Gadgets have existed for decades that claim to provide comfort and safety for our aging family members when a caretaker’s physical presence is unavailable. Entire generations vividly recall the LifeCall commercials of the 80s and 90s, in which a senior who has stumbled to the ground calls out, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
While the tech has improved, the concept remains a central focus of elder care safety – fall detection technology. Historically, this tech has come via wearable devices like necklaces or clip-on sensors that require action from the user before help can be on its way. Seniors also reported an unwanted stigma attached to wearing pendants that they feel singles them out as weak.
Researchers like Marilyn Rantz, a gerontological nurse at the University of Missouri, are working to improve elder care by beefing up the tech in the facilities themselves, rather than asking seniors to sport wearable gadgets. Rantz was inspired by her mother’s own fall towards the end of her life, when she shattered a shoulder and spent 8 hours lying on the floor before help arrived. One in four senior adults fall annually, and the longer they spend on the floor, the less likely they are to experience a speedy or full recovery.
Rantz partnered up with electrical engineering and computer science professor Marjorie Skubic to find a solution. They looked towards video game technology, specifically the motion-sensing camera from Microsoft Kinect, that utilized a depth sensor rather than just motion-sensing technology. They took it up a level and combined it with gait-sensing software that could help alert staff to patients who were more likely to fall than others.
Rantz and Skubic have also developed bed sensors in the form of long, thin tubes filled with water that lie just under the mattress that can monitor nighttime vitals. Digital medication dispensers to visual doorbells, even down to tablets that can help the elderly keep in touch with family members via videochat are all helping the aging population find comfort and relief through technology. Building technological advances into the surroundings within a care facility levels the playing field and gives each patient the greatest chance for comfort and safety.