Worried About Falling? Can Sensor Technology Help?

Every 13 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall. Every 20 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall-related injury, such as a hip fracture. It’s no wonder that a recent survey found that 4 out of 5 family caregivers are worried about an elderly parent falling. In response, caregivers frequently call and/or visit their parents to make sure that they’re safe. To address their worries, many caregivers are interested in utilizing sensor technology as a way to avoiding falls in their aging parents.

Sensor Technology in the home for seniors.

What is Sensor Technology?

Sensor technology (sometimes referred to as fall monitoring technology) is designed to predict and anticipate falls. The technology uses a variety of discreet wireless sensors placed in the elder’s home. The sensors continuously monitor the elder’s movement and activities of daily living. The sensors:

  • Collect and analyze information on the elder’s daily routine and activities. Such as, using the bathroom, getting out of bed, taking medicine, etc. Establishes the elder’s normal routine so that it can quickly detect when there are changes to those routines. The goal: to pick up on early warning signs of illness and fall risk.
  • Caregivers are able to check on their parent at any time using a private, secure web page. When something out the ordinary happens (such as a fall or not walking the way they normally do suggesting potential fall risk) alerts are automatically sent to the caregiver and others via phone or e-mail.

Who Should Use It?

Appropriate candidates for sensor technology are elders with multiple chronic health conditions and problems with walking and balance placing them at a risk for falls. Sensor technology is suitable for elders with the following conditions:

  • History of multiple falls.
  • At risk for long post-fall lie times (person is unable to get up from the floor by themselves following a fall).
  • ‘Alone at home’ (either living alone without family or social support or left alone by a caregiver for extended periods of time).
  • Cognitive problems (memory loss, dementia, etc.).
  • Taking multiple prescription drugs that affect walking and balance.
  • Having chronic health conditions (such as Parkinson’s disease, severe arthritis, stroke, etc.) that interferes with safe mobility.
  • Post-hospital recovery (up to 40% of elders fall in the six months after hospital discharge).

Related: Questions to Ask When Buying a Medical Alert System

What Are the Benefits?

Sensor technology offers several benefits for both elders and their family caregivers. Some of these include:

  • The system works around the clock (24/7).
  • It honors the elder’s privacy.
  • It provides quick response to falls and other risky situations.
  • The elder is unaware of the system and doesn’t need to wear any monitoring accessories.
  • Allows elder to live independently in the own homes rather than move in with family or into an assisted living facility.
  • Less caregiver worry. Families don’t have to call every day because they know if something is wrong, they will receive an alert.
  • Moves conversations between elder and family caregiver from talking only about health concerns and safety to more enjoyable topics.

Any Downsides?

Potential problems of sensor technology include:

  • Turns ‘normal life’ into a disease. Elders, like all of us, have good days and bad days. Fluctuations don’t necessarily predict serious health problems.
  • While some elders feel more independent when they rely on technology instead of nurses or aides, other elders prefer ‘human contact’.
  • The danger of substituting technology for face-to-face contact with doctors, nurses and family members.
  • Sensor technology can be expensive, and is not usually covered by the government or private insurance plans.
  • Doctors are not trained to treat patients using remote technology data and have no mechanism to be paid for doing so.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Sensor technology can play an important role in helping to avoid falls/injury. The likelihood of success with sensor technology is increased when the system is:

  • Utilized in cooperation with the family doctor and other strategies designed to identify and reduce factors responsible for falling.
  • Targeted toward the elder’s health care needs.
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