When Ryan Herd's 73-year-old father had cancer and other health concerns a few years ago, Herd was worried but knew his dad wasn't likely to tell him about any problems that might arise.
"We're talking about the ‘greatest generation,' " Herd says. "They believe you should never be a burden on anybody. So if you call and say, ‘How are you doing?' they're always going to say that they're fine."
This realization inspired him to start Caregiver Smart Solutions, which sells a system of small Peace of Mind sensors that can be placed in a loved one's home to track their habits and alert you if something is out of the ordinary.
"If they suddenly start getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom five times, that could be a sign of a urinary tract infection," Herd says as an example. "So you might say, ‘Let's go down to the clinic and see what's going on.' "
Herd is exhibiting his sensor system at CES, the massive annual consumer electronics show this week in Las Vegas. His is just one of many tech companies here showcasing monitoring systems whose point is, as Herd puts it, "to answer that age-old question [about a loved one]: How are they doing?"
If adult children can be reassured that their parents are OK and immediately be alerted if they're not, they'll feel better about Mom and Dad living independently at home as they age, company representatives say. And that's something that the vast majority of people say they want to do.
Here's a look at the latest in home monitoring devices, some just introduced at CES.
• Electronic Caregiver's Premier, what the company calls a "mobile security and care support system," is a wrist device that includes activity monitoring; an emergency button; a GPS locator to make the system useful to more than homebound clients; and medication reminders.
It's linked to a Family Caregiver App to keep loved ones in the loop. The device is free with a monthly subscription that costs $40 to $60 a month, depending on the level of monitoring.
The Las Cruces, New Mexico-based company's president, Joseph Baffoe, says that unlike the old-style, reactive medical alert systems ("I've fallen, and I can't get up!"), "this is predictive and preventive. That's the future of health care."
• CarePredict, a digital health company located in Menlo Park, California, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, unveiled the CarePredict @Home Kit, which comes with a waterproof wrist device called the Tempo Series 3, two swappable batteries and four beacons along the same lines as the Peace of Mind sensors. The system picks up on small changes in a person's daily activity patterns by sensing movement and other factors, including the amount of humidity in the air — a lack of which might indicate that Mom or Dad hasn't showered lately and be a cause for concern.
An accompanying app allows family members to receive alerts, check a colorful activity tracker that rates their loved one's activity on a scale from 1 to 10, and coordinate care. Available online, it sells for $449.99 plus $69.99 a month for the home app subscription.
• Caregiver Smart Solutions. When company founder Herd tried to use a camera in his dad's home, his father covered it up with a dish towel.
That's why Caregiver Smart Solutions forgoes cameras for movement sensors to track a loved one's activities — everything from whether they've used the coffee pot to how much they're watching TV. Herd and others in the monitoring business point out that sensors are an improvement over the 30-year-old technology of emergency call buttons, which are of no use if a loved one can't press the button because of losing consciousness in a fall or having a stroke.
This week the company announced its new Deluxe+ Monitoring Kit, $299 plus a $49 subscription fee, with sensors in five rooms, temperature and humidity sensors, a range of door motion sensors and more. The company also has more basic, less pricey kits.
• SensorsCall is showcasing its CareAlert "well-being monitor." Still in development, its sensors detect changes in the home such as movement and temperature after taking about a week to learn a person's patterns, including when they get up and when they go to the bathroom — information that family members can see on an app. The app sends an alert if anything's out of the ordinary.
SensorsCall founder and Chief Executive Fereydoun Taslimi says he started the Atlanta-based company after he and his wife had trouble reaching her mother — their calls to her cellphone went directly to voicemail — and grew worried that something was seriously wrong. With SensorsCall, which also functions as a two-way communication system, if you're worried about your mother, "you can press a button and say, ‘Hey, Mom, what's happening?'"
By the way, his mother-in-law was fine. Her phone battery had run out.
One app modification the company is working on: A button for the grandchildren to tap that says, "I'm thinking of my grandmother." A light on her monitor will turn a particular color.
"Then the grandma thinks, ‘Oh! My grandkid is thinking of me!' " Taslimi says.
• Electronic Caregiver also is showing off a flashy new virtual caregiving system called Addison Care along with its wearable Premier. It was created with big-name partners such as Amazon and when the virtual caregiver is released in a few months, it first will be marketed to private caregiving agencies.
Addison Care is a new virtual caregiving system.
A friendly looking virtual caregiver named Addison is available 24/7 on a touchscreen to assist "Aunt Martha," as a company rep calls the theoretical user when explaining the tech. Among many other abilities, Addison can talk Aunt Martha through the process of taking her pulse or testing her blood sugar levels using devices that come with the system. Addison then can send that information to health care providers, as well as explain her rehab routine or remind her to take her thyroid medication.
And it incorporates Amazon's Alexa software, so Aunt Martha can ask Addison questions. Meanwhile, family members can use an accompanying app to make sure all is well.
"She's meant to augment the real people who provide care, not replace them," says Charles Hirtzel, Electronic Caregiver's director of customer service.
Alarm.com, a home security company based in Tysons, Virginia, is broadening its reach to entice family caregivers with a comprehensive range of monitoring tech. The devices need to be purchased through a home security dealer, so prices vary.
Among the options, is a camera, called Wellcam — introduced at CES last year — that can be installed in your loved one's home to offer a 180 degree view of, say, the living room, with sensors that can alert you to any abnormal activity.
Alarm.com's vice president of product, Steve Chazin, says he installed a Wellcam in his dad's house, and his three siblings have taken turns being responsible for receiving alerts.
"We've set it up notify me on Tuesdays on Thursdays if the camera notices activity in the home between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Other times I've set it up to tell me when dad is up and having breakfast," he says.
And Chazin is confident that his dad is fine with being periodically watched.
"It's an act of love," he says. "I think one day we'll be where a family member will say, ‘Don't you care about me? Why aren't you watching me?' "