Technology Allows the Elderly to Stay in Homes

PHOTO The Safe-T-Element Cooking System is shown here.
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Nine out of 10 people older than 65 aim to live in their homes independently for as long as possible, according to Nancy Thompson of the AARP, and those who move do so to be closer to their friends and families.

Most caregivers often support their parents' or loved ones' desire to stay there but the burden to look after them often becomes hard to bear. But there are many services and products that allow seniors to live on their own without sacrificing their safety.

"More than six in 10 caregivers are willing to use a variety of home-safety devices for the people they assist," Thompson said.

Here are a few that anyone can use to make life easier for both parties.

Telecaregivers

For some families, being constantly present in their elder loved ones' homes can be difficult. That's where telecaregivers such as those at ResCare HomeCare come in.

The service, called Rest Assured, includes a constant link that's set up in the home with an operator who's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to monitor the users. Several cameras are set up throughout the house to be able to see entryways to watch who is coming in, to see if someone has fallen and can't get up in any room or if someone has simply taken too long in the bathroom. Sensors are used throughout the home to track any unusual activity.

The operators are also in constant communication with the users and their loved ones: They have the ability to speak to them at any time through a computer and have contact information for those close by in case there is an emergency. Loved ones can also monitor their parents through the same feed the operators do at any time.

"We think ours is unique, we emphasize the human over the technological ... without the human presence of trained caregivers, it isn't the same," Nel Taylor of ResCare said.

The service starts ar $450 per month, with a $250 installation fee.

Watch "Families on the Brink: What to Do About Mom and Dad" for more on ABC.

In-Home Monitoring

Home security system company ADT unveiled its companion service several years ago, but the Personal Emergency Response System has helped seniors and others with disabilities stay in their own homes.

"The idea is you want to live independently in your home, but still need the protection and peace of mind that someone is only a phone call away," ADT's Bob Tucker said.

The personal security system involves a wearable device that is connected to a base up to 300 feet away. If the user falls or is in need of any assistance, they can simply press the button to be immediately connected to an operator who's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The installation fee is $49 and the monthly fee starts at $34.95. Seniors can get a special discount through ADT's partners, AARP and the United Services Automobile Association.

"Just $1 a day to have someone looking out for you," Tucker said.

Special Phones for Seniors

Jitterbug cell phone from GreatCall.

While cell phones are an everyday staple for today's generations, the elderly have a hard time navigating the small buttons and complicated applications.

GreatCall has changed that with the Jitterbug, a classic, no frills flip phone that features bigger-than-normal buttons, an extra-powerful speakerphone and access to GreatCall's numerous features that give seniors the opportunity to live independently and give their loved ones peace of mind.

"It's more than just about a cell phone, it's about staying safe," GreatCall CEO David Inns said. "We can use constant contact to get people engaged daily in thinking about their health and safety."

Starting at $14.99 per month, users receive interactive in-bound calls that ask the user a series of questions related to their health and well being. If the user misses several phone calls, or if their answers require further assistance, GreatCall will inform an emergency contact or will connect them with a live operator immediately. That service is available on all plans for an additional $5 per month.

Another aspect of the plan is "Live Nurse," a way for users to contact a registered nurse who is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer any medical questions or help them take the next step in their care, whether it be going to an emergency room or contacting a loved one.

Caregivers are also able to see their loved ones' response to the interactive calls, stage medication reminders or add calendar appointments around the clock at MyGreatCall.com. If the need it, users can also call an operator to help with those tasks and others at any time.

"People should look at the provider they choose for the solution," he said. "There are things you can do that are going to help you or your parents be better connected, safer and healthier, and give you peace of mind."

5Star Personal Security, a brand-new feature that will debut in March, allows users to get in touch with an operator who will immediately know who the caller is, their location (using GPS technology) and a plethora of other information that's included on their personal profile that can be managed on MyGreatCall.com.

Among other things, the operator will be able to access emergency contacts, health conditions and medications that the callers have stored in their profile, and if there is an emergency the operator will immediately connect the users with 911 or a family member, and will remain in contact until the problem is solved.

"What we believe is not enough people think about their help in between doctor's office, using the cell phone, we can change that," he said.

Preventing House Fires

The Safe-T-element, by Pioneering Technology.

"Stove-top cooking is the No. 1 cause of home fires," said Laird Comber of Pioneering Technology, based in Ontario. "We are not only reducing stove-top fires, we are statistically eliminating them."

The Safe-T-element cooking system is a set of cover plates that are installed over each burner. The electronically controlled plate limits the temperature of the burner to 662 degrees, below the ignition point of oil and other cooking materials at 700 degrees. An uncovered burner could reach up to 1,291 degrees, Comber said.

A set of four plates, including installation, is $250, and the product also offers energy savings.

"We don't require as much energy," Comber said. "You can save upwards to $65 per stove, per year."

The Safe-T-element can be purchased through Pioneering Technology's website.

Medication Reminders

The Advanced Alarm Pill Reminder by VitaCarry.

More than 76 percent of Americans older than 60 use two or more prescription medications, and 37 percent use five or more. What's disconcerting is that 57 percent of those 65 and older admit that they forget to take their medications, according to the AARP.

Several high-tech gadgets exist to remind seniors to take their medication. For $39.95, the Advanced Alarm Pill Reminder by VitaCarry can be programmed to go off up to seven times per day, and has a display feature that notifies the user when a pill is accidently missed. The display can also be easily removed from the pill storage compartment to take on the go.

Osun Technologies also makes a simple automated medication reminder that takes two buttons to program, for $24.95. Both of these products can be found on Amazon.com.

Make Chores Easier

The Roomba by iRobot.

There are several smaller products on the market that will make everyday tasks easier to get through. House cleaning robots such as the Roomba or Scooba by iRobot can be left alone to vacuum every inch of carpet or wash the floor, leaving seniors with more time and energy to pursue other interests.

"It's amazing how they immediately saw the value in it, pushing a vacuum was hard for them but they still wanted to maintain a clean house," she said.

The various models of the Roomba and Scooba range from $200 to $600, and a new Scooba line debuted in early January that's half the size of the original, and perfect for smaller areas such as bathrooms.

"It can get into all those little nooks and crannies, and can pick up 97 percent of household bacteria," Smith said.

Both models are available online at iRobot's Web site, but the Roomba can also be found at Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, some Sears locations and club stores such as Costco, Sam's and BJ's.

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