Today, advanced technology is ubiquitous, and that includes in assisted and senior living communities. Assisted living communities are increasingly utilizing high-tech systems to monitor the safety of their residents.
Bryce Porter, Senior Living Manager at Care Innovations, was quoted in a Senior Housing News article noting that about 15-20% of communities currently use sensor technologies to monitor residents, but that he expects this to increase to above 65% in the coming years.
High Tech Assisted Living Model
Another article in the Atlantic by author and scholar, Michael L. Millenson, outlined these high tech assisted living technologies and discussed their implications in terms of privacy.
The article itself was an interesting and fairly well balanced discussion of these technologies, but the title itself, “The Big Brother Model of Assisted Living,” was an example of flagrant media sensationalism. In George Orwell’s well known novel “1984,” from which the term “Big Brother” comes, the purpose of the surveillance is control, while in assisted living communities the purpose of these technologies is indisputably for the safety of the senior.
Fortunately, Mellison drops the “1984” analogy after the title of his article and proceeds to ask fair questions:
- Do they cross the line in terms of privacy?
- Do these technologies work?
How High Tech Assisted Living Technologies Work
- Sensors are placed in the senior’s assisted living apartment that monitor and track routine activity and movement
- When the senior greatly varies from their normal activity in a way that’s concerning (for example spending much more time than usual in the bathroom or failing to turn on any lights) an alert can be sent to staff to check on the senior
Privacy in Assisted Living
Unlike the devices in “1984,” these technologies generally do not use cameras or microphones to monitor residents, and monitoring is typically done by computers rather than humans.
It is understandable that these technologies might strike some as unsettling, but the benign purpose of the technologies, combined with the fact they they don’t allow some out-of-state controller to listen in on Mom or Grandma’s conversations should help put most people’s mind at ease. Furthermore, the technology that we’re discussing has been relatively commonplace in assisted living communities for several years, and is used a a chief selling point, so it doesn’t appear to actually frighten residents and their families.
Recently, 1,600 seniors reportedly volunteered to participate in a University of Minnesota study on the efficacy of these devices, and willingly had them installed in their homes.
Ways These Technologies Work
The Atlantic article also asks another legitimate question: “Do these technologies work?” The answer seems to be that they only work so long as long as there are people acting on the alerts that these technologies provide. Without human oversight these technologies are worthless.
The Atlantic article quoted Jacci Nickell of Good Samaritan, a Lutheran non-profit senior care provider, which has developed its own monitoring program for seniors.
“Unless you gather, integrate and interpret that data in a meaningful way… a sensor hanging on a wall isn’t going to help anyone,” she says. “It’s what you do with that data and how you optimize well-being.”
Good Samaritan uploaded this video to YouTube, sharing one success story involving this monitoring technology.
This story demonstrates it’s not the technology alone that made the difference, but the fact that people were there to analyze and act on the data that they were seeing:
Of course it’s possible that these high tech assisted living technologies might on occasion fail to recognize a problem, but in assisted living communities they are meant as a supplement to normal and regular welfare checks and supervision.
What are your thoughts about these high tech assisted living technologies? Would you object to a system like this in a senior loved one’s assisted living apartment? We’d love to hear your stories below.