brian schmidt

Brian Schmidt, owner and president of Schmidt Security Pro, said he believes emerging technologies can help senior citizens live in their own homes longer.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Part 2 of a 2-part series in this installment of our Gray Matters Solutions Journalism project. Part 1 was published on Monday.

MANSFIELD -- The elderly woman, living alone, got out of bed six times in one night to go to the bathroom.

Sensors in her bed noted the unusual nocturnal activity and send a text alert message to her two children, both of whom live more than an hour away.

The children contacted a third relative, who resides in the same area as the woman. A trip to the doctor followed and a urinary tract infection was caught before it became worse and created perhaps even more serious medical problems.

In another instance, a caregiver for a senior citizen received an alert that the front door of an elderly man's home had been opened after 9 p.m. The caregiver logged onto a camera in the man's home and found he was simply chatting with a friend who had stopped by for a visit.

In a third instance, an elderly man was ready for sleep. Lying in bed, using his smartphone, he hit one button to ensure his front and back doors were locked, armed his home security system, turned on his outside security lights and turned off all the lights in his house.

Sound far-fetched? Futuristic?

Truth is, these are just three actual examples of how today's improving technology makes it easier and safer for seniors to remain in their own homes, i.e. "aging in place," rather than having to move into some variety of assisted living facility.

"There is more technology today than there has ever been to help provide solutions to people and it is moving very quickly," said Brian Schmidt, owner and president of Schmidt Security Pro in Mansfield.

LONG WAY: Needless to say, technology has come a long way since 1989 when a woman promoting a personal medical alert line in a TV commercial uttered the famous line, "I've fallen and I can't get up!"

Home monitoring and security has advanced dramatically in the last 40 years, far beyond what was envisioned with the Life Alert commercial.

Schmidt, whose father founded the Mansfield company in 1976, has seen a myriad of changes since coming into the business full time in 1996.

"Those types of medical alert systems have been out for awhile and they have also evolved," Schmidt said. "The biggest change in those types of systems is the mobility and the ability for it to work not just in the home, but away from home.

"There is a lot of value from a security standpoint (from those systems). Those same medical alert kind of systems work very well for someone to get help if an intruder breaks in. The person can still push that button to get help and talk to an operator right away. In many cases, it's better than a traditional security alarm system.

"A lot of older people are afraid to use a traditional alarm system. They may be intimidated by having to use a keypad to turn it on and turn it off. Whereas with an emergency response kind of system (small enough to be worn around the user's neck), the button gives them the ability to have it with them 24/7 and not have to remember to arm and disarm a security system.

"Beyond that, when you go to more of the intrusion protection systems, they are getting much smarter and starting to integrate things like cameras and artificial intelligence to look for anomalies," Schmidt said.

One of these "wellness solutions" systems can detect what is normal behavior and what is not normal, i.e. six trips to the bathroom in one night or a door opened after normal hours.

"The system can then integrate anything from a text message to a video notification to a loved one or caregiver, who can then make a determination whether it's a real emergency or not," Schmidt said. "That's really the trend and that's what we are going to see more of over the next few years."

One great aspect of the technology is, once it's installed and set up, it operates largely behind the scenes and doesn't require a great deal of interaction with the resident.

Schmidt described a local situation where a woman had early signs of dementia, but nothing that would prevent her from living alone in her condo, despite the fact none of her children lived in the area.

INDEPENDENCE MAINTAINED: "She didn't have any desire to have a security system that she would need to arm and disarm," Schmidt said.  "The system gave her children tremendous piece of mind without having to physically be there to watch over her.

"It probably led to her being able to live independently by herself for another two or three years before having to go into an assisted living facility. It really improved the quality of her life and was really a large cost savings versus having to move into an assisted facility."

Cost efficiency is another factor for seniors wishing to remain in their homes as long as possible.

Schmidt said the cost for the system depends on what the user selects. Systems can be installed for as little as $200 to install and then $50 to $60 per month for monitoring to a more advanced system that could be in the $1,500 installation range and $60 to $70 per month in monitoring.

Seniors using such a system would not need to remember to perform multiple tasks each day.

"We can set certain rules that say to lock the doors at a certain time, or turn off the lights. We can also create 'scenes' in the system where one app button on your smartphone will arm the security system, lock the door, make sure the garage door is closed, make sure all perimeter doors are closed, turn off certain lights. Different 'scenes' can be created for different situations," Schmidt said.

"And it can all be managed from just one app on your smartphone."

BREAKING THROUGH ISOLATION: Another problem seniors face living alone is social isolation, which experts said can lead to cognitive degeneration, health problems, depression and a decline in their overall quality of life.

Improving technology can again assist -- and surveys suggest older Americans are anxious to take advantage of it.

Those who believe technology is the purview of the young would be surprised to find a survey by McAfee security in 2013. It revealed those over 50 were spending, on average, five hours and 42 minutes a day on the internet. Surprisingly, of that group, those 62 to 75 spent four hours and 36 minutes online.

Another study, conducted in 2013 by Ipsos and Google, found seniors over 65 spent only 30 more minutes watching TV than they spent online. Boomers actually spent more time on the web than TV time.

A more recent Pew Research Institute found that 47 percent of seniors have broadband internet access at home.

Seniors are using the latest devices and technology to find information, connect with loved ones and friends, view family photos, arrange travel, volunteer and stay mentally connected with their communities.

Caregivers and loved ones are, and should, encourage this connectivity. A neuroscientist at the University of Chicago said he believes human beings are actually hard-wired to be a social species. Not meeting that need can have damaging physical and mental effects.

These emerging technologies -- in terms of security, wellness and interactivity -- are great examples of assistance, Schmidt said. But they will never replace the need for "real" human contact.

"These technologies can supplement what is being provided by the loved one or caregiver to the point that maybe they don't need to be there as much," he said.

This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: Spherion, Visiting Nurses Association, PR Machine Works, Nanogate/Jay Systems, DRM Productions, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, Richland Bank, Mechanics Bank, Area Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source click the "About Solutions Journalism."

City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"

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