Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Families of Seniors Call Sensors a Godsend

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Families of Seniors Call Sensors a Godsend

Article excerpt

MINNEAPOLIS -- When 80-year-old Paul Marrs arises each morning, nine sensors in his Belle Plaine, Minn., senior apartment begin tracking his activity and dispatching an array of data to a computer in Mendota Heights, Minn. -- did he go back to bed, use the toilet, open the refrigerator?

It's a high-tech solution that is transforming services to frail seniors in Minnesota and across the country by spotting problems while they're small. For some seniors and their families, it's raised some privacy concerns, but for others, such as Mr. Marrs, it's a godsend.

For two years, it has helped keep him in his lower-cost apartment at the Kingsway Senior Living complex and out of the adjacent assisted-living unit. That $900 annual service saves him $22,000 a year.

Thousands of elders are able to stay healthier, and delay or avoid institutional care, under the 24-hour-a-day attention of pressure sensors, motion detectors, pill dispensers, personal-alert pendants and other devices.

"We're really at the edge of major change," said Majd Alwan, who heads the Center for Aging Services Technologies, a coalition of companies, care providers and universities that develop and use new systems.

"There are barriers, but we are demonstrating that this works," he said. "We can improve lives for the elderly and their families."

Several major chains of care providers in Minnesota are among national leaders in the change, including Ecumen, Presbyterian Homes, Good Samaritan Society and Volunteers of America.

The array of sensing devices at Kingsway in Belle Plaine was developed by Healthsense of Mendota Heights, which is working with 50 other senior housing providers in Minnesota and an equal number in other states.

At Kingsway, each of the 22 assisted-living units has the full array of sensors included in its monthly fee. Like Mr. Marrs, about half of those in the 45 independent apartments buy the service at a reduced rate of $75 a month.

Its home health agency also is taking the devices into the community, sometimes just for a few weeks after surgery, or longer term to help people with chronic illnesses stay in their homes.

They pay the full cost: one-time fees of $1,500 to rent and $550 to install and program the system, and a monthly monitoring fee of $150. …

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