A watchful eye on aging parents

by Gordon Meyer

Demographers tell us that the US is soon to experience a sharp increase in the elderly population, to occur as the baby boomers begin to age. Perhaps that explains the growing interest in using home automation technology to improve the safety of, and sometime monitor, old folks. It's a common topic in the HA community and I get a fair amount of email about it, too.

That's why Kirsten Scharnberg's article Keeping Track of Dad in the April 9, 2006 issue of the Chicago Tribune really caught my eye. It gives a detailed look at a Oregon care facility that has embraced monitoring technology. Each resident is "tagged" so their movements and interactions with staff and other residents are available for review, their beds have built-in scales, and you can even see the room temperature of their apartments. (There's a Windows-only video demo of their system at the website, by the way.)

The article is well-worth reading, even if you have to register to see it, if this is a topic you're interested in. There's little doubt this center is ahead of the curve but the general idea will likely catch on elsewhere. One very nice benefit, which the center deserves credit for implementing, is that the technology doesn't just allow you to monitor the residents, you also get to see how quickly staff responds when they're called to assist, as well as exactly who responded so you can follow up with them later if you have questions about how your loved one is faring.

As I mentioned, I often get email about this topic thanks to "Hack #81 - Instill Peace of Mind for the Elderly" in Smart Home Hacks. In contrast to most of the readers that I hear from, people writing about this topic are likely to have little interest in home automation per se, they're just looking for something--anything--that might make an uncomfortable situation easier. There are several ideas in the book that can be adapted for this purpose but so far I've found that an emergency dialer is a popular method for adding a simple layer of technology to an existing home; it doesn't require a computer or anything fancy and it provides a way to signal when help is needed. It's only one piece of a larger puzzle, but surely there are other products on the market that can be adapted to lend help or comfort.

2 Comments

anne
2006-04-26 08:36:04
I have used cameras + a webserver for a year, to be able to check on my mother from work. The pictures updated every minute and caught most of the places she was likely to sit at. That was very nice. Reassured me mostly, and I knew if she had eaten, if she seemed anxious or doing something strange like packing a suitcase. The time when she got herself locked out, I was too busy to check on her! So you need a job where you are sitting at a computer most of the time, and have ways to intervene if you are worried. It helped during the in between period when she could still be left alone most of the time.
Tim
2008-04-02 18:17:08
My clients at http://www.IntercomsOnline.com are always looking for ways to monitor their elderly parents. I come up with intercom solutions for them, but there is a need for a wide variety of products to meet the varied monitoring needs. I think manufacturers are missing the boat on some of these.