Blog | February 11, 2011

The following piece, published in the Edmonton Journal, quotes Noel Somerivlle, PIA Seniors task force chair. Commenting on this article, Somerville says, "Hands-on, not high-tech help is what frail and cognitively impaired seniors require."

While 'aging in place' has the potential to be a win-win strategy for both seniors and the government, it is doomed to fail until the government commits to high quality, reliable, accessible and affordable home care for seniors who require it.  Given the totally inadequate state of home care in Alberta, this high-tech add-on is like putting lipstick on a pig.

This article was originally published in the Edmonton Journal on February 10, 2011

"Alberta program allows seniors to remain at home longer; Pilot project includes medication monitoring system, motion sensor"

By Jodie Sinnema,

EDMONTON—Seniors in Grande Prairie and Medicine Hat will test new technology designed to allow them to remain in their homes rather than move to continuing care centres, the province announced Thursday.

The new technology, rolled out through existing provincial home-care programs with $1.9 million in funding, will include items such as a stove guard, that turns off the stove if someone with a chronic illness falls asleep while some is cooking. The guard is equipped with a sensor that can detect if there is no motion nearby, indicating the person may have nodded off or fallen to the floor. Once the stove shuts off, someone in a centralized call centre will be notified, then contact the client through a two-way voice system to see if the client is safe or needs additional help.

A flexible bed mat the size of a cookie sheet lets caregivers know if their loved one has woken up, since the mat has pressure sensors. The caregiver — no longer required to stand watch over someone who may sleep late due to dementia — can carry on with daily chores then check on the person when notified to help the patient who may be disoriented and likely to fall.

One medication monitoring system is equipped with both a sensor-trigger system and a camera that sends a video clip to family members — in the next room, next province or anywhere in the world — who can then watch to ensure their relative has taken the proper dose at the right time.

Other technology includes magnetic door sensors that send an e-mail, text message or cellphone message to caregivers if someone with dementia wanders out in the night.

“What we like about this technology is that family members, who are often adult caregivers for our clients, no longer feel that every call they make to their loved one has to be a call to check in and monitor their health needs but instead can return to a social nature, where they’re checking in on their loved one and asking about their day,” said Tracy Ruptash, an occupational therapist and co-ordinator of the pilot project in Grande Prairie.

“The technologies are not intended to replace home-care services that the staff provide to our clients in their homes.“They’re intended to augment that care and provide informal caregivers and our clients with added comfort that they can be safe in their homes and get the help they need when they need it.”

Noel Somerville, of Public Interest Alberta’s seniors task force, said the underlying concept is strong.“I think the whole concept of aging in place is a good one. ”It’s smart from a senior’s point of view and a government point of view.”

However, Somerville said, technology is no replacement for human beings and the province has a shortage of home-care workers. “No one wants to be institutionalized, people want to stay in their home, but they get to a point where they need help. Then, the people who provide home care are not paid enough, and thus are difficult to bring in.

”Most home care from the same person each day, is privately run and unaffordable, he said.The new technology will be tested by about 25 clients in the two Alberta cities for the next year, with an evaluation of the program done the following year to see if the program should be adopted out across the province.

“I’m not aware of anything as advanced or, so far, as foolproof as these systems now, ”Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said from Grande Prairie. “It will provide greater safety for those people using the home-care system. It will provide some great reassurance to the caregivers.”

He said about 107,000 seniors in Alberta use home care. And while not all seniors need help — an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people in the province turn 65 each month — if the pricey technology works, it may eventually save the government money by reducing the number of emergency visits and allowing more seniors to remain at home longer.

With files from Ryan Cormier

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