Apr 182011

Cameras, sensors, and video chat allows caregivers to be hundreds of miles away. But some see shades of ‘Big Brother’ in this new senior care model.

Every night at 5 when Edward and Lavinia Fitzgerald tuck into dinner in their Savannah, Ga., kitchen, they have a guest. Denise Cady chats with the Fitzgeralds about their neighbors and swaps jokes about the weather. She has known Edward and Lavinia, both octogenarians, for two years; to them, she’s like a daughter. The twist? They’ve never seen Ms. Cady in person.

Cady is a telecaregiver who checks in on the Fitzgeralds every evening from 800 miles away in Lafayette, Ind. She’s with a senior home care company, and she joins the couple via a computer monitor set up next to the kitchen table. Thanks to two cameras and several motion detectors wired throughout the Fitzgeralds’ ranch house, she can see a lot more than what’s for dinner – such as if Mr. Fitzgerald has left the burner on, how long Mrs. Fitzgerald has been in the bathroom, and how many times the front door has opened and closed.

Though it may sound like “Big Brother” to some, the video-monitoring service provided by ResCare means peace of mind for Colleen Henry, who began taking care of her mother years ago after Mrs. Fitzgerald sustained a brain injury and, more recently, a broken ankle.

“She and my dad have required a lot more care, a lot more of my time,” says Ms. Henry, who lives five miles from her parents and brings them dinner every evening. When Henry learned about ResCare’s monitoring service, she thought of it as “a dream come true, and it has been…. I’m so happy to have another pair of eyes.”

This year, the first of 78 million baby boomers hit retirement age, the beginning of a so-called silver tsunami that will revamp America’s demographic profile. People ages 65 and older will grow from 13 percent of the US population to 20 percent by 2050, according to the US Census Bureau, a greater share of seniors than Florida currently has. Just as important, more of them want to spend their golden years at home, whether for reasons of finances, convenience, or a desire for independence.

Seniors’ rising desire to “age in place” is driving innovation, as researchers, businesses, and policymakers scramble to solve new challenges and cater to a booming elderly population.

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