Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"Assistive Technology" for Seniors at Home

On April 7, 2008, Janet M. Colliton, Esq., published an article in the West Chester Daily Local News entitled "Assistive Technology May Help Seniors To Stay At Home". She considered how care giving for seniors in their home may -- and should -- change in the future, relying more upon new technologies.

Residing "at home" and "in place" clearly is the preferred living arrangement for anyone, especially seniors, if possible.
See: PA EE&F Law Blog posting "How Does It Feel . . . With No Direction Home? " (10/20/06). Residential living is healthier, cheaper, and more productive.

But growing disabilities -- physical or mental -- may compromise one's ability to function in a home. Within limits, "Universal Design" features built into a dwelling or modifications added to living spaces can remove limitations and improve safety, thereby allowing a resident to remain at home longer.
See: PA EE&F Law Blog posting Tomorrow in Our "Future Home" (10/26/06), which addressed the possibilities of structural modifications of a residence for a person dealing with a disability or handicap.

Targeted "assistive technologies" also can benefit seniors at home. On March 28, 2008,
U.S. News & World Report published an article, "To Stay at Home, Seniors Will Embrace Technology", by Sarah Baldauf.

According to a report released Friday by AARP, older people are willing to use devices — like those that regulate lights and temperature, detect when someone has fallen, or monitor blood pressure — if doing so will help them continue living in their own home.

"Here's a population who did not grow up with this technology but is willing to use it to maintain independence, choice, and control," says Elinor Ginzler, AARP's senior vice president for livable communities. The reason, she explains, is that the stakes are high.

Seniors' family caregivers also see a benefit to implementing techie solutions. * * *
See also: Gilbert Guide's web page on "Assistive Technology to Promote Aging In Place — a User Friendly Guide (03/06/07), by Lori Deschene.

In this setting, the comments by Attorney Colliton make much sense.

I greatly appreciate that she allowed me to post her recent article (edited by me, including links) on this subject.
Janet may be contacted at: Colliton Law Associates, PC, 790 East Market St., Ste. 250, West Chester 19382 (Ofc: 610-436-6674; Email:

Assistive Technology May Help Seniors To Stay At Home

by Janet M. Colliton, Esq.

[Unedited version, as originally published, is available online here.]
Last week, while taping my once a month segment for WCOJ’s “Legal Talk” program, I had one of those “aha” moments that force me to rethink some basic notions on senior care.

Legal Talk” will be familiar to West Chester readers as the Radio 1420 AM program hosted by Steve Karp and Peter Hart who are long time respected personal injury lawyers serving the community. Steve and Pete graciously allow me to host the show for the first Saturday of each month.

This month my guest was George Flowers, a Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Platinum Independence, LLC, in Wayne, PA -- a company devoted to using Universal Design concepts to extend the period of time that seniors can safely and comfortably stay in their homes. To accomplish this ambitious goal, they advocate assistive measures using modern technology such as telemedicine, home monitoring, lifts on stairs, and home design modifications -- in short, a comprehensive approach to providing everything that would be needed to keep an older parent or spouse in the home, secure.

I have to say from the start that George and I came from opposite ends of the spectrum on the issue of using monitoring devices to observe elderly parents at home. Some readers might recall my column “Smart House Meets the Nanny Cam”, which appeared in the West Chester (PA) Daily Local News on February 19, 2007.

It was intended to be a humorous jab at cameras placed in the home. My concern then was privacy, and it still is; but there are always two sides to a story.

Smart House Meets the Nanny Cam” received a lot of attention, especially on the Internet. The last commentary I reviewed left me not knowing whether the author agreed or disagreed with my opinions. The article was written in German.

During our interview, George acknowledged my privacy concerns, but raised some practical considerations that even I could not diffuse.

Going back to a time when my mother was at home alone in Philadelphia, I and my brother and my sister each lived one hour from her. One major problem we experienced was that she would not turn on the air-conditioning in summer, and she did not seem to recognize extreme heat. As a result, one of us would have to drive to the house to check whether she kept the air-conditioning on, and whether she stayed in the cooler areas of the house.

Wouldn't it have been helpful if the temperature of the areas of the house where she stayed could have been monitored from a distance? A neighbor or friend or even the local police could have been alerted if the temperature rose to unsafe levels, and then check on her.

My sister who is a Registered Nurse drove to the house to take my mother’s blood pressure. Suppose my mother’s blood pressure could be registered without my sister needing to make the trip. This is telemedicine
(details can be found at the American Telemedicine Association website).Then my sister might have been able to visit based on her schedule without worry in the intervening periods.

My aunt, who lived near my mother, was mentally alert and active but fell often. After her last fall, she was not discovered for several hours. We alerted the local police when we received no answer to our telephone calls, and they broke in. Although the house was old and might have required some major retrofitting, if it could have been reconfigured to prevent her falls, maybe she could have avoided or at least delayed moving to assisted living.

George asserts that assistive technology can be used to reconnect at a distance. Where a son lives across the country, but mother
lives in Pennsylvania, he describes the situation where they can both still “have dinner” with each other by turning on the web cam and discussing the events of the day.

While none of this is what I would call ideal, “assistive” technology -- being for the purpose of assisting caregivers, not replacing them -- does cause me to give these notions a second look.

For the future, technological advances should be incorporated into the living plans of seniors.

A detailed examination of the elements for such a revised living plan can be found in the recent report prepared through AARP Knowledge Management, entitled Healthy @ Home (PDF, 141 pages), by Linda L. Barrett.