Internet Brings Independence to Seniors

Mary E. Shacklett, President, Transworld Data | 9/20/2011 | 13 comments

Mary E. Shacklett
Maintaining independence is a key motivator for senior citizens. Internet-enabled technology is helping many achieve that goal, thanks to communications that track medications and schedules, allow elderly parents and their children to stay in touch, and even monitor potential home safety hazards (such as burners on stoves). The growth of this technology can’t come too soon. By 2020, the average American life expectancy will be 79.82 years, and between 2020 and 2030, it is expected that one in every five Americans will be over the age of 65.

“Aging is a problem that has an impact not only on the elderly, but on the workforce,” said Brian Bischoff, CEO of Healthsense, a Mendota Heights, Minn., provider of WiFi and Internet-based technology that assists the elderly in daily living. “There is a set of problems confronting the elderly and their families, and a combination of WiFi, cellular, and Internet-delivered technology can assist in solving those problems.”

Bischoff says his company does 80 percent of its business today with assisted living and nursing institutions, which contract for Internet monitoring systems that tie into WiFi campuses within the facilities. The other 20 percent of Healthsense's business is WiFi/Internet installations of sensing technology in private homes. He projects that this ratio will be reversed in the future.

“We saw the trend to home systems begin to emerge a couple of years ago,” said Bischoff. “The big factor was the economy and older people and their families realizing that they would have to stay at home, instead of paying $4,000 or more a month for assisted living.”

A 24/7 one-bedroom apartment monitoring and alert system that runs over standard WiFi and Internet technology to a central response center can cost less than $2,000 to install, with an ongoing monthly service charge of less than $100.

Efforts are also under way to build “smart homes” with sensors that can monitor the settings for burners on the stove, the position of refrigerator doors, whether someone has left the house for a number of days, and lack of movement within the house, which could suggest the resident has fallen. “Retrofitting an apartment is not cost prohibitive,” said Diane Cook, a computer scientist at Washington State University. “It is a few thousand dollars.”

Not everyone is comfortable with these automated systems. Nursing and assisted living facilities, which could lose revenue if more people stay at home, are reluctant to endorse the technology outside institutionalized settings. On the consumer side, the work at Washington State University turned up privacy concerns, such as people feeling uncomfortable with a system that was “watching their every move.” Other aging experts cite limited exposure to Internet technology as a potential obstacle for the elderly, though this is becoming less of a problem, as a result of the growing number of senior citizens participating in social networks like Facebook.

Will we reach a point where sensors and monitoring systems become standard equipment in senior housing? With the baby boomer aging crisis yet to hit full force, that eventuality seems likely. However, if “smart” senior homes are implemented in any widespread community scenario, their success will depend on a robust and highly reliable local Internet infrastructure and excellent call and respond operations in call centers. These will require high-quality service and uptime from supporting IT resources, along with the ability to interoperate with diverse mobile and sensing devices over the Internet.

Once the infrastructure is in place, services for homes could be further extended to cover online grocery shopping, placing orders for lawn and home care, or accessing medical Websites. “Significant work has been done, and research continues,” said Bischoff. “But it’s still stunning to see how many people don’t yet know that this [level of monitoring and communication] is possible today.”

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impactnow   Internet Brings Independence to Seniors   9/28/2011 12:53:41 PM

I agree I think the mix has to include humans and technology. If not the seniors maybe independent longer but be forced to live very isolated lives. The technology should be interactive and not just monitors. Monitors cannot predict and humans are a little better at understanding what is standard for a loved one.

Mary E. Shacklett   Internet Brings Independence to Seniors   9/28/2011 10:10:44 AM
Re: Technology Cuts Care Costs
The need for Internet access is growing day by day. There are now some businesses that have closed out all communications with customers unless you contact them via Internet.

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suranjithfernando   Internet Brings Independence to Seniors   9/27/2011 4:01:23 PM
Re: Technology Cuts Care Costs
As the Internet becomes increasingly necessary to the pursuit of happiness, it becomes less of a privilege and more of a right. A necessity should never be considered a privilege.
Mary E. Shacklett   Internet Brings Independence to Seniors   9/27/2011 1:29:55 PM
Re: Technology Cuts Care Costs
Hi Steel2179,


I think we will be amazed at the myriad of low cost options that will start showing up on the market. It will begin to empower families of limited means to do something to improve life for themseves and their seniors. 
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Steel2179   Internet Brings Independence to Seniors   9/27/2011 12:13:46 PM
Technology Cuts Care Costs
Will we reach a point where sensors and monitoring systems become standard equipment in senior housing? With the baby boomer aging crisis yet to hit full force, that eventuality seems likely.

I think that this is especially helpful for the segment of seniors who fall inbetween.  They are still active, not in seriously declining health, but need some assistance.  From experience, I know that care options are dictated by your family budget for care.  So a simple sensor or monitoring tool would benefit so many who have the care and concern, but can't afford the help.

nimanthad   Internet Brings Independence to Seniors   9/21/2011 5:53:51 AM
Re: Not The Most Fun Topic, But...
IMO its not for the seniors. Internet do dish out independence for every one. It is true that certain set of people lack the independence that the others do enjoy but imagine a world without internet for one day atleast ? How many things will go down ? How many people will loose their jobs and income ? So isnt internet a vital factor which brings up light to everyone's life :)
Mary E. Shacklett   Internet Brings Independence to Seniors   9/20/2011 2:32:46 PM
Re: Not The Most Fun Topic, But...
Yes, Ms. Akkineni,...and it helps their families  and providers, too!
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MS.Akkineni   Internet Brings Independence to Seniors   9/20/2011 1:58:36 PM
Re: Not The Most Fun Topic, But...
Very much true Mary.

And that sense of independence boosts their positive energies and that obviously is healthy for them. 
Mary E. Shacklett   Internet Brings Independence to Seniors   9/20/2011 12:08:34 PM
Re: seniors
Well said, impactnow.

There is  another layer to this that needs to look at the total  system of tech and human  interaction to see  what is still missing and how everyone can help to complete the picture.

Some of the answers are human, not technical.



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Mary E. Shacklett   Internet Brings Independence to Seniors   9/20/2011 12:06:31 PM
Re: Not The Most Fun Topic, But...
It IS more fun to talk about soc  networking, etc., EyeTee--but one thing I think we can all agree on is  that new tech is  empowering  seniors to maintain  their independence. No price tag can be put on that.

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