Keeping An Eye On Grandma Over the Internet

4homemedia.pngThere are probably hundreds of new products launching at CES this week, but one that caught my eye has nothing to do with LCD screens or mobile ad platforms. A Sunnyvale, California startup called 4HomeMedia announced the availability of a broadband home health monitoring service called Home HealthPoint. It provides a way for family members or other caregivers to monitor an elderly person’s activities at home (through a box that talks to a broadband modem and sensors in the house) and receive alerts if something is amiss. According to the press release:

By creating a passive monitoring network around a senior in their normal home setting, both family members and professional care-givers can log into a personalized Web page and get historical trend data, real-time status updates, and proactive alerts about the health and well-being for that monitored elder

The recommended starter kit for the IL service includes the Home HealthPoint, three motion detectors, and an emergency pendant. The motion detectors are strategically placed around the home during the professional installation in the bedroom, at the entrance to the primary bathroom, and in the main trafficked area such as a foyer or living room. Additional sensor devices such as additional motion detectors, access contacts on the refrigerator or doors, a smart pillbox, or IP cameras can be utilized to supplement the monitoring data sets being produced within the home.

Grandma can also plug in medical devices such as a digital weight scale, a blood-pressure cuff, or a glucose meter. The startup envisions this service being sold by broadband providers like cable or phone companies for an extra $30 to $100 a month, “a bargain in comparison to the on average $72,000 annual fee for transitioning a senior into an assisted living facility.”

That’s right, folks. Put an emergency pendant on Grandma, set up those motion detectors, and you can put off the nursing home for another three to five years. Want to check in on her without actually, you know, calling her? Just check the Webcam.

I can’t decide whether this represents a step forward or backwards for civilization. On the one hand, there is no doubt that something like this could definitely help improve healthcare for the elderly. Many live at home alone and an early warning system (Is Grandma eating regularly? Is she taking her pills? Has she been in bed all day?) could be a true life saver.

On the other hand, checking on whether an elderly parent is functioning normally is not the same as checking to see if your home alarm went off or you remembered to turn off the lights. (4HomeMedia also offers home-automation and remote media-management software based on the same technology). There is a limit to how much remote monitoring can be relied upon when it comes to healthcare. This is certainly better than no monitoring at all, but I wonder if it will result in giving people a false sense of security or making some elderly folks feel even more isolated than they do today.