New Sensor Systems Help Caregivers Monitor Seniors from Afar

New systems from companies including Lively and BeClose use networked sensors to help caregivers remotely monitor seniors who live alone.

You're probably familiar with those awful “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up" advertisements. Demeaning and cheesy as they are, they speak to a real need: Older people living alone need a way for caregivers to know if they need help. Fortunately, there are now better, less-intrusive ways to provide that help – courtesy of monitoring systems that use cellular connections, accelerometers and data analysis.

With the percentage of older people in the United States steadily growing, a number of companies have started to offer products ranging from the simple panic button you’d see in that Life Alert ad, to sophisticated motion sensors that track movement within a home.

Lively, a young, San Francisco-based company, offers a network of six wireless sensors and a hub that communicates via cellular connection with Lively’s servers. The sensors are pre-paired with the hub, and setup consists mostly of fastening the sensors to various places in the home, according to Ignacio Fanlo, the company's CEO.

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The system is quite flexible. Sensors are fastened to things like pill boxes, refrigerator doors, bathroom doors, chairs and other items the senior accesses every day. Say the senior is supposed to take a pill in the morning. When he or she lifts the pill box, the accelerometer registers the motion and tells the network that the medication has been taken.

If the network detects that the medication has not been taken by a certain time, it can call the senior to remind him or notify a caregiver. Similarly, if the refrigerator hasn’t been opened all day, the system assumes the senior isn’t eating and can either remind the senior or tell a caregiver.

Another module clips to a key ring and when the senior leaves home, a caregiver is notified. The system does not include a camera, and that’s deliberate. “We want to be unobtrusive and we want to respect the privacy and the dignity of the users,” Fanlo said.

Caregivers can access a dashboard with data from the sensors via a website or an iOS app. An Android app is expected soon.

Lively plans to offer a wearable panic button in about two months, according to Fanlo. The company will also add analytics capabilities to help spot patterns of behavior so alerts can be sent to caregivers when worrisome variations are detected.

Lively is at the lower end of the price range for these types of systems. It costs $149 for the hardware and $20 a month for the service.

A competitor called BeClose sells a somewhat broader range of hardware (with a motion sensor to detect intruders) and services. A package of three sensors costs $399, and BeClose charges $699 for six sensors, along with a monthly service charge of $69 with 12-month service agreement.

The number of seniors suffering from Alzheimer's disease is expected to grow from about 5 million today to more than 7 million in 2025. At the same time, there's a dearth of assisted-living facilities and trained caregivers, according to BeClose CEO Liddy Manson.

"We're definitely going to have a human resources crunch," Manson told the San Jose Mercury News. "So technology is going to have to bridge the gap."

Image: San Jose Mercury News

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