The Today Show

Technology that Helps Seniors Stay at Home


Helping an aging parent or other loved one remain independent and living in his or her own home has become much easier in recent years, thanks to a host of new assistive technology products.

Depending on needs and preferences, these technologies run the gamut from medical alert devices that can call for help when needed; home monitoring systems that let family members keep tabs on their loved one's activities of daily living; and medication management tools that help ensure their medications are being taken as prescribed by their doctor. Here are some top products that can help…

Philips LifeLineOne of the most common concerns among families that have an elderly loved one living alone is them falling and needing help. For this potential danger, a medical alert device – also known as a personal emergency response system (PERS) – like the Philips Lifeline (800-380-3111) has long been the tool of choice.

This device, which rents for around $1 per day, provides a wearable "SOS" button – typically in the form of a necklace pendent or bracelet – and a base station that connects to the home phone line.

At the press of a button, your loved one could call and talk to a trained operator through the system's base station receiver which works like a powerful speaker phone. The operator will find out what's wrong, and will notify family members, a neighbor, friend or emergency services as needed.

And, as an added layer of protection, the Phillips Lifeline now offers a new Auto Alert option (for $48 per month) that has fall detection sensors in the SOS button that can automatically summon help without your loved one ever having to press a button. This is very helpful because many seniors after a fall become confused, disoriented or incapacitated and don't press the button.

If you're looking for a more budget-friendly option, there are also home communication products that don't require professional monitoring services, therefore they have no monthly monitoring fees.

The new VTech CareLine Home Safety Telephone System is such a product.

VTech CareLine Home Safety Telephone SystemThis system, which costs $120, comes with a corded phone and cordless handset, and a portable safety pendant that can be worn around the neck with two programmable buttons to dial personal contacts – one could be a relative or neighbor and the other could be 911. The wearer can also receive calls, and reminders via the pendent, and even make calls using the pendent's voice command feature to any of the four speed dial numbers that have been programmed into the phones base system.

The corded handset sports a large-text display, large amber-backlit buttons, audio boost for easier hearing and speed-dialing buttons that can have a photo added to them for faster recognition.

To deal with falls or health emergencies outside the home, there are mobile-alert products that work anywhere, like the 5Star Urgent Response (800-733-6632)

5Star Urgent Response by GreatCallThis pendant-style device, which fits in the palm of your hand, works like a cell phone with GPS tracking capabilities, and can be worn on a belt or around the neck, or attached to a key chain.

To call for help, your loved one pushes one button, and an operator from the device's emergency monitoring service would be on the line to assist them. It allows your loved one to speak and listen to the operator through the pendant, and because of the GPS technology, the operator knows the exact location, which is critical in emergency situations.

Made by GreatCall wireless – the same company that makes the Jitterbug big-button cell phone – the 5Star Urgent Response costs $50 plus a $35 activation fee and $15 monthly service fees.

A more sophisticated technology for keeping tabs on an elder loved one at home is a monitoring service like GrandCare Systems (262-338-6147), which will let you know whether your loved one is waking up and going to bed on time, eating properly, showering and taking their medicine.

GrandCare Wireless SensorIt does this through small wireless sensors (not cameras) placed in key locations throughout the home. The sensors track movements and learn the person's daily activity patterns and routines, and will notify you or other family members via text message, email or phone if something out of the ordinary is happening.

For instance, if your loved one doesn't open the medicine cabinet at their usual time it could mean they forgot to take their medication, or if they went to the bathroom and didn't leave it could indicate a fall or other emergency.

You can also check up on your loved one's patterns any time you want through the system's password-protected website. And for additional protection, this service offers SOS call buttons too that can be placed around the house, or worn.

GrandCare Touch ScreenGrandCare also provides an important social connectivity component that compliments the activity monitoring. It does this through a senior-friendly touch-screen computer, that lets you send your loved one messages, pictures and online videos, set up medication and other reminders, and provides him or her easy access to their favorite music, news, weather, brain games, email, and video calls via Skype for that important face-to-face time when you can't be there.

GrandCare leases for between $150 and $400 per month.

If you want to make sure your loved one is keeping up with their medications, there are a number of comprehensive medication management systems you can rent, like the MedMinder Automated Pill Dispenser MedMinder Maya pill dispenser(888-633-6463).

This is computerized pill box that flashes when it's time for your loved one to take his medication and beeps or calls his phone with an automated reminder if he forgets. It will even alert him if he takes the wrong pills. This device can also be set up to call, email or text a family member and caregiver if the loved one misses a dose or takes the wrong medication or doesn't refill the dispenser. The MedMinder rents for $40 per month.

Philips Medication Dispenser SystemAnother good medication dispensing system is the Phillips Medication Dispensing Service (888-632-3261), a counter-top appliance that dispenses medicine on a schedule in small plastic cups, provides verbal reminders and notifies caregivers if the pills aren't monitoring fees for the Phillips service is $75 an $85 installation fee.

Aetrex Navistar GPS ShoesIf you worry about your loved one wandering off and getting lost, consider the Aetrex Navistar GPS Shoes (800-526-2739). This is a basic walking shoe with the GPS device hidden in a heel. It works by allowing caregivers to set up a virtual perimeter, called a "geo-fence," that allows the wearer to freely move around a specific area – the house, yard, perhaps around a familiar immediate neighborhood. But if he or she strays beyond the perimeter, the caregiver is alerted via email or text message, and will show you exactly where they are. The cost: $300 per pair, plus a $30 to $35 monthly monitoring fee.

The Hurry CaneTo help enhance your loved ones mobility in and out of the house, consider the HurryCane (800-942-9102) for $40. This is a lightweight aluminum, folding cane that has a 3-point base that pivots as you walk to provide maximum stability at all angles and surfaces. It also stands upright on its own for convenience, and comes with an ergonomic L-shaped hand grip extra comfort.

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