Lighten Your Life Before You Kick the Bucket - Book and Contest

Electronic Home Monitoring of Elders

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.


If there's a way to make a buck someone will find a way. There are plenty of ways to keep track of an elder without invading their privacy. Been there, done that. A daily phone call or drop in daily by family or a friend are just a few ways to keep track. Did this with my mom until she was 98 & would have continued but she got shingles & had to hospitalized & could no longer live alone.

Also elders who live in apt. complexes or neighborhoods look after each other as well. It's done all the time everywhere. Is there a solution to all situations........well of course not. We all know it's not a perfect world, but for goodness sake we can plan & take some time & thought to help. Years ago an MD I worked with predicted that "aging & the aged" would become big business. How true, how true. Dee :)

Years ago my parents lived in a house that had an intercom link to a support worker. She would check with them very day to see if there was anything that needed doing. Later my aunt lived in a residential block with a similar system. Because the support worker lived on site she called in at regular intervals too. Both had the emergency help system too.

The sort of intrusive systems you describe though go way beyond that. Some sort of life signs monitoring via a bracelet is about as far as I would want to go, unless I was critically ill.

My instant reaction to this is, "Hell no!" (And get off my lawn!)

Privacy matters. MY privacy matters. I would quite literally rather die than live out my last days in a Panopticon prison.

So, all right. There might come a time when I don't have enough mind left to feel this way. In that case, my adult kids have my permission in advance to do whatever works for them, and I love them, so I hope they can come up with something that doesn't make me too much of a burden. Infants don't get privacy either, and don't need it.

But if I'm even marginally able to cope with living on my own, I do NOT grant anyone permission to invade my life with 24/7 cameras. I will live for as long as I live, and then I will die, and my kids are not allowed to feel guilty about that last part, because it is inevitable.

Honestly, I had my answer after reading the short paragraph describing the device.
No need to read further (but will because you write and report so well).
No way! In fact, if we have a dime to leave, whichever kid thinks of imposing one of those on me...they don't get the dime.

I agree with Sylvia -- the idea gives me the creeps. Having one's children gradually assume the role of parent is bad enough, but a granny-cam? No thanks. "Intrusive" is right.

I have the electronic alarm system and that's all the protection I want. Unless someone has an illness that requires immediate attention I do not see the need for such intrusive monitoring. It would drive me crazy if I thought my kids could see me in the shower or sleeping with my mouth open.

Having someone check on you daily and having the panic button seems like it's enough protection. We never can protect ourselves from disaster 100% and we never could.

First of all, do the kids have time or desire to watch a parent(s) 24 hours a day? And what happens if they are out for an evening when the parent falls? I can see all sorts of bad outcomes of relying on a camera to protect an elder. What if the watcher forgot to check in at the very time Mom/Dad needed emergency help? Oh the guilt!

No one should want this level of protection; especially the ones with the responsibility of watching the monitor.

My thoughts are the same as Darlene's.

Alarm system-yes. Video monitoring 24/7-no.

I think too much surveillance of an older parent is intrusive and will make them feel helpless and childlike. Enough is enough I think it would be a good idea to get communities to have an interest in the senior adults and a system that checks and makes written documented daily or weekly reports. Visits are a form of social interaction which is much needed. It takes a village and small community caring, training, empathy to be a watchful, safe and healthy alternative. Have the Doctors and hospitals take interest of those patients and involve a system through the area seniors live. An app or phone calls or voice mail to have communication. Emergency bracelets or device to push if needed for serious emergency but no way should their be monitoring of every waking and sleeping moment. Education and coming together as a society is only way respect of our elders giving them deserved honor.

Good and interesting question. Probably there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution.

The biggest variable, it seems to me, is the frailty and mental state of the elder in question, and maybe, to some extent, the home itself. Must the elder walk up and down stairs frequently? Is he or she at a high risk of lethal consequences if s/he falls? And the most important--is dementia an issue, and to what extent?

There are halfway measures - a camera in the kitchen, say, so you can see if whomever you're watching is passing through when you expect them to. You wouldn't have to watch their every move all day (or be watched). There are less intrusive ways to check in - a phone call daily or more frequently, if necessary - but those all only work if the person is not suffering from dementia. Or long-windedness, which can also be a problem.

If somebody loves you enough to watch out for you, making it easy for them seems reasonable to me, especially if you're talking about a condition/situation that could go on for years or decades.

I agree with the concerns. If adult kids aren't near by, what will they do if something goes awry? And if they are nearby, they can check in by phone or in person.

My brother who did not live nearby kept tabs on my mom in her 90s through her iMac. He set to its video phone system so he could call her and see her when she answered.

Folks in her independent living complex close to where I live would call me if they were worried about her.

If older parents need this kind of minute by minute surveillance, perhaps they should be in a different setting. Or at the least, if living alone apart from others, the kids could call or arrange for neighbors to stop by.

It's beyond creepy to imagine every move being watched. And I fear for more than elders as technology tracks everything about our lives.

So, the idea is that an adult child will be able to "monitor" an elderly parent all day and night, all the time. This adult child is going to look at video footage every day? I can't believe any sane person could or would do this! I suppose that having cameras is cheaper than paying for in home care, but I don't see how cameras can assist with care, and I can't imagine anyone scrolling through footage even once a day.

I do think that with extremely impaired people, a running camera would help responsible parties monitor the care their elder receives, but again, you have to watch the footage regularly, and this would be a major time commitment.

And I totally agree that anyone with the ability to live on her own, would resent being monitored in her home via camera.

I don't see this idea as being workable. However, I could be wrong. People set up cameras now to monitor nannies, to keep watch on front porches, to watch for shoplifters. But, someone has to set aside the time to watch the footage.

As far as I can tell from reading a bunch of material about these services, they do not record 24/7 for clients to view later. It is a live picture from as many different cameras as are installed. I don't suppose that prevents clients from recording at their end, but it does not seem to be a feature of the monitoring services.

Currently I'm content that my cell phone locator is always on and that I almost always have a phone within reach. In addition, the kids can watch the Xbox and see if the TV goes on and off at normal times, plus we email and IM back and forth during the day. Not to mention usually at least one phone call a day. Right now that's all the "supervision" I need or want -- enough to make me feel secure but not invaded or spied upon.

Accidents do happen, however, and I should probably have a phone in the bathroom, but even a phone won't go into the shower. The PERS devices are waterproof, I understand, and I anticipate maybe getting one of those someday.

But a video camera that actively watches me!? Ugh!!

My son-in-law installed a live feed video monitoring system on the main floor of their house which does not keep a recording. They check in while they travel. It has given them piece of mind because they can look at their house anytime and it sends a signal if there is motion. If you have WiFi in your house it is easy to set up. I have been thinking about putting one in my garage so I can check that I closed the garage door.

I stayed in the house for two weeks with my 3 year old grandson while the parents took a vacation. Pro for the system: I knew that if anything happened to me they would be able to respond and they didn’t need to call me all the time to find out if we were ok. The system was only in the downstairs main living area so I could go to other parts of the house for privacy. Con for the system: Making sure I always had all my clothes on in that area.

My 94 year old mother lives in an assisted living facility in her own little apartment. There is a lot of attention to the residents but the staff cannot go into the living spaces without permission. The independence is good but my mom fell for the third in the bathroom and she refuses to tell anyone. The black and blue bruises on her hand were the only indication. She has an emergency call button but I can understand that having some type of monitoring device not a video that is activated if she falls would be a good thing. The next service for us to add on is someone being in her apartment with her more often which is expensive and intrusive.

I would love to do a live face to face chat with my mother but she has trouble with the TV remote. A system that can be easily activated would be nice for her to see those of us who live too far to visit each week. I think that there are some real positives for these systems to help people stay in their own space, still be connected and continue to have privacy.

This monitoring system would drive me nuts! I can't stand to have anyone trail behind me when I shop for groceries etc.
My daughter and I have a morning call system whereas, I email her every morning to say "all is well." If she doesn't see that message on her phone, she calls me...and if need be will call one of my two sons who live in town with me, to get over here. Even though she is in another state, she is more tuned in with me, so apt to notice if my message is missing.
I have a key box hidden away outside in case they don't have my key with them.
So far this is all the system we have. At 80 now, of course I may need an alarm system at some point. I'm comfortable with this knowing the most I'd be down, etc. is a day. My mother had that Alert system and she used it several times, very successfully.

No thank you. It seems really invasive to me. If I become totally addled, have at it. Otherwise I think we'll just lump along as we have been. Phone calls, texting, and that old email method. My younger sister who has a heart problem sends a text to one of her sons every morning. Meanwhile I'm with Darlene.

Hah! Love it. Another consolation for not having had children.

A provocative post and thoughtful comments. I think Jane D's use of the phrase "beyond creepy" nailed it.

I definitely do not want any one to video my husband and me in bed or to video either of us in the shower.

This service reminds me of the recent action by the US Federal Communications Commission regarding Luminosity which was purported to stave off dementia. As is so often the case, we need to follow the money to see whether those who sell a product are the only ones who benefit.

I'm a transplanted "new yorker" who moved to Maine with my husband for the joy of sailing. So I arrived with my street smart philosophy. I'm a recent widow and pretty pronto connected to "The help me I've fallen" service. My home/property is large and pretty isolated. Hubby being very techie had outside cameras installed.so I can monitor from inside. Do I want that inside? Nope,no,nada! My nephew is my main man, but lives in another state. We have daily contact and is on all my to be called lists..friends and I have a ck in going on...it all works for me for now. I recently lost my fur baby, golden retriever, I miss her big time and her big bark..so next I am thinking of getting the barking dog gadget lol I'm a little off topic but inside camera monitoring, no, those watching would be surprised by what they see and be VERY surprised at what I was up to lol

Invasive and abusive.

Imagine if the videos were plastered on the Internet or used on a new reality show.

No thanks.

I don't think the systems themselves are creepy, but maybe the way they are being marketed is. Yes, they are being marketed to children of the elderly because the ageing population is big business, children are likely to worry about their parents' welfare and have more money to spend on it than many elderly do. But I agree that these companies, like many governments and the younger population, now see the elderly only as a problem to be solved by selling profitable products. Are they turning caring about elderly parents into ageism?

Videos might be too intrusive, especially in the bedroom and bathroom, but sensors could help the elderly. Purpose built units could have sensors in the floor that alert a doctor to falls or even to a change of the person's gait that might indicate a problem. An easy to use communications screen would also be an improvement in the lives of many elderly.

Then again there are elderly, and elderly. Some of us are in better health and more independent than others. Like any other product, the systems can be used for ill or for good. It is people who might misuse them. I expect that we will have to wait for the sytems to be used for ill before there will be any legislation around who installs them and where.

Video cameras in my BEDroom? in my BATHroom? Anywhere in MY home? You can't be serious. Over my dead body--and I mean it! I value my privacy and dignity above the dubious safety of being observed 24/7. As long as I'm alive and mentally competent, I will never accept this type of intrusive and depersonalizing technology. It is beyond creepy. That said, I can see where it might be useful in certain, very specific, temporary health situations, such as during a time-limited period following major surgery if the patient lives alone and/or there is no one available to help for whatever reason.

As several readers mentioned, "follow the money" is a very wise principle to apply when considering many bright ideas that purport to "help" elders. They aren't all scams, but elder services are a growing revenue source as others have observed. Whatever "help" is offered must be acceptable to the individual involved, possibly in consultation with her physician, not imposed on her by anyone else. Like Kate, I did not have biological children (which undoubtedly simplifies the matter), but if I had, they would not be allowed to assume a parental role as long as I have two brain cells left to click together. "Granny-cam" indeed!

As we said in the olden days, "Phooey!"

No way!

I agree---NO WAY!!

What superfluous silliness. And yes, inducing guilt onto others. I'd never stand for this invasion of privacy and personal rights.

Never...absolutely no way!

I would rather go into a care facility then be monitored by my children 24/7. Even though I love them. Hahaha

Never...absolutely no way!

I would rather go into a care facility then be monitored by my children 24/7. Even though I love them. Hahaha

I could just go to sleep and die and nobody would know probably for a few days. I laughingly say the cat would have disposed of the body before my friends wonder where I am. When I shared my concern with a close friend, we started texting each other every morning. Not very intrusive, but reassuring.
I also am independent and would never accept a monitoring device. My adult sons would feel just as imposed upon by having to monitor my actions. Only one of them gives me a phone call a few times a month, the others are busy with careers and families. They would want someone else to do the monitoring...and I wouldn't want anyone!


There is a very simple solution to the privacy issue. It's called an OFF switch. It should be controlled only by the person being monitored.
There could be variations on the OFF switch. They could be timed to stay off only for an hour or two, or turned off in individual rooms.
There could be an alert sent to the caregiver that mom has turned the device off.
The key word here is CONTROL. and who has it..

Never. If someone needs that much oversight, the need a real person who can respond to an emergency.

As for me, I'd rather die in peace.

I'm with Kate on this:
"Hah! Love it. Another consolation for not having had children."

Plus, I live in a small city, and usually within reach of my cell. I've had to call 911 before, and could literally hear the ER truck pull out of the station less than a mile from my house. All doors were locked, I couldn't get to door (low blood sugar episode) and the guys found an unlocked window, came right in. AND in our city, if you don't have to be taken to ER (I didn't) you only pay for whatever meds they need. In other words, I like being in a city, not far from emergency response.

But the idea of 24/7 video surveillance, sounds more like maybe assisted living is necessary.

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