In the 1980s, emergency response company Life Alert released a commercial showing older people falling down in slippery bathtubs, pulling out the pendant-shaped device and shouting, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
Personal emergency response system (PERS) companies like Life Alert have long billed themselves as a solution for the 75% of adults 50 and over who want to live in their houses as long as possible, avoiding retirement homes or expensive live-in care facilities. Given that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three million people aged 65 and older are treated in ER rooms each year for fall injuries, there’s certainly a need for services aimed at older folks.
But the Life Alert-style response technology has fallen out of favor with the population it serves.
“They don’t want to wear those things, especially the one that you wear around your neck,” said USC gerontology professor Elizabeth Zelinski. “The message, if you’re going to be wearing one of those things, is you can’t take care of yourself. You’re dependent. Americans hate that.”
Now, as the Baby Boomer generation grows older (the oldest among them is now age 74), one thing is increasingly clear to health care experts: Thanks to advancements in medical technology, this generation is generally expected to live longer than their predecessors, and will require more health care resources for a longer period of time.
The answer to the elderly care dilemma might lie in the remote patient-monitoring industry, a budding sector that uses sensor technology to track a patient’s heart rate, movement and other biometrics to offer a trove of sophisticated data. That information can allow older people, who may be prone to falling or forgetting things, to stay at home while being monitored.
“How to manage them well before they get sick, is really critical in terms of providing them the best care possible,” said UCLA professor of medicine Arash Naeim, “ensuring that they have the best quality of life, but also in terms of managing the limited resources that are available from a national perspective.”
Current Technology Doesn’t Meet Boomers’ Demands
A slew of studies have found that PERS technology, while a good emergency resource, weren’t always effective. One found 80% of PERS users didn’t utilize it, despite being on the floor for an hour. Some said they don’t wear theirs. Others said they thought they could get up on their own. Still, a few said they did not want to be a burden by activating the device. For PERS technology …….