A personal emergency response system allows seniors to live in their homes and summon help when needed, says Chris Marsh, director of sales for Doyle Medical Monitoring, a division of Doyle Security Systems. (Photo by Kimberly McKinzie)
An array of electronic aids stands ready to help older adults continue living independently.
Senior citizens, who are expected to number 70 million in the U.S. by 2030, increasingly try to avoid entering nursing homes or other residential care facilities for as long as possible. Smart devices can summon help with the touch of a button, precisely dispense medications or perform other tasks, helping seniors to manage on their own.
“They want to be at home more so than anywhere else,” says Jennifer Zwierlein, director of telemedicine at Lifetime Care, a non-profit that provides home health care and other services around the region.
It can be difficult for aging individuals to remain home unassisted as their physical capabilities decrease. Local agencies and businesses provide gadgets to assist with problems like declining health or a need for better security that could send seniors into residential facilities.
One device that can give seniors a greater sense of security at home is the personal emergency response system.
“They allow a senior to live in their home and then summon help when needed,” says Chris Marsh, director of sales for Doyle Medical Monitoring, a division of the Rochester firm Doyle Security Systems Inc.
Doyle Medical Monitoring offers the PERS-2400, a system with a small base station and a transmitter/receiver worn as a pendant or on the wrist. Pushing a button on the transmitter sends a signal to the base station, which forwards the signal to Doyle’s 24/7 call center.
“When the person pushes the button, an operator will come on and assess the situation,” Marsh explains.
After talking to the customer, the operator decides what action to take, from contacting an authorized individual—such as a family member or neighbor—to calling an ambulance or other emergency responder.
“An ambulance is the last resort,” Marsh says.
Doyle also offers a programmable electronic pill dispenser to avoid medication errors. The Dispense-a-Pill reminds the customer to take required medications, offers them and notifies Doyle’s call center if they are not taken. Customers’ relatives or others involved in their care usually program the device.
“I can record it in my voice and say, ‘Mom, take your 8 o’clock medicine,’” Marsh says. “It would be an audio and visual alert.”
Lifetime Care also offers PERS to its patients, over 75 percent of whom are seniors. In addition, those who qualify can keep track of their physical conditions through the use of various medical monitoring devices.
The Honeywell HomMed Sentry, for example, can be programmed to remind the patient to check his or her physical condition at given times and days, and it is hooked to a scale, blood pressure cuff and other devices that can be used to do so. The information is transmitted to Lifetime Care via a telephone line or dedicated cellular network.
Once Lifetime receives the patient’s results, a registered nurse checks them and determines whether further action is necessary. A problem could prompt a call to the patient, a family member or some other authorized person, Zwierlein says.
Visiting Nurse Service of Rochester and Monroe County Inc. began offering electronic aids to its patients back in 2006.
“Many of our patients are seniors,” says Victoria Hines, the non-profit’s president and CEO.
Seniors in the Rochester area can choose from a set of devices. In addition to a basic PERS, Visiting Nurse Service offers the Philips Lifeline AutoAlert, which can detect falls as well.
Patients enrolled in the VNS telehealth program can also make use of programmable medication dispensers and monitors that can check their physical condition. The monitor, which is available from AMC Health, uses wireless technology to connect to a scale, blood pressure cuff, blood glucose meter and other devices, Hines says.
Patients are encouraged to use the monitor during the daytime, when VNS’ staff are ready to examine the results, and are taught how to interpret the results themselves.
“One of the things we have done as part of our home care assessment is educate the patient about what are normal readings,” Hines says.
VNS quickly contacts the patient if the readings indicate that a problem has occurred or might appear. The agency also posts the results on its secure Web portal, where people authorized by the patient can access them. Roughly 95 percent of the patients who use one of the three types of aids are 65 or older.
A recent VNS study of two groups of patients discharged from hospitals—those who had been treated for congestive heart failure and those who had been treated for diabetes—found that both groups benefited from in-home use of medical monitors.
“We have … reduced rehospitalization rates by 25 percent for the heart failure patients and up to 50 percent for the diabetic patients,” Hines says.
The ability to monitor vital signs also leaves patients feeling more empowered.
“The value of every single day knowing what your numbers are is remarkable,” Hines says. “They love it.”
Zwierlein says the use of such devices can prove helpful to those around the patients involved.
“It’s giving family members more peace of mind, knowing that … somebody is checking in and is watching them,” she says.
Residents at Jewish Senior Life tap into a software program called “It’s Never Too Late” that provides a loop of music, helping them relax and control anxiety. The facility offers the “Happier at Home” program, which has an automated medication dispensing system for clients at home.
The market for such electronic aids is growing. Doyle’s business in such devices has more than doubled in the past five years, Marsh says.
In the coming years, seniors are likely to have a greater selection of electronic aids. Marsh is testing a PERS that incorporates a GPS function, which could allow relatives to keep tabs on seniors’ whereabouts.
TouchStream Solutions Inc, a local startup, also hopes to get in the game. The firm plans to release a medical monitor by the end of the year. The device, which consists of an off-the-shelf electronic tablet that runs on the firm’s software, can wirelessly connect to a scale, blood pressure cuff and other medical devices.
“We turn the tablet into … a health care appliance,” says Joel Benzel, the CEO and founder of TouchStream.
The system helps obtain vital signs and transmit them to a company website, where they can be viewed by physicians and other authorized parties. The device can also be programmed to remind the user of important tasks.
Mike Costanza is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
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