Technology Improves Seniors Ability to Live Independently

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As the population ages, one of the greatest concerns among seniors is the ability to live independently for as long as possible. While some are sure to remember the Life Alert Emergency Response system from two decades ago (“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”), technology has improved so much that a wide array of new devices are being introduced to the caregivers of elderly adults to extend their time at home versus being moved to assisted living or a nursing home.

According to the US Census Bureau, the first wave of baby boomers will begin turning 65 this year and the number of elderly in the country will dramatically increase, growing from 35 million in 2000 to 71.5 million in 2030.

According to a survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), about one in 10 caregivers of senior citizens use tracking sensors that remotely detect potential safety hazards in the home. Harry Wang, director of health and mobile product research for Parks Associates, says the monitoring devices “helps seniors remain in the home longer” and projects that the number of users in the US will increase to 3.4 million seniors by 2012.

One of the available products today include a sensor placed inside the home to track an older person’s movement to certain areas of the home. The sensors are linked with computers that can issue an alert when he or she has deviated from their usual routine.

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The Lusora Intelligent Sensory Architecture (LISA), one such product to monitor the activities of the elderly, includes three main components – a wearable pendant that includes an emergency panic alarm and tracking device, the LISA tag which is placed on doors and windows to check for motion, and a light-switch camera that is integrated into the housing electrical system.

Another device uses GPS technology to help locate a person with dementia who has wandered from home. LoJack, for example, launched a product called “SafetyNet” in 2009. A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is worn on the wrist like a bracelet and transmits a radio signal that can be detected by Search and Rescue Receivers.

In 2007, the FDA approved a programmable device known as the Electronic Medication Management Assistant or EMMA. This stores and dispenses prescription medication for use in the hoe. It’s main purpose is to reduce drug identification and dosing errors but of course can help with medication compliance as well.

"The notion behind these technologies is that people stay in their homes with some peace of mind on both their and their families' part," said Elinor Ginzler, AARP's senior vice president for livable communities. The major downside, however, is cost – the number one barrier to widespread use.

By the way, Life Alert services are still available. Founded in 1987, the company still handles over two million calls each year and saves at least one life from a catastrophic outcome every 26 minutes. The home monitoring system provides medical, fire, and carbon monoxide protection. Today, it now also includes a 911 cell phone for protection when you are not at home.

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