Senior Home Monitoring Systems
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
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