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Technology for Elderly Enhances Health, Safety

Given the choice, most seniors would choose to live independently in their own homes, rather than moving in with family or to a senior community. But can an elderly person who is growing more frail with age, has chronic health conditions that require regular monitoring, and has lost some cognitive abilities, remain at home safely?

In an age of motion sensor technology, wireless communications and smart appliances, it is possible. Technology designed for the aging population is enabling seniors to remain at home longer, with high-tech safety devices that constantly monitor a senior's safety and health.

Here are some examples of the types of the next-generation products that are "changing aging" forever, according to Majd Alwan, vice president for the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST), the agency that tracks the assistive living technology industry.

-- Sensors monitor everything from vital signs to fall detection. Fall detection sensors are essentially gyroscopes that measure a person's sway, orientation, and impact with surface. Automatic fall detection devices, including monthly monitoring, are available for around $75 a month from companies such as MyHalo and Philips LifeLine.

Sensor technology is even embedded in chairs. "Health-e-Chair" by Commwell Medical incorporates biosensors to measure basic vital signs such as blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, lung sounds, blood oxygen saturation, motion and reflex response time.. The basic Health-e-Chair costs $3,500, which enables patients to self-monitor their vital signs. The ability to transmit data to health-care professionals adds another $3,250 to the price tag. The full system (including chair, bio-metric sensors and transmitter) can be leased for $595 per month, the company told AgingCare.com.

Commwell also produces the PhysioGlove, which automatically takes 12 Lead ECG recordings in less than a minute. The next-generation of PhysioGlove will allow measure and transmit data such as temperature, heart and lung sounds, blood pressure, and many other parameters, to any care facility from anywhere worldwide.PhysioGlove can be leased for $180 per month, or purchased for $3,640.

-- Smart appliances have sensors that can detect whether or not an appliance is in use. If the appliance is not being used, it can be automatically turned off, even if nobody is inside the house. For example, GE has a variety of ovens that have auto shut-off features and temperature overrides. Prices range from $1,700 to more than $2,000.

A less expensive alternative is CookStop ($325), a device that attaches to an electric stove or cook top and includes a built-in motion detector that monitors movements. If the user doesn't return within a specific time frame, the stove shuts off automatically.

--Social interaction tools connect elders and help them remain cognitively stimulated, with two-way video-conferencing, instant message caregiving tools, and entertainment devices for brain fitness. Designed for elderly computer users, Seniorama-Pointer by Softarama Ltd., is an easy-to-use navigation and simplified interface that includes a "senior-centric" browser, simplified email interface, Skype, and a selection of games. It costs is $1.60 per month, with a five year commitment, for a total price of $97.

-- Skin detectors. Rather than drawing blood with a needle, small portable devices monitor blood glucose levels through the surface of the skin. Data is logged and transmitted directly to a care team. This technology can dramatically improve compliance in management of chronic diseases like diabetes. These products are "in the works" and CAST estimates will be on the market over the next year. According to WebMd.com, some products being test for monitoring blood glucose levels include contact lenses, skin patches, infrared lights that shine on the skin and even glow-in-the-dark tattoos.

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