Assisted Care Facility Implements High-Tech Monitoring System

Updated: 01/03/2013 7:45 AM KSTP.com By: Mark Saxenmeyer

Caring for aging parents is an issue that will affect nearly every Minnesotan.

In 2011, more than 700,000 people in the state were 65 years old or older - more than 13 percent of the population.

By 2025. it's forecast to reach 19 percent.

Some families worry about their loved ones' care as they enter retirement homes and assisted living facilities. But now, there's a new monitoring technology being implemented in some senior care centers; it's designed to prevent injuries and other safety and security concerns.

For example, when 88-year-old Audrey Campbell leaves her apartment at the new "Trails of Orono" assisted living facility (www.trailsoforono.com), she's being monitored. Down the hall, housing manager Cheryl Klinkhammer points to her computer screen, saying, "This tells right here what happens when her front door is opened."

"Yeah," Audrey confirmed, "So I don't fall."

In fact, depending on the room , and the resident, motion detectors and sensors abound.

They're in residents' kitchens. "So if a resident never goes into the refrigerator you might wonder if they're getting enough to drink," explained Mary Chapa, a technology-enabled care specialist with the Ebenezer Society, which helped develop the Orono facility.

They're in their bathrooms. "We would know if they're using the restroom more often," Klinkhammer explained.

"If they are, it could be that mom now has a urinary tract infection," Chapa added.

And residents can also be monitored in the bedroom. There's a pressure-sensitive sensor between residents' mattresses and box box springs, so staff will know how many times a resident is getting in and out of bed.

According to Matt Alexander, a developer with Kraus-Anderson (which designed and built the Orono facility), "It allows the care staff to be one step ahead of the problems."

All the movement is transmitted wirelessly to staff computers and phones.

"What it really tells us is your normal patterns," Chapa said. "So what happens is if you fall outside that normal pattern, then it would alert us."

As for Audrey, she has vertigo. "Especially when I'm very tired and I get real shaky," she said. So, her sensors and monitors are customized to alert a staff member every single time she gets out of bed. "She comes in and asks if i'm ok and if she can help me with anything and I tell her 'I'm ok' and then she says 'ok' and then we wish each other a happy new year," Audrey said, laughing.

This system, called "E-Neighbor," is a product from local healthcare IT company Healthsense. It doesn't come cheap--it cost about $150,000 to outfit "Trails of Orono." The cost is reflected in rent, which can range in price from $2900 to $6200 a month, depending on additional levels of staff care a resident might need.

Yet for those who can afford to keep loved ones in this kind of state-of-the-art protection, it's worth it.

Audrey said, "My daughter-in-law said 'it's so nice I'm hoping to move in too'."

Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at msaxenmeyer@kstp.com