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Home Monitors Can Bring Peace of Mind

Your mother is getting frail, but she wants to stay in her home. You work full time, and even though you live in the same city, you can't get over there to check on her as much as you'd like. Phone calls help, but still, you worry.

It can seem sometimes like technology keeps us away from human contact, but when you're worried about your aging parent, monitoring equipment can make you feel connected in a reassuring way. In some cases, you can use your computer or cell phone to check on your parent via motion sensors and cameras in the home.

Some of the more basic monitoring systems, which start at about $100 plus a monthly service fee that starts at about $10, provide a camera that monitors one room and a motion sensor that notes when a door to a room opens. There's also a control box, which can trigger an e-mail or text message to a computer or cell phone if there's an indication that something could be wrong. The camera can be turned off for privacy.

More elaborate (and more expensive) monitors use a network of sensors that can track movements in more rooms, including the bathroom and kitchen, and that can also monitor when a loved one takes medication. Many people prefer these kinds of monitors because they track motion, but they don't provide an image of the actual person. The sensors learn the daily patterns of an individual's movement, and then take note when something is significantly different. These types of monitors, which start at nearly $200, send the information to a password-protected Web site that family members or other caregivers can check. There are no cameras, microphones or special wiring, because the system uses a wireless network.

There will always be people who resist using this kind of equipment, but there are plenty of people who are happy to know that someone's keeping track of them if it means they can remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. It can also help financially if it helps people avoid the costs of institutional care.

Of course, the big concern, besides privacy, is that some caregivers could end up using the monitors as a replacement for human contact. This is obviously not the intent.

Keep in mind that there's been no real research proving that people who use home monitoring systems experience better health, fewer hospital stays or longer lives. But if you're constantly worried about an aging parent, anything that can make you feel a little more reassured is worth investigating.

ADT Security QuietCare; AT&T Home Monitor System; Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Age Lab

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