliable and charged phone, can reach the phone, and can use the phone to call for help in an emergency.

Today's cell phones are often too small and too complicated for an elderly person to use. The Jitterbug phone has eliminated some of these objections by being larger and eliminating all but a few buttons. An operator standing by to assist is an excellent service. In the event of illness or accident, though, a senior may not be alert enough to use the phone. Everyone should have a phone, but for emergency assistance the phone is not always practical.

2. Personal Emergency Response Systems: The "I've fallen" units. When a user presses the presses a neck pendant or wrist button, the unit automatically dials pre-selected telephone numbers. These numbers can include a 24 hour monitoring service if desired. These subscription monitoring services often provide speaker hardware connected to the telephone so that they can communicate with their subscribers even when the phone remains on the hook. Reasonable no-committment monthly plans are available for those who want this kind of monitoring.

3. Electronic Home Monitoring Systems. Wireless motion detectors, video cameras and temperature sensors transmit information to a computer, either privately monitored by a family member or by a commercial security system. Monitors can be installed to register daily movement, which is compared to the individual's "normal" pattern. By making comparisons to normal behavior, sensors can send alerts about kitchen activity, bathroom use, sleep habits, medication compliance and household temperatures. A contact person can be alerted by pager, telephone, email or text message if their senior's activity deviates significantly from the norm.

Installation and monthly monitoring of these systems is all over the map, starting at about $750 for installation and $60 per month for monitoring of a basic system to thousands of dollars for installation of a complex system with multiple sensors of varying kinds.

If you would like to look more closely at some representative systems, Quiet Care and GrandCare are both somewhat representative (this is not to be considered a recommendation). You can use your search engine to look for "Senior Home Monitoring Systems" for a wide variety of home monitoring systems.

If you are interested in a home monitoring system, be careful to do your due diligence. How long has the company been in business? Will they permit you to speak with other customers in your area? Do they have any outstanding complaints with the BBB? Do they require you to sign a long-term contract? Who owns the equipment?

Remember that no monitoring technology can prevent an accident from happening. They can only report that something appears to be amiss after the fact. If your senior has had more than three falls or other emergencies, the situation at home may have moved beyond the stage when senior home monitoring is sufficient.


·  A Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) For Your Senior
·  A System For Medications
·  When A Senior Falls In The Bathroom