New technology for the 90-plus set

Meet my grandmother.

She is less than two weeks away from her 93rd birthday. She lives alone, in the same apartment she and my grandfather retired to in 1984 (my grandfather died in 2001). Her closest relative is 100 miles away. Her children and her grandchildren all live more than 1,400 miles away.

Her bones are brittle from osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. She is losing her hearing. Her vision has been bad for as long as I’ve known her. She lives on the second floor of a walk-up building, with no elevator.

Last weekend, she had to be hospitalized for a fall she took when the car she was getting out of moved slightly while she was removing something from the back seat. She had had another fall in her home less than two months earlier. She is out of the hospital now, in a rehab facility, where she is supposed to stay for as long as three weeks while she gets physical therapy so she can stand and walk without pain. But what happens after that?

In the past, she has flat-out refused to move to be closer to one of her children because she doesn’t want to deal with winter weather anymore, and, as she says, “This is my home.” She has also said she does not want to go into assisted living or nursing home because she has always been stubbornly independent.

I know this story is not unique to my family. I’m sure many of you have faced similar dilemmas with elderly relatives.

My mom and my aunt have both suggested that my grandma get some sort of “panic button,” more formally known as a personal emergency response system. They were thinking of the old “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” variety, which requires the user to push the button to summon help. Of course, that does no good if the wearer is unconscious or is disoriented.

I explained, based on my coverage of health IT and wireless health technologies, that there are some new types of personal emergency response devices that are passive, i.e., they can automatically detect a fall and call for help, no matter what condition the user is in. Some more comprehensive systems monitor vital signs and movement.

Most of my family did not know about these options.

When I visited back in December, I showed my grandma videos of a few technologies. She wasn’t interested in anything that looks like a computer or a touch-screen tablet because, frankly, new technology is confusing. I mean, she doesn’t even know how to use her DVD player, and has no interest in learning. Caller ID was a big step for her.

She also did not seem too interested in wearing a vitals monitor, even something as simple as a chest strap. Her heart is fine. While she did survive cancer twice in the past 15 years (!), I am not aware of any chronic ailments other than the arthritis and osteoporosis. There is no Internet access in her home, and she does not have a cell phone. She begrudgingly said that she would be OK with wearing a sort of panic button. I have a feeling she would also agree to have a motion sensor installed in the apartment, but only if the landlord would allow it. (I’m pretty sure the landlord would, and that she was just making excuses.)

So, what would you suggest? Vendors, whatcha got?

I’m not looking for any handouts or freebies here by virtue of the fact that I have this public forum. My family would be willing to pay the regular price for your products and services. But I am going to use my soapbox to do the right thing for my grandma.