High tech helps elderly, impaired
Most adults with elderly parents can attest to the extra time and effort required to make sure mom and dad are OK.
They may have to call them every day to remind them to take their medication. Or they may receive a call from a neighbor concerned about newspapers piling up on their parent's doorstep.
But a new generation of wireless devices is promising to be the eyes and ears of concerned family members.
These gadgets are more sophisticated than traditional medical alert systems, such as Life Alert, which typically use a push-button pendant and a console to call for help.
Some gadgets can relay data on weight, blood pressure or blood sugar levels to a remote location. One system, GrandCare, employs motion sensors that can alert an adult child by e-mail, text message or voice mail if there is unusual movement -- or lack thereof -- in their parent's home.
Home Healthcare Solutions in Murrysville makes a computerized pill dispenser that automatically notifies a relative or caregiver if the user forgets to take medication.
Many tout the technology as an alternative to moving a parent to a costly assisted living or nursing facility. They can also help to relieve the guilt and anxiety of adult children, who often are working full-time and raising children of their own.
But others question whether such devices violate an individual's privacy. And still others consider it dehumanizing to track a human being in much the same way biologists might tag and track a grizzly bear.
When Betty Rapin was knocked unconscious after a fall in her Penn Township home in 2007, she purchased Life Alert for herself and her husband, Richard. The couple each have pendants they can push that will call for help via a console in their home.
"It's been a blessing," says Rapin, 79.
But she says she couldn't abide a technology that would relay her every move to her daughter, who lives about a mile away.
"They'll know I'm going to the kitchen. They'll know I'm going to the bathroom. It's redundant. It's, like, too much information," Rapine says. "Like if I went in my medicine cupboard and I went back three times, I wouldn't want them calling me up, saying 'Did you take too much medicine?' It would drive me crazy."
Carol Sikov Gross, an attorney who specializes in eldercare, expressed qualified support for the new technology.
"I think there might be privacy issues," she says. "Hopefully, it's something that children would discuss with their parents and get the parents' agreement to do it."
Elias Janetis founded MobileHelp in 2006 after he wearied of trying to keep tabs on his widowed grandmother, who had Alzheimer's. He lived in Williamsport. His grandmother lived in Florida.
"It was a very frustrating situation," Janetis says. "You call her house and don't get an answer and your whole day's derailed. I was flying down a couple times a month. I'd call her a couple times a day."
Traditional medical alert systems are usually limited to a range of about 600 feet, Janetis says. MobileHelp includes a mobile GPS device that can work outside the home. It uses the AT&T network. Cost is about $35 per month. An initial activation fee may also apply.
"I knew that traditional medical alert systems only worked in the home," he says. "A lot of seniors live very active lives and would like a button that works beyond the home. I saw a need in the marketplace and an underserved demographic."
Matthew Lee, a doctoral student at the Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, is part of a team working at the Quality of Life Technology Center. The Center, a joint effort between theCarnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, designs technology to help older adults and people with disabilities.
They design and test devices that are more finely calibrated than commercial sensor systems, such as GrandCare. By retrofitting household items with sensors, wireless transmitters and accelerometers, they can record the movements of the elderly as they perform everyday tasks, such as making coffee.
"We chose coffeemaking because it's a multi- step task," Lee says. "Certain things have to happen before other things happen. Because of that, we can keep track of the different parts of the task. We can figure out when people make errors."
These flubs could indicate a decline in cognitive skills or motor function, could be early signs of Alzheimer's or other diseases.
"The goal here is to know that there's a problem before there's' an accident," Lee says. "The Lifeline is for after you've fallen."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kaboly: Steelers fill biggest needs by drafting defensive players
- Kennywood Park opening day ends early because of disruptive crowd
- Bird flu ravaging commercial flocks remains mysterious
- Penn State tight end James, a South Allegheny grad, goes to Steelers in 5th round
- Off and running: Marathon takes over streets of Pittsburgh
- Njoroge wins Pittsburgh Marathon; Santucci repeats as women’s winner
- Steelers notebook: Harrison will play fewer snaps this season
- Rossi: Pittsburgh could show NFL a draft party
- Pirates’ anemic offense fails in extra-inning loss to Cardinals
- Sawchik: Should Pirates be concerned about their defense?
- Feds settle claim of excessive force filed by Braddock man