Smart Home: Safe Seniors

COLUMBIA, S.C. Nothing slows Josie and Bernie Shankman down.

"We usually ride every Saturday to a different place," Josie Shankman told Ivanhoe. "I've never been afraid a day riding with him. I got on it the first day, and I've never been afraid."

Although she's not scared on the road, she worries a fall at home will put the breaks on life. "I think that's always on your mind," Josie said. "If you were to fall and one or the other wasn't to be here."

As we grow older, we also lose balance. One in three people over age 65 fall each year. Forty percent of nursing home admissions are because of a fall.

"Half of those will not return to their own homes and be able to live healthfully," Debra Krotish, Ph.D., assistant director for Senior Smart at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Columbia, explained.

But new technology is keeping a watchful eye on the elderly. This vibration detector can be placed on the surface of a floor to detect if a person has fallen and notify caregivers. These motion detectors track a person's movement.

"For example, if you put them by the bedside or the bathroom door, you know that Mom's gotten up in the middle of the night," Dr. Krotish said.

And this piezoelectric material can be put underneath a mattress to read a person's heart rate and respiration. There are also devices to monitor a person's health. A new blood pressure cuff and scale sends data by Bluetooth to an online system that family members and caregivers can access. Ninety-one-year-old Helen Coplan still lives alone. She thinks the technology would be very useful.

"If anything can help a person stay in their own familiar surroundings, it's well worth it," Coplan said.

Keeping seniors safe and giving peace of mind to loved ones.

Dr. Krotish says the Smart Home technology could help ease the economic strain on the health care system as more of the population ages. She says the cost of the technology can vary depending on what the patient needs -- but can run from a few hundred dollars to up to $8,000. According to the American Association of Retired Persons, the average cost of a nursing home stay is about $50,000 a year.

Charise D. Bell, Director of Marketing and Communications
USC School of Medicine
Columbia, SC

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