The New Wave of Home Healthcare
Electronic systems allow seniors to age comfortably and safely in their own homes.
July 30, 2010 by Lisa Montgomery

Health and Wellness
Changes in an elder’s routine and environment can indicate potential health problems, but some systems like those from Healthsense, Intel, Grand Care Systems and Wellaware Systems are able to provide evidence that’s much more concrete. Optional with these systems are a wireless scale, blood pressure cuff, glucometer and other tools that can measure a person’s vital signs.

Measurements taken by these various medical devices are recorded on the system’s website, and the entire chart can be shared with the user’s physician and family members. If the issue stems from someone forgetting to take his or her medication, the systems can be programmed to deliver friendly reminders by way of a phone call, text or email. Grand Care Systems and Intel also offer the option of having the message displayed on a TV or in-home monitoring device, respectively.

Today, most manufacturers of telehealth systems market their solutions through assisted living facilities and home healthcare agencies. “We see technology as an enabler to support independent living,” says Brian Bischoff, president and CEO of Healthsense. “Seniors often still need services like housekeeping, transportation and meal delivery of an assisted care facility.” However, it’s conceivable that these types of systems will find their way into an increasing number of private homes in the near future.

That’s certainly Intel’s vision. “We recognize through our studies that it’s important to extend a person’s care community beyond formal caregivers to include family members,” says Julie Cheitlin Cherry, Intel director of professional services. “We’ve done a lot of research to see how the technology can be integrated into a senior’s home and lifestyle to enable them to stay at home.”

Communication and Engagement
As effective as ADL and telehealth systems are at helping seniors maintain their independence, they can’t cure the loneliness and isolation that many feel. Grand Care tackles this issue with the same TV interface used to display visual reminders of doctor’s appointments and medication schedules. Mitchell explains, “When the caregiver goes to our website to check on the parent’s activity, they can also send photos, videos and emails directly to a predesignated Grand Care TV channel.” 

Transmission to a separate touchscreen monitor is an option as well. “The user can touch the music button on the screen, for example, to hear songs that have been downloaded and sent to them by their son, daughter, grandchildren or friends. Everything that’s available on the Internet but that a senior might not know how to access, can be sent.”

For seniors uncomfortable with paperless forms of communication, Presto and Celery each have developed a standalone product—less than $100 plus a monthly subscription of around $15—that combines the speed and immediacy of the Internet with the physical attributes of snail mail. Friends and family members use Presto’s web portal to send letters, reminders, photos and documents via email. The senior retrieves them from a printer designed and configured by Presto to automatically adjust the items to a format that fits on a standard 8.5-by-11-inch sheet of paper. “The messages end up looking like Hallmark cards,” says Presto president and CEO Peter Radscliff. The web portal also lets caregivers track what’s been sent, how much ink is left in the printer and set up times for the system to deliver certain items automatically, like reminders of weekly doctor’s visits. 

Celery’s product delivers email to the senior’s home in a manner similar to the Presto unit. However, it also allows the senior to respond in the form of a handwritten note. Just as they would with a standard fax machine, the senior places his or her letter in the tray and hits send. The message is converted to an email, which pops up in the caregiver’s inbox.

Priceless Peace of Mind
Seniors may not be as comfortable with technology as their grandkids, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be just as significant to them. By equipping their homes with certain systems, they can continue to live independently as they age, without having to sacrifice their dignity or privacy. Friends and family benefit, too. They can postpone plans to move a loved one into an assisted healthcare facility, relieving them of the financial burden and emotional strain. Plus, they’ll have the peace of mind of knowing their age-in-place parent is happy, healthy and safe—and that’s priceless.

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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

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