There are about 11 million seniors over 65 years old who live alone in the United States. Those of us whose parents or grandparents are in that situation know how stressful it may be to look after them especially given the multitude of geriatric illnesses, from Alzheimer’s to hip fractures. Approximately one third of Americans are caregivers and, on average, spend about $5,000 each year on providing care (apparently, an increase of 20% in the last two years alone).
A company called BeClose is aiming to shake up the elderly care market by making it easier to monitor grandpa remotely. They sell sensors for beds, chairs, doors, and toilets, in addition to general motion detectors and “panic pendants” for emergency situations. According to their website, they provide a 3-sensor system for $399 and a 6-sensor system for $499, with each additional sensor costing $75. These sensors push data to a web dashboard for a monthly fee of anywhere between $69-$99 depending upon the length of the contract. Given the potential savings as compared to alternative monitoring systems (e.g. stay-at-home nurses), some cities in Canada are offering it as an insurance-funded benefit to elderly denizens.
We had the opportunity to interview BeClose president Liddy Manson, who has written extensively about elderly care.
Liddy Manson: BeClose is designed for the 40 million Americans over age 65 who are navigating their aging process. In specific, we are most directed at the approximately 10 million Americans over the age of 65 who live alone. Our technology provides a comprehensive and pro-active safety net for people who are aging in place. In addition to providing emergency response at the push of a button, we allow for tracking of activities of daily living, and alert family members and care givers if something is amiss, giving residents the ability to live their lives without restrictions while still being constantly connected to family members.
Medgadget: How does the BeClose system work?
Manson: BeClose uses discrete sensors placed throughout the home to track routines and activities of daily living. Our unique collection of sensors accurately tracks most of the activities of daily life – eating, sleeping, sitting, bathroom use, comings and goings from the home, medicine events, and general motion and activity levels. Our open/close sensors can be affixed to doors, cabinets and refrigerators to track comings and goings, eating routines and mealtimes,and medication adherence. Our “presence” sensors are place under mattresses, chair cushions or toilet mats to track sleeping, sitting and bathroom use. And our motion sensors track general activity levels and whether the resident is “up and about”. The sensors are all connected through a “Base Station”, which receives activity data from the sensors through a proprietary wireless protocol, and transmits that data to our data center via the cellular networks. (No need for broadband in the home). Our artificial intelligence algorithms analyze the data in real time, and detect departures from routines – the system then notifies family members of professional care givers in real time of issues of concern. In addition, caregivers can customize notifications to alert them to issues of particular concern to their parent – for example, a memory care patient who tends to make quick exits from the home.
BeClose also offers traditional emergency response functionality – like traditional buttons, our pendant can be worn around the neck or wrist and summons help from a trained EMT in real time if it’s pushed. We also have a “BeClose button” which is about 3” in diameter and can be placed in areas in the home where accidents are likely to happen – the stairs, bathroom, etc. This button can be set up to call emergency response or contact a family member – whichever the family prefers.
Medgadget: Approximately how many people are using BeClose currently? Do you have any statistics or feedback you can share?
Manson: We don’t publish our subscriber numbers. The wireless health industry is very much in its infancy as is the BeClose business.
Medgadget: Are there other technological solutions for this problem (e.g. robotic personal assistants)? What do you think of them?
Manson: There are several other companies that offer passive monitoring services like what BeClose offers, but they require professional installation, broadband in the home, and are significantly more costly.
There are a multitude of medical monitoring systems that are being deployed quite widely in the elder community. They measure blood glucose, pulse/ox and blood pressure, but they require patient interaction – they aren’t passive.
For more information, check out their intro video:
Though there is clearly a lot of potential for systems like these, we hope that they do not entirely supplant face-to-face visits because the need for human contact should not be undervalued.