Automation: Home Monitoring for the Elderly

Building automation is taking off, and home automation is right behind it. Part of the motivation is to monitor the elderly.

Automation in the home is expensive, but there are devices that are currently available to monitor the elderly to keep them safe. Automation is not just to monitor electricity and turn on sprinkler systems or security. However, the same technology may be used to help the elderly stay at home. There are devices for the person and for the home that can help keep people who are older or disabled, safe. Many of the same irritating devices that monitor whether we are following the law, can be implemented to save a life.

Automation to Transmit Vitals

The New York Times posted an article, (“Sensors Help Keep the Elderly Safe, and at Home”, John Leland, NY Times, 2009), that listed eNeighbor as an emerging technology to help keep track of the elderly if they fall by monitoring motion in the home. He gives examples of how it helped save lives. Other automation includes handheld devices that allow patients to monitor their vitals at home and to transmit their vitals to monitoring facilities if they are “out of range”. More simple devices are emergency buttons that can be worn around the neck and when someone falls, or if an intruder entered the home, it can dial 911.

Automation for the Home to Monitor Safety

Telecare is another ongoing product that senses movement throughout the home or lack of. Because we are creatures of habit, it is easy to monitor routines. Motion sensors and load cells can be used together to monitor when patients get out of bed for nightly urination or to answer the door. Different configurations may be monitored to tell if someone has fallen and cannot get up. Or, together with other information, may alert a care nurse or neighbor to check on the occupant. Timers and other sensors may be used to turn off stoves or faucets to protect from fire and other emergencies. Add smoke detectors and CO2 monitors and the home can remain safe for people who are confined by age and have few visitors, or like their privacy.

Keeping Elderly Mobile and Moving

Some elderly may want to stay mobile in the confines of their home and want privacy but added support. GPS or global positioning system satellites can monitor movement with a wrist device now. This technology is currently used by runners but could be applied to elderly movement to guarantee they are getting up, or to monitor electric wheelchairs so that the elderly may go outside alone but be monitored.

Everyday Convenience

Another issue is movement after a stroke. Some patients are stuck with only one limb working or only half of their body responding. Others cannot speak the way they used to. Automation may be used to make coffee and monitor the refrigerator door. There are also devices to help assist in the kitchen. There are stoves that can run on timers and that have surfaces that turn off when pots are removed. There are text-to-speech devices that can speak. Sometimes the convenience of all of our limbs and functionality are taken for granted. Automation can help.

In general, automation may be applied to the home to free the elderly, not to confine them. This also applies to disabled people. Technology has been assisting with home care for many years. As John Leland pointed out, it’s not always fail-proof. It is human-made. However, since many elderly and disabled have to struggle for autonomy and privacy, and mobility, it may be an avenue to provide some sustainability.

Victoria Nicks, another writer at Suite101, offers a different point of view on home automation for the elderly. Whether or not the automation is being used successfully, and is worth the investment, has not been proven yet, but if when considering purchasing a system, one cannot price peace of mind or autonomy.

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