Most of us are using Wi-Fi in our homes or when we are out and about to connect us with the internet.
We use it with our digital devices to surf the web for information, shopping, finding our way, or to connect with others through social media.
But what if caregivers of older adults could use Wi-Fi for other things, including keeping their senior loved ones safe?
Did you realize we can use Wi-Fi to see through walls and monitor our senior loved one’s movement? It can actually tell who is who if more than one person is in the room!
Exploring New Possibilities
One Michigan State University researcher, Mi Zhang, is trying to innovate a way to repurpose the Wi-Fi signal to become a sensing technology for senior safety.
When movement occurs, the Wi-Fi signal is disturbed. This disturbance can be used to pattern behavior and movement to track activity.
Using this information, patterns can tell caregivers if trouble could be brewing, such as a decline in functional status.
Zhang is hopeful that this type of patterning with Wi-Fi will be more useful for aging seniors than more invasive modalities such as cameras.
Privacy concerns often keep caregivers of seniors from installing safety monitors in the home but this type of technology may help bring safety to more aging in place seniors and peace of mind to their caregivers.
Zhang has received a grant to test his theories. His goal is to use currently available routers so that no expenditure will be needed or more devices required.
Another use of Wi-Fi signals from one group of MIT researchers is to use technology in a specific device to find a silhouette of the senior and even use their movement to determine if there is an emergency like a fall and will call 911 if needed.
Caregivers are searching for devices and interventions to help them keep their senior loved ones safe when they are home alone.
Here are several categories of technology devices, some of which use Wi-Fi, to help seniors stay safe at home.
There have been personal emergency response systems (think ‘help, I’ve fallen and can’t get up’) or PERS that would contact emergency help when the button was activated. These systems have evolved greatly over time.
What hasn’t changed is the fact that many seniors feel cameras and other gadgets spying on them and invading their privacy is not welcome.
For those seniors, monitoring without using a camera could be the answer. There are sensors that will help relay real time information to family caregivers.
Sensors can be used in floor mats, placed on key points in the home such as a refrigerator, bathroom door or pill box to determine if they were touched during the day. Caregivers can get alerts through their smartphone apps telling them about senior’s movement and safety.
GPS Trackers and Wearables
Caregivers can also use trackers with GPS to keep track of their senior loved ones, especially those who are known to wander.
Tracking their movement or locating them when they do wander can be done using GPS embedded devices, including shoes, clothing or wearables like a band.
Healthcare systems are also using remote monitoring systems to track health and medical status using wearables that send data to family’s or doctor’s smartphones.
Seniors cooking at home on the stove is a safety concern for many family caregivers. They worry if their senior will remember to turn off the burner or oven, leave a towel on the hot burner, or put their hand down on a hot ceramic cooktop.
There are devices that will turn off the stove after a certain period of time that have been available for many years. There are also ways to disengage the stove/oven so that they can no longer turn it on at all.
However, a newer innovation that learns the pattern of use of seniors and then adjusts itself to their pattern is available. It won’t alarm if the cooking is usual but will if something occurs outside of their usual pattern of use. It will alert before a fire starts or the toxic gas enters the room.
There are also alerts that can go to a caregiver’s smartphone via an app and Wi-Fi that will warn them if their seniors house is too cold or too hot for the conditions.
Motion activated lights can keep a senior safe in the dark or in places that have switches that are hard to reach such as garages. The bulb will turn on automatically in response to movement. This can be especially helpful at night to prevent falls.
There are a variety of other home security devices – both high and low tech, such as
- stair treads to prevent falls
- water temperature meters to prevent scalding in a bathtub or sink
- meters to prevent tubs from overflowing
- doorbells that show whose at the door before it is open
- locks that can be opened remotely
- garage doors that can be controlled remotely
and many other remote devices caregivers can use to keep seniors safe at home.
Medication mismanagement is a severe problem for many aging adults and many end up needing medical care due to failure to manage their prescriptions appropriately.
Incorrect prescription drug use in seniors can lead to adverse drug reactions, confusion, depression, falls, and injuries.
It is estimated that 40% of seniors are unable to read a prescription label and 67% are unable to understand information given to them.
Taking the right pill at the right time in the right dose without missing one or duplicating another is a real concern for family caregivers of seniors.
There are many solutions to this issue including pill dispensers, low tech pill boxes or smart pill boxes that alert caregivers when seniors don’t take their pills as ordered. They can give reminders to the seniors through alarms or by sending smartphone alerts to caregivers.
There are many medical devices used by seniors to track their health and biometrics that use Wi-Fi and transmit data via smartphone apps.
This medical data can go to medical professionals in addition to family caregivers in order to trend data and create interventions as needed to keep them well.
Family caregivers can use technology to improve the quality of life of their senior loved ones but also keep them safe at home as long as possible.
Staying in the home they love and being independent is what they want and caregivers can help them achieve this goal more effectively with current and future technology.