After the story here last week about the Two Matts that includes a video they produced for an elder home monitoring system, a TGB reader in Tallinn, Estonia, left a comment with some concerns about such services:
"I'm working for a company that designs a product for older people and I've thought about these types or products a lot..." explained Mariliis Jõras who works at Sentab which, she says, does not yet have a home monitoring product but is considering it.
“Is that something you would enjoy as an older person yourself?” her email continues. “An app that notifies your children or grandchildren of literally every move you make and every step you take?
“It sounds a bit too intrusive to me. Just because someone is old, doesn't mean that they don't have the right for privacy anymore. Am I being paranoid?
Mariliis is not referring to PERS devices (Personal Emergency Response System), those medical alert buttons that many elders wear around their necks or, sometimes, on a wristband to summon help by pressing a button.
(You would recognize those from the “Help, I've fallen and can't get up” television commercials.)
Instead, Mariliis is asking about remote home monitoring systems for elders that allow adult children, other designated caregivers or health professionals to know minute-by-minute, around the clock what the elder is doing and if he or she needs help.
Some are sensory monitors, others are live video from cameras placed around the elder's home that feed the information to a computer or smartphone app. As Mariliis indicates – and I share her concern – these systems are highly controversial for many good reasons.
However, home caregiving and help with household needs are expensive. Couldn't cameras and sensors be a big help while saving the family a lot of money?
Also, wouldn't these systems save adult children a lot of worry about their parents? And wouldn't the elders feel better knowing someone is checking in on their well-being throughout the day?
Yes, no and maybe or maybe not to all of those questions. As Mariliis indicates and I agree, monitoring someone in the home is, and should be, controversial particularly because the issues are hardly ever discussed.
I've pulled some quotations from the websites of several monitoring companies, chosen at random, that sell these systems. Some provide sensors, others provide cameras, or both. Note that they all speak to the adult children, not the elders themselves.
Brickhouse Security promotes “live video” from anywhere over the internet.
”Easy-to-use hidden cameras from BrickHouse let you ensure that the elderly or those with special needs get the care and respect they deserve...'Granny Cams' are far less expensive than most alternatives and can help save money and preserve assets.”
LiveVideoMonitor promotes wireless, easy, do-it-yourself installation that sets up in minutes.
”Monitor elderly loved ones with an instant visual connection
Anytime from anywhere!” touts the headline. “See and hear what’s happening…day and night!”
Alarm.com is mainly a security company that also provides an “Alarm.com Wellness” service to monitor elders.
”Family members and caregivers can monitor their loved-one’s activity, such as how much time is spent in bed, in a favorite chair or out of the house. And, with intelligent sensors to track and learn the home's activities of daily living, Wellness can identify anomalies that may signify a problem.”
iWatchLife has several levels of service.
”If you need a solution that does more than make sure your parents are taking their medication, BeClose allows you to outfit their home with sensors (bed, toilet, fridge door, etc.) that track routines and activity and report back to you through a web-based portal or text messages to your phone.”
Watchbot, which like the others provides cameras to remotely “monitor friends and relatives, providing you with total peace of mind.” But here's where it gets weird, especially if you buy the notion that it is okay to spy on your elder parents:
”If you’re worried about privacy, you can relax - with WatchBot, your elderly relative can simply switch the camera off.”
Really? It seems to me that having it both ways defeats the purpose. How can the adult child know, when checking his or her phone app, if the camera is broken, if it has been turned off temporarily or if mom has decided she doesn't like being watched all the time and smashed the camera?
Further, none of the websites I visited gave one sentence's consideration to the elder's thoughts or desires about monitoring, only the adult child's.
So who decides when these monitors should be installed? Is agreement from the person being monitored required? Who gets to see the data? What constitutes an alert? Sleeping in one morning? Staying in my pajamas all day? Skipping lunch?
I understand, once the technology was created, how and why the idea of elder home monitoring systems came to be.
As the number of elders grows in the next decades, it is doubtful there will be enough caregivers to go around, not to mention that many families cannot afford help.
Even with caregiving costs, it is generally less expensive for elders to remain in their homes than move to a retirement or continuing care community but capabilities can wane. Even with that, we elders can be a stubborn lot about things we don't want to do – like leave home.
With many adult children living far away from their elder parents, isn't home monitoring better than not?
Personally, I can't get past the idea that someone would know when I go to the toilet. Or how often I go to the refrigerator. What I eat. Who I speak with on the phone or Skype - and every single thing I do all day.
That someone can look at me any time they want. In my own home.
Here's another thought: does home monitoring serve the adult children more than the elder? Does it salve their consciences for not being there?
As the costs of these systems are becoming less and less expensive, they become an increasingly viable choice for many. But there are control, privacy and other issues that are not being discussed.
Now it's your turn. Tell us your thoughts on home monitoring and know that Mariliis in Tallinn will be putting them to good use.