I’ve just returned from a quick trip to Canada in order to bring my 87 year old Mom back to her home there.  She lives alone in an apartment that has slowly developed into a place where many seniors live, but that doesn’t have the designation (or services) that a senior living apartment complex would have.

As such, there is limited security, no monitoring, no one assigned to check the residents,  no accessibility features and it is quite an old building.  In fact, while my mother was visiting me, we received a report that her sliding glass door had fallen out onto the balcony and shattered.  As it was determined not to be the result of a break-in, the manager of the apartment suggested that it was due to “a shifting of the building”.

Before you ask, let me say that no, I could not convince my mother to change residences nor to live with my sister or me.  As many senior adults do, she prefers to remain independent.

Having spent the last 6 weeks with her, I see the need to put some safety measures into place if she is to continue to remain in her current residence.  Her mind is still sharp but she is having some balance issues and has already “tripped over a blanket” and bruised her ankle quite badly.  Because there is no one who regularly checks on the residents, if she were to fall and break a hip, she might lie there for days without help.

There are many new technological advances available that help to ensure the safety of a senior adult in their home.

There are Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) which utilize a button that a person can push in case of emergency (some of these systems are also outfitted with fall detectors).  There are medication dispensing systems that can be loaded (by a care provider or family member) with up to 60 doses of medication and which will send audible reminders to the senior adult that it’s time to take their pills.  There are even elaborate home monitoring systems which have information that the off-ste caregiver can monitor via the interent.  These systems can alert the caregiver if, for example, the senior adult did not rise from their bed before a designated time.

According to an article in the New York Times, entitled “The Technology of Monitoring Elderly Relatives” dated July 28th, 2010, one such system is being utilized by Carol, who is keeping tabs on her 79 year old mother who has been disabled by a brain aneurysm.

The article stated that Carol receives cellphone alerts whenever a user-defined set of parameters is breached in her mother’s nearby Daytona Beach, Fla., home.

“I used to call and check on her constantly,” Carol said. “If she gets confused, she wouldn’t remember to push a pendant.”

Carol is automatically alerted if her mother’s front doors are opened before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m., and a bed sensor alerts her if her mother doesn’t get out of bed by 9 a.m.

If her mother’s home is too hot or too cold, she knows that, too. And if her mother begins to get confused and wanders rapidly from room to room, her daughter also receives an alert.”

To read that full article, go here.

There are also ways that senior adults can be monitored when outside the home.  Several companies have devices that are small enough for an elder to carry with them (some can be worn around the neck, wrist or clipped on the belt) and have a variety of functions such as fall detection, cell phone capabilities, and emergency alerts.

While I agree that the development of this technology is a great asset, I have a couple of concerns.

First, if we rely too much on the technology, certain things may be overlooked.

What about nutrition – how do we know that our aging parent or loved one is buying AND eating a nutritionally balanced meal?  How do we know how long the thawed chicken has sat on the counter or the luncheon meats have remained in the refrigerator?  How do we know how much the senior adult has eaten and how much is being tossed in the trash?

How do we know that the senior adult is bathing and/or performing other hygiene activities often enough?  If mouth care is not done often enough, oral disease can occur and  can affect the senior adult’s appetite.

Although technology can alert the off-site caregiver to the amount of exercise that is being done by the elder adult by determining movement, the type of exercise cannot be monitored.  Senior adults need weight bearing exercises and activities that will help to maintain their balance, not just movement.  (I’ve noticed that my mother has become much less mobile since moving to an apartment of her own and

What about scam artists who aim their schemes at the elderly?  Can technology protect them well enough?

Isolation could become a problem.  Will the use of technology take the place of visitors who used to pop in to check that all is well?  (There are currently robots being developed that will aid the senior adult in their daily activities, but can these robots give hugs?)

The off-site caregiver may be negatively affected as well.  What if he or she is not in a position to respond when the alarm for help goes off?  What if the  frequency of alarms is high?  What if the alarms continuously sound at night?  Will the off-site caregiver become glued to the home monitoring system?  All of these situations can cause increased stress to both the off-site caregiver and the senior adult who is waiting for a response.

And lastly, the use of technology can be expensive.  Certainly, it is less expensive than an assisted living facility or a nursing home, but do the advantages of keeping the senior adult in their home without human assistance outweigh the chances of isolation,  poor nutrition, lack of exercise, possible depression and uncleanliness?

I guess what I’m saying is that the technology is a great tool to be utilized but we must be cautious not to let it be the predominant method of off-site or long-distance caregiving.


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