Dr. Leslie Kernisan asks the question, does sensor technology bring value to seniors?
What problems will activity monitors help solve?
As far as I can tell, these types of activity monitors mainly address the following problems:
- Families feeling anxious about how an older person is doing.
- Activity monitors will let families know if the person is not moving around the home — or using applicances — as usual.
- Older adults don’t like having to frequently tell their families that they are ok, or mind calls to check on how they are doing.
- If activity monitors can be relied on to flag a change in status, then phone conversations can instead focus on telling stories, or other conversations that don’t highlight anyone’s anxieties about aging, safety, and possible decline/disability.
It’s also possible that these devices might help older adults feel more secure, knowing that someone will be alerted if they significantly change their activity pattern. Is there clinical data on how activity sensors in the home actually affect outcomes and quality of life? I took a quick look in the literature and did not find much on outcomes, although I did come across this nice article in The Gerontologist which reviews some issues that clinicians should consider when advising families re smart home technologies. (The author mentions assisting with information gathering, ensuring comprehension, and ensuring voluntariness.) Back to the original question: will activity sensors in the home be helpful to older adults as they age? Hard to say. The idea of smart homes and connected independence is compelling. And there is something to be said for products that provide some peace of mind. But presumably everyone is also assuming that when these monitors flag a change in activity, someone, somehow, will intervene in such a way that allows the older person to live a better and more independent life. In other words, along with reassurance, it seems to me that these products are implying greater safety for our older loved ones. (Kind of the way that those infant sleep monitors imply reduced risk of SIDS when in fact there is no evidence to support this.) Here, I have to say that I’m a bit skeptical, and if a family asked me for ways to help keep their older loved one safer at home, I might first suggest things like assistance with medication (so many elders are on unnecessary and dangerous medications! and so many elders need to take certain medications daily in order to feel their best), optimizing physical function, reducing fall risk, social activities, and arranging for proper support of ADLs and IADLs. Come to think of it, if you want to monitor activity, why not wire up a medication dispenser, so that you can follow the activity pattern while still helping an older person and her clinical team manage the medication plan? Bottom line: If an activity monitor isn’t too expensive, it seems reasonable to give it a try and see if it feels helpful. Family caregivers are often quite anxious to know how a loved one is doing, and anything that helps them cope with worry and the other challenges of caregiving should be taken seriously. However, I hope families won’t have overly inflated expectations of safety benefits, unless research demonstrates that outcomes other than anxiety are improved. This article was first published at: http://www.geritech.org/ What is your impression of sensor technology in senior housing? Are you using it? Is it effective? What else would you like to see?