Sensor devices & web-based programs offer seniors ways to live safely at home.The Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) remotely monitor folks at home.
There is no place like home! Most seniors want to live independently for as long as possible, but some are forced to give this up due to concerns for their safety. As people age they often face more physical and mental handicaps. Many are at risk for falls or emergency medical care and fear they will be unable to alert anyone. Other seniors begin to show signs of memory loss and might inadvertently leave the stove on, or forget to take medications as required.
Now seniors and their families can breathe a sigh of relief. Many elderly people are able to stay in their homes longer and more safely than ever by taking advantage of today’s modern technology. Newly developed sensor devices and web-based programs offer older adults and their concerned children ways to live safely at home. These high-tech devices called Personal Emergency Response Services or PERS unobtrusively monitor folks at homes.
A newly published study released by Frost and Sullivan, a global consulting firm specializing in high technology, estimates the PERS market earned an estimated $1.04 billion in revenue in 2013. The firm predicts the market will continue to grow and will reach $1.46 billion by 2017.
Medical Alert Systems allow seniors to alert families to emergencies
One of the simplest and best-known PERS is the medical alert system. This simple device has been available for years. The alert is worn around the neck or on the wrist and can signal an outside source in case of need. If a person falls or finds himself in a dangerous situation, he can press a button to call for help. The biggest problem with this technology is the user must agree to or remember to wear the device, and must be motivated to press the button. Many older adults prefer to remain unattended rather than alarm a loved one when they need help.
Wireless sensors electronically monitor seniors
More sophisticated technologies are being developed that can solve these problems and make living around the house easier. Companies are creating customized sensory systems that can monitor activity and unobtrusively track a person’s movement around the home 24 hours a day. These wireless motion or contact sensors can be placed on kitchen appliances, cabinets, doorways, windows, walls, and beds and record all household activities.
The sensors can even be programmed to anticipate activity. For instance, if your mother usually sits in a favorite chair every afternoon, a monitor in the chair can be programmed to note when she is sitting. If the sensor cannot detect her for a significant period of time, a signal will alert a central monitoring center and a staff member will call. If your mother does not answer, the center will alert you or another designated person who can check on her.
Other sensors can be placed in a bed and note when the person lies down and gets up. They can be programed to note when the person gets up to go to the bathroom. If the person is not back within a predictable period of time the sensor alerts the system to the possibility that the person might have fallen.
Medicine reminder or pill dispenser alerts users to take medications on time
Another type of monitor is the medicine reminder or pill dispenser that alerts the user to take medications at set times of the day. Some medicine devices are programmed to dispense medications at specific times only, so there is no danger that the user can take more than one dosage at a time. These devices can also send out reminders when medications need to be taken. The reminders can be in the form of visual and or auditory alerts. If the individual does not respond in a reasonable period of time, an outside service will call and remind the user. If the user still does not respond, a family member or assigned caregiver will be notified by phone, email, or text.
Another new memory device is the automatic stove shut off. This device is hooked up to a stove and monitors movement around it. If the computer detects that a stove has been on too long it will automatically turn it off.
Robots are being programmed to help seniors at home
Looking into the future, companies are already experimenting with robots to take care of everyday tasks for seniors such as setting up medications, making up shopping lists, and performing minor household tasks. A recent movie with Frank Langella called Robot & Frank, set in the not too distant future, shows a robot that is programmed to cook, do basic housekeeping, and run errands for an elderly man, Frank who is beginning to show signs of forgetfulness. In the movie Frank, who when younger had been a notorious jewel thief, actually trains the robot to break into a home and steal jewelry.
Although companies are not likely to develop a robot with that much sophistication, there has been some success in developing machines that can helpful in performing necessary tasks. In 2010 researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology developed Cody, a robotic nurse that can help bathe elderly patients who are too injured or are too arthritics to bathe themselves. Hector, a robot designed in Europe is programmed to remind people to take their medicine, and keep track of their reading glasses. Finally HERB, short for Home Exploring Robot Butler, designed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon, can retrieve household objects and do simple cleaning. In 2013, Nabisco challenged HERB’s designers to program it to separate an Oreo cookie, which it did.
New introductions into the PERS market are becoming more and more creative. It is not likely that we will all have or even want a caregiver robot that will take the place of a home aide or attendant. However there is much hope that as our aging population continues to grow, these new creations, be they sensors, alerts, or robots, will make it easier for our elders to age more graciously in their own homes.