I read an interesting article in my local paper this past Sunday on ways to monitor our elderly parents from a distance. As my regular readers now know, I consider myself a dues-paying member of the sandwich generation... I took care of my elderly mother for 5 years, until her death in 2005 at the age of 90. (I also am very involved in the lives of my grandsons, but that is a different tale for another day!)
The crux of the article is that thanks to modern technology, elderly family members can be monitored from a distance - even of hundreds or thousands of miles. Admittedly, the technology systems in place are still basic, and there are probably some years to go before a full system is ready to roll. As with many other things, the cost of financing for research, and for incentives such as insurance coverage and tax rebates are yet to come. Nevertheless, it is heartening to know that we can give our family members peace of mind, and ourselves as well, without an invasion of privacy.
There are no cameras used in most systems - instead a motion sensor monitoring system is placed in vital areas. For instance, to insure that the parent monitored has gotten out of bed, stopped at her medicine dispenser or to warn if he has deviated at all from his normal routine, the sensors are placed near beds, bathroom cabinets or refrigerators. In addition, even at this early point in the use of such systems, additional more comprehensive packages can be employed that track blood pressure, weight etc. The Basic Package runs between $50 and $85 a month, and a survey by the ubiquitous AARP states that older people were willing to use this high-tech "stuff" if it meant they could stay in their own homes for longer, enjoying their independence and privacy.
In the works are devices to control temperature, lights, appliances and even medical monitors. Like the "Smart House" once touted in the news, this science fiction fantasy can become a reality before too many years have passed. There are 76 million baby boomers approaching that "senior" designation, and the Census Bureau says there will be around 87 million over 65 by mid century. And since most baby boomers are fairly comfortable with the Internet, computers and the like, we are going to be prime candidates for this newest technology. Doctors doing such research say it could be adopted commonly in ten years or less.
My husband and I have already (at the relatively young ages of 56 and 63) downsized to a small home, 1 car and minimal "things." I like to think that we can stay here longer, without being a burden to our children, or grandchildren, as heath issues intrude on everyday living. And yet.... and yet... I have wonderful memories of the time spent with my mother in her twilight years. No, it wasn't easy, in fact it was often painful and heartbreaking. But she was a remarkable woman, and every minute spent in her presence was a blessing to me. Will this technology overtake the human touch? Will my kids check on me daily via computer, and seldom call, or stop by? How do we walk the fine line between employing the glories of technology and the value of touch and caring, emotionally bonding with those who in their turn raised and cherished us? As Yul Brynner said in The King and I - " 'tis a puzzlement!"