4 Seniors: Technology to help seniors stay at home
By: Jim Miller
Helping an aging parent or other loved one remain independent and living in his or her own home has become much easier in recent years, thanks to a host of new assistive technology products.
Here are some top products that can help.
IN-HOME ALERT DEVICES
One of the most common concerns among families that have an elderly loved one living alone is them falling and needing help. For this potential danger, a medical alert device – also known as a personal emergency response system (PERS) – like the Phillips Lifeline (LifeLineSys.com, 800-380-3111) has long been the tool of choice.
This device, which rents for around $1 per day, provides a wearable “SOS” button – typically in the form of a necklace pendent or bracelet – and a base station that connects to the home phone line.
At the press of a button, your loved one could call and talk to a trained operator through the system’s base station receiver which works like a powerful speaker phone. The operator will find out what’s wrong, and will notify family members, a neighbor, friend or emergency services as needed.
And, as an added layer of protection, the Phillips Lifeline now offers a new Auto Alert option (for $48 per month) that has fall detection sensors in the SOS button that can automatically summon help without your loved one ever having to press a button. This is very helpful because many seniors after a fall become confused or disoriented and forget to press the button.
If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, there are also home medical alert products that don’t offer professional monitoring services, therefore they have no monthly monitoring fees.
The new VTech CareLine Home Safety Telephone System (VtechPhones.com) is such a product.
This system, which costs $120, comes with a corded phone and cordless handset, and a portable safety pendant that can be worn around the neck with two programmable buttons to dial personal contacts – one could be a relative or neighbor and the other could be 911. The wearer can also voice dial any of the 50 numbers they have programmed into the system’s phonebook.
The corded handset sports a large-text display, large amber-backlit buttons, a audio boost for easier hearing and speed-dialing buttons that can have a photo added to them for faster recognition.
To deal with falls or health emergencies outside the home, there are mobile-alert products that work anywhere, like the 5Star Urgent Response (GreatCall.com, 800-733-6632).
This pendant-style device, which fits in the palm of your hand, works like a cell phone with GPS tracking capabilities, and can be worn on a belt or around the neck, or attached to a key chain.
To call for help, your loved pushes one button, and an operator from the device’s emergency monitoring service would be on the line to assist them. It allows your loved on to speak and listen to the operator through the pendant, and because of the GPS technology, the operator knows the exact location, which is critical in emergency situations.
Made by GreatCall wireless – the same company that makes the Jitterbug big-button cell phone – the 5Star Urgent Response cost $50 plus a $35 activation fee and $15 monthly service fees.
A more sophisticated technology for keeping tabs on an elder love one at home is a monitoring service like GrandCare Systems (GrandCare.com, 262-338-6147), which will let you know whether your loved one is waking up and going to bed on time, eating properly, showering and taking their medicine.
It does this through small wireless sensors (not cameras) placed in key locations throughout the home. The sensors track movements and learn the person’s daily activity patterns and routines, and will notify you or other family members via text message, email or phone if something out of the ordinary is happening.
For instance, if your loved one doesn’t open the medicine cabinet at their usual time it could mean they forgot to take their medication, or if they went to the bathroom and didn’t leave it could indicate a fall or other emergency.
You can also check up on your loved one’s patterns anytime you want through the system’s password-protected website. And for additional protection, this service offers SOS call buttons too that can be placed around the house, or worn.
GrandCare also provides an important social connectivity component that compliments the activity monitoring. It does this through a senior-friendly touch-screen computer, that provides your loved one with easy access to Skype for video calls, email, caller ID, games and brain exercises as well as a calendar to keep up with appointments and events.
GrandCare leases for between $150 and $300 per month.