Security Type Sensors Make Their Way into Nursing Homes

Honor Hacker feels comfortable with the five motion detectors in her assisted-living apartment. They record almost every move she makes.

"I never know they're there," says Hacker of the small plastic devices installed in strategic places.

New technology is creating a hassle-free bridge between aging people who want to live independently and family and professional caregivers intent on keeping a watchful eye on them.

In a pilot project at Ecumen's Lakeview Commons in Maplewood, a system called QuietCare tracks movement around the clock in20 living unitsto detect residents' health problems before they turn to crises.

There is no camera to violate a resident's privacy. No button to push after a fall. No apparatus to attach to clothing or around a wrist. QuietCare uses silent sensors to detect deviations from a resident's normal activity that might indicate all is not well. At Lakeview Commons, the computerized system sends an alert to an on-duty nurse's pager when a quick response is needed. Information about less pressing changes are posted on a Web site in a form caregivers can easily use.

"This gives us a big overview," says Wendy Traffie, director of residential services. "It's another tool for us in caring for residents."

QuietCare's results so far at Lakeview Comomons include:

Sensors attached to a box in which medications were kept revealed the resident wasn't regularly taking them. The discovery prompted staff members to begin delivering his medicine on the prescribed schedule.

Increased nighttime activity showed a resident needed more intensive care from a trained aide. That change allowed the resident's spouse, who had been providing much of the caregiving, to get more sleep, feel better and resume social activities.

Monitors showed a male resident was using the bathroom frequently during the night. Staff promptly arranged for him to see a doctor, who diagnosed prostate cancer and began treating him for it.

A normally sociable resident was spending much more time in her apartment than usual and making frequent trips to the bathroom, the monitors showed. When a staff member inquired, the resident admitted she'd felt too embarrassed to tell anyone she was struggling with incontinence. A nurse counseled her and began working on solutions.

The system provides cues for asking questions that often turn out to be important, Traffie says, such as "Are you having trouble sleeping?" Or "Are you having pain?"

"It's a wonderful tool in framing a conversation with a senior. We get information with very little poking," says Kathy Bakkenist, vice president of operations at Ecumen, a provider of senior housing and services in 100 communities.

The provider of QuietCare technology in Minnesota is Plymouth-based Enhanced Care Solutions. Founder and company president Allison Gage created the company motivated by concern for her aging parents, who live in California. QuietCare, made by Living Independently Group Inc. in New York, is "a wellness model," she says, that costs less than $100 a month. For families wanting to monitor loved ones' health, QuietCare can also be installed in a private home.

The system's use at Lakewood Commons supports a goal of helping people live independently as this country approaches the peak of an age boom, Bakkenist says. In 10 years, baby boomers begin turning 70. "A huge gap will exist between people who care for people and people who need to be cared for," she says. "Some people are asking, 'Can technology do some of this for us?' "

At age 80, Honor Hacker drives a car, enjoys friendships and activities and stays in close touch by phone with her four children who live in other states. She never hooked herself up to the emergency response device in her apartment because it made her feel like she was in an institution, she says.

"I'm not ready for that." About the newer technology in her apartment, she says: "I'm never bothered by it."

(c) 2005 Associated Press