EDITORIALS

Spying on grandma … out of love

Posted Nov. 16, 2011, at 5:46 p.m.

You may have seen the video making the rounds of the elderly couple trying to figure out how to work the Web camera on their new laptop. As they sat in front of the screen together and fiddled with the device, they were unknowingly recording themselves. A granddaughter posted the recording on YouTube. He makes faces, she tries to stay focused, he belches, scratches his nose and even gets a little frisky with his wife.

But all humor aside, Web cameras may provide a way to inexpensively monitor our elderly residents, especially those who live in isolated areas, far from family. At the Maine Seacoast Mission’s recent elder care conference, a company described how it is using webcams, set up in the public areas of their clients’ homes, to ensure their safety. Cameras aimed low to maintain privacy, triggered by motion detectors, are used in bedrooms and bathrooms.

The company, Full Circle America, also uses staff and volunteers to visit subscribers and help them with food preparation and other chores to maintain their independence.

Maine’s islands and remote rural areas are appropriate settings in which more Web-based monitoring can be introduced. Ideally, it should be family members peering into grandma’s living room and kitchen.

But a scenario can be imagined in which people are paid to have a conversation, via the Web, with elderly folks. Those conversations could include a quick medical assessment. The client could take his or her blood pressure while the staff person watched. The client could then be asked a few questions about recent food intake and other information.

As the first of 76 million baby boomers reach age 65, new ways of keeping them healthy while not financially burdening younger Americans must be considered. The “aging in place” model is one that is being embraced by many in the health care sector. Technology can play a big part in allowing this to continue.

Of course, with every information technology advance there is the potential for abuse. The potential for a loss of privacy and dignity in this model should not be underestimated. But given the choice between moving out of the house that has been home for decades to a more supervised environment like an assisted living facility, most people probably would opt for twice-daily Web visits.

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