A huge majority of seniors today prefer to stay in their home for as long as possible. In fact, according to research by the AARP, almost 90 percent of seniors want to “age in place.” While this might sound like a good idea in theory, there are potential challenges associated with this senior living situation. As we discussed in a recent blog post, the family members who are charged with senior home care often face mounting mental, physical, and financial stress.
But thanks to the many technological advancements we have seen in the last decade, aging in place is becoming simpler and safer for seniors, and less stressful for their loved ones. The best tech option(s) for seniors who want to stay at home will depend on your loved one’s existing medical conditions, their financial resources, and personal preferences, but here is an overview of some of the newest gizmos and gadgets that can improve the safety and wellbeing of seniors who hope to stay in their own homes.
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Personal emergency response systems
Everyone remembers the classic “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” commercials. Well, emergency medical alert systems are still around but have been updated and improved for the modern era. Also referred to as personal emergency response systems, or PERS, these are essentially wearable “SOS” devices, often in the form of a pendent or bracelet with a base station that connects to a phone line. Press the button and the system acts as a powerful speaker phone, allowing the senior to call for help.
There are numerous types of monitored and unmonitored PERS, and the cost varies accordingly. A few examples:
LogicMark’s Freedom Alert is an emergency button that can be worn as a pendant or clipped to a belt. The device includes a two-way speaker that the senior can talk into to contact friends, family, or a 911 operator, depending on which setting is selected. The system costs $300, but there are no monthly monitoring fees. For another $120, there is an optional “emergency wall communicator,” which is a water-resistant device that can be mounted next to a toilet, bathtub, or bed. The trade-off: the Freedom Alert system lacks the fall-detection capability of some of the other monitored systems.
At a cost of around $35 per month, Philips Lifeline is the most popular monitored medical alert service in the country. While similar in concept to Freedom Alert, this system also has an Auto Alert option that uses sensors inside the SOS button to detect a fall, automatically calling for help without the senior even having to press the button; this upgraded feature costs an additional $13 per month.
GreatCall Responder offers wireless PERS devices that work in conjunction with the company’s Urgent Response monitoring service. Seniors can press the button on the GPS-enabled Responder device to be connected immediately to either 911 or to the company’s trained response agents who will determine the user’s location, assess the situation, and can then conference in family or friends, call 911, or contact a nurse, if needed.
Medication adherence (i.e., actually taking the medicines your doctor has prescribed) is a challenge at every age but especially for seniors who may have trouble remembering when and how to take health-critical prescription pills. Luckily, there are several high-tech contraptions that can solve this issue.
With a monthly rental and monitoring fee ranging from $59 to $75, the Philips Medication Dispensing Service is a device that sits on the countertop and can remind seniors to take their medicine. The senior home care provider loads the device with several days’ worth of medications–a dose of each medicine goes in a small sealable cup, which is then stacked inside the machine. The caregiver provides a dosage schedule to the company’s dispensary service, which then remotely programs the unit to dispense the dose of medication at the correct times. Note: this device cannot be used with liquid medicines, but it can be programmed to remind the senior to take a dose of a liquid.
When it is time for the senior to take a dose, the red button on the dispenser flashes and an audio voice prompt says it is time for medicine. These alerts will continue every minute for up to 90 minutes until the senior pushes the red button. If the senior does not push the button after that time, the system automatically calls the caregiver to alert them.
The TabSafe medication management system functions in a similar way to the Philips device but offers a HIPAA-compliant internet-based interface where a caregiver can monitor medication compliance, inventory (and can also coordinate refills with the pharmacy), and other health information about the senior.
Kitchen & bathroom safety
The majority of at-home accidents happen in two rooms: the kitchen and the bathroom. There are several assistive devices that require little or no user input (called passive devices), which can help prevent common accidents. (Also see the Personal emergency response systems section above for related safety devices.)
It’s easy for people at any age to forget to turn off the stove, but this issue is increasingly common as people age. There are several devices that contain sensors that can shut off the stove if a person has left the area for a designated amount of time; these will typically need to be installed by an electrician. A few options: CookStop ($359 to $395); HomeSenser ($330); and Stove Guard International ($400 to $500).
To prevent an accidental overflow of the bathtub or sink, there are “smart” devices that can automatically turn off the faucet if left running for too long. One to consider is Flowban ($270), though note that it should be installed by a plumber.
Monitoring programs & technologies
Perhaps the most robust of the assistive technologies is the senior home care monitoring system. These sophisticated units allow a caregiver to know when a loved one goes to bed and wakes up; when they open the refrigerator or microwave (i.e., if they are eating regularly); when they bathe; and if they are taking their medication. Similar to today’s high-tech home security systems, these monitoring setups use a base station and small battery-powered, wireless sensors affixed strategically throughout the house to monitor movement and activities.
BeClose is a monitoring system that allows caregivers to check on their loved one at any time using a secure website. If there are any anomalies to the senior’s normal daily routine, caregivers will be notified by phone, email, or text message. Note: there are no cameras used; only sensors. The system costs $399 to $499 for the sensors, plus a monthly service fee of $69 (if paid a year in advance), but it does not require an internet connection or a separate phone line.
Leasable for $150 to $300 per month, the GrandCare System is similar to BeClose but requires a dedicated Internet line to connect to the wireless sensors around the house. GrandCare also has an added socialization, entertainment, and communication component, using an optional touchscreen unit placed in the senior’s home, allowing family members to send photos, videos, messages, and calendar reminders directly to the GrandCare System. The senior can also play brain-stimulating games, listen to music, watch movies, and check the news and weather directly from the GrandCare System.
Is it the right senior home care solution for your loved one?
If the dollar signs for these assistive devices give you sticker shock, it is important to note that very few private insurance plans or federal programs (like Medicare) will pay in-full for the long-term use of these technologies. The Department of Veterans Affairs typically does provide financial assistance to veterans who are in need of assistive technology, and most states will offer a Medicaid waiver reimbursement for personal emergency response systems; a few even cover medication management systems.
Assistive technologies can be a godsend for many families who are struggling to provide senior home care to a loved one at home. But these devices may not be the right choice for every situation. If the senior has had repeated falls or accidents, or episodes of wandering, it may be time to consider another care option like a continuing care retirement center (CCRC, also known as a life care community) or an assisted living facility with memory care.