One of the many unfortunate side effects of the coronavirus pandemic has been the loneliness felt by many seniors whose families aren’t able to visit. While some states and localities are slowly opening up for limited visits, others are still in lockdown, which means it’s going on four months since some isolated seniors, especially those still living independently, have been allowed to greet and hug their loved ones.
Remote Health Monitoring Alleviates Worry During the Pandemic Lockdown
At the same time, those families may be growing increasingly worried about their aging parents. Are mom and dad taking their prescriptions? Are they getting up on time? Is their blood pressure still under control? Fortunately, according to this New York Times article by reporter Susan Garland, the answer to those worries may lie in newer technology that “can help families monitor the health and safety of older people kept from their families by the coronavirus.”
The New York Times article spotlights a 90-year-old woman named Dorothy who lives alone in a North Carolina mountain town. She suffers from a chronic pulmonary illness, which is a constant source of worry for her son who lives two hours away. Unable to visit because of COVID-19, he’s been searching for over a year for technology that would enable him to monitor her health from afar. Meanwhile, Dorothy refuses to move.
Remote Health Monitoring Checks Vital Signs and Brings Peace of Mind
The New York Times article shares what happened next. “In mid-March, as the coronavirus was spreading, [the son] installed a platform, made by GrandCare Systems, in his mother’s house that she enjoys using to video chat with her grandchildren — but of equal interest to her son are its motion sensor and two vital-sign devices.” As the son told reporter Garland, “The monitoring allows me a sense of peace that she is up and starting her day.”
According to the article, “sales of products and services aimed at protecting the health and safety of the homebound elderly are ‘skyrocketing’” during the pandemic. And it’s not just seniors living alone who are being monitored. One industry expert told the Times that senior living communities and health care providers are also are buying devices to monitor residents whose loved ones are staying away for fear of transmitting the coronavirus.
Remote Health Monitoring Systems Designed for Ease of Use
The article explains that the new devices are designed to be easier and less intimidating for seniors to use. “Every morning, [Dorothy from North Carolina] inserts a finger in a Bluetooth pulse oximeter, which gauges the oxygen in her blood. She steps on a Bluetooth bathroom scale, which measures her weight to detect possible fluid retention.” Her son is able to log into a secure portal “to view the results, which are delivered via a wireless connection in his mother’s house.”
He receives an immediate text if anything doesn’t look right. For example, “When his mother’s oxygen levels dropped one day, [he] called to remind her to insert the nasal tube that connects to her oxygen supply device.” There’s also a motion sensor in her hallway that should detect movement if Dorothy is up and about by her usual time of 10 a.m.
Remote Health Monitoring Meets a Wide Range of Needs
The New York Times report explains that new technological systems can meet a multitude of needs. “For example, if an elderly parent’s primary issue is managing medications, a medication reminder may be the solution. That can be as simple as a smartphone app that sets off an alarm. Or for a parent who needs more oversight, an adult child can buy a dispenser that unlocks a pill compartment at the right time and signals the caregiver via a wireless connection in the older person’s home if the medication is not taken.”
Not only do these systems benefit seniors and their families, but they also help doctors and clinicians monitor patients from afar. “Such telehealth technologies are becoming more important as the elderly stay at home and health care providers reduce office hours,” says the New York Times. As one doctor said, vital-sign technology “can give clinicians the chance to see something before a crisis occurs. It also gives older adults the ability to take greater responsibility for their own health.”
Remote Health Monitoring: Do Your Homework
As helpful as these systems may be, our observation here at AgingOptions is that the number of options out there is confusing, and objective information about which systems are best for your needs can be hard to find. Many systems come with plenty of helpful whistles and bells, but they also have a hefty price tag, often costing several hundred dollars for activation plus monthly service fees that easily top $100. Business Insider says the remote patient monitoring industry will be worth over $16 billion by 2023, triggered by an aging population, a shrinking health care workforce, and digital advances that keep making these systems simpler, cheaper, more powerful, and less obtrusive. More companies are getting into the sector.
There are certainly Big Brother-style privacy issues to consider – although many seniors seem to think that the plusses of remote monitoring outweigh the drawbacks. “Before the pandemic,” the Times article concludes, “Esther McKee, 79, went to church, volunteered and visited with friends and two daughters who live nearby.” Today, she uses her GrandCare system to stay in touch. “By pressing a name on the touch screen, Ms. McKee, who lives alone in a two-bedroom apartment in a 55-plus community in West Bend, Wisconsin, can see any of her three daughters, six grandchildren and many nieces. Nearly every weekday at noon, she and a daughter who lives in Florida eat lunch together by their screens.”
At the same time, the system is keeping an eye on Ms. McKee thanks to motion sensors in her bedroom, bathroom and living room, and on the front door and refrigerator. Her verdict? “I feel comforted knowing that they are watching over me,” she said.
Two Important Retirement-Planning Announcements from AgingOptions
At AgingOptions our chief desire is to help you prepare for the kind of retirement you’ve always dreamed of having. Toward that end, we want to share two important announcements that are designed to facilitate your LifePlanning process even during this period when most of us are required to avoid gathering in groups.
First, Rajiv Nagaich has scheduled several of his popular, free LifePlanning Seminars in the form of webinars that you can watch conveniently at home. Simply visit our Events Page and register for the webinar of your choice.
Our second announcement: in cooperation with our partners at LifePoint Law, we are excited to launch a ground-breaking new service called the LifePoint Law Emergency Legal Kit. Without leaving your home, you can now consult with a LifePoint Law attorney who will work with you to prepare and sign a complete set of vitally important legal documents including both Financial and Healthcare Powers of Attorney, a Living Will/Advance Directive, a Will or Trust, and much more. Click on the link or call us at AgingOptions and we’ll explain this excellent service to you.
Reliable information has never been more important – and that’s our promise to you at AgingOptions and LifePoint Law. Age on!
(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)