Health monitoring devices
Devices for monitoring health, wellness, and activity can be useful in letting older adults stay in their homes for longer and helping caregivers stay on top of the older adults’ health status. This article discusses the main kinds of devices and how they can help in caregiving. It then describes the pros and cons of health monitoring devices.
Types of health monitoring devices
Devices for monitoring health, wellness, and activity can be useful in letting older adults stay in their homes for longer and helping caregivers stay on top of the older adults’ health status. The variety of health monitoring devices has expanded greatly in recent years as technology allows for more sophisticated and targeted functions. Two main types of devices are wearables and activity sensors.
While some basic health monitor devices such as watches and fall-alert pendants can be bought through stores (e.g. Amazon, Walmart), most of the ones that offer more extensive features need to be bought through a company. Lists of recommendations can be found on eldercare sites such as the AARP’s.
Wearables are monitoring systems that the person receiving care wears on their person. They use various types of connection, from landlines and radio signals to smartphones and GPS. The most common types of wearables are wristbands and pendants, but flexible skin patches are being developed.1
Wearables are used mainly to collect a person’s health and activity information. These can include vital signs such as:
- heart rate
- blood pressure
- blood oxygen
- glucose levels
Monitored activities can include:
- eating and drinking
- going to the bathroom
- sleep patterns
- taking medication
Wearables for older adults also usually have fall-detection buttons or a verbal call-out function in case of falls and other emergencies.
Traditionally, sensors have been used more for safety and security than health monitoring. However, newer sensor systems can learn a person’s movement patterns and draw the caregiver’s attention to any problems. For example, by collecting information on the number of bathroom visits and the length of time they spend sitting or lying down, the sensor can give caregivers a picture of the person’s energy levels.
Health-monitoring sensor systems can also monitor the person’s eating and sleeping habits. Activity (or lack of it) that is unusual for that person can indicate a problem, such as worsening dementia, agitation, or depression.
Benefits of monitoring devices
Health monitoring devices provide peace of mind for both the caregiver and the person being cared for. Some of the benefits include off-site monitoring, personalized health and activity data, and fall detection and other emergency help.
Health monitoring devices allow the caregiver to keep track of the status of the person receiving care without needing to be continually on-site, awake, and alert. This can free up some of the caregiver’s time and stave off sleep deprivation. It also gives the person receiving care more independence, and allows family members who live farther away to help with caregiving.
Personalized health and activity data
Health monitoring devices can provide detailed information about the person’s health and activity levels. Caregivers can use this to note patterns in the person’s habits and conditions and bring any worrisome changes to the attention of the doctor.
Fall detection and other emergency help
Most monitoring devices have some form of emergency-call function for falls and other emergencies. They typically work by being connected to a response center staffed by operators trained in handling emergencies.
Drawbacks of monitoring devices
Although monitoring devices can be helpful, they also have downsides. These include expense, loss of privacy and dignity, and barriers to access and use.
Most monitoring systems come at a cost, and some are expensive. There is a flat fee for buying or installing the device, with wearables such as watches usually ranging from $300 to $600 and biometric sensor kits coming in around $600 to $800.
After the initial purchase, there is also a monthly subscription fee for the monitoring service or the phone app that goes with the system, which can range from $20 to $130 or higher. Activation fees can cost around $100, and add-on functions such as automatic fall detection and additional sensors are an extra cost of $10 to hundreds of dollars. Though Medicare Advantage and Medicaid sometimes cover certain devices, most need to be paid for privately.
Loss of privacy, dignity, and independence
The person receiving care may feel that the presence of a device violates their privacy and dignity, and takes away their independence. Older adults have been known to change their behavior in unsafe ways to avoid alerts, for example, by not going to the bathroom because they fear their caregiver will get a notification that they have taken too long on the toilet.
Barriers to access and use
Many monitoring systems involve multiple smart devices and a reliable internet connection, as well as at least one person with the technical smarts to operate and maintain the system. Some devices require the person to stay within range of a base unit. In addition, older adults may have difficulty operating the device; for example, someone with arthritis may not be able to push a fall-detection button. On top of this, devices may sometimes give inaccurate information, such as mistaking a pet’s activity for a person’s.
Balance care responsibilities
Coordinate appointments, care, and follow up
Create a care plan
Keep track of medical records
Maintain medical equipment
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