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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Almost every family has one: An aunt, parent or grandparent with dementia or Alzheimer's disease. The shenanigans they can get up to may make for humorous anecdotes at Sunday brunch, but their sad situation is a terribly painful story for everyone involved. And since many of those affected tend to wander off and get lost, you have a dangerous situation as well.
Installed in over 500 long-term care and assisted living facilities for the elderly across the United States is a new solution from Israel. It promises to keep America's elderly safe. Home Free, a subsidiary of "Dmatek," has developed a large Swatch-like bracelet that keeps tabs on wandering relatives.
Called the Home Free Elite, the bracelet is worn like a watch and can alert nurses and healthcare professionals if a patient leaves a facility.
"What we've done is taken the focus of the monitoring from the door to the patient," says Idit Mor, manager of corporate communications for Dmatek, which provides personal monitoring devices for law enforcement and eldercare industries worldwide. "Most other solutions monitor the door. We look after the patient."
Unlike its competitors' solutions, such as Stanley Tools, Home Free doesn't focus on a facility's entrances and exits. Its solution is based on a flexible, wireless communications platform that enables a real time, continuous transfer of data from a body-borne sensor to a monitoring center at the facility.
"It basically enables long-term facilities to install a platform of receivers so patients can have various types of personal safety devices," Mor says. "A watch emits the signal of location: Where they are in the facility, or if they've gone outside."
An alert can be transmitted if a resident is at risk of falling, or a patient could call a nurse directly for assistance from his or her wristband or from a device next to a bed. Currently based on location only, sensors could also include physiological data, adds Mor.
Among the hundreds of US centers to adopt the Home Free solution is the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington DC. It's one of America's largest and most prestigious long-term care communities, where the company's monitoring system provides early alerts and personal safety solutions for residents and staff.
With corporate offices and manufacturing in Tel Aviv, and sales and distribution in the US, Home Free maintains a staff of 270 people. In business since 2000, the company combines and upgrades existing technology (like Dmatek's ankle security cuffs, used to monitor prisoners or people under house arrest) to create a more elderly-friendly device that's available in a variety of colors.
"Our edge is the way we've configured well-known technologies for remote people monitoring," says Mor.
And while the Home Free Elite currently focuses on patient "escapes," a new device to be released later this year will be based on GPS signalling. That means that it will be possible to locate "runaways," even far beyond the perimeters of a facility.
This is attractive for centers that offer assisted living facilities. Some residents, who are perfectly healthy, dislike feeling closed in, explains Mor. Home Free will provide residential living spaces for the elderly with more flexible and secure solutions to keep track of those patients who require monitoring, while not impinging on the quality of life of others.
Home Free has also benefited the international research community, enabling us to better understand mental health. The University of Rochester in the US examined the data collected by the Home Free device to determine the risk factors for Alzheimer's and to understand how the disease progresses.
Meanwhile, Dmatek's security ankle device has about 20 percent of the US security market, according to the company. In the remote people monitoring market since 1990, Dmatek's security solutions have been marketed by subsidiaries Elmo-Tech and Pro-Tec, which address the global law enforcement and corrections industries.
The Home Free solution is also appropriate for patients in rehab and some sufferers of mental illness. A security function alerts a nurse or guard if the Home Free device has been tampered with or removed, and even sends a notification if a battery is low. Mor adds that use of Home Free devices can also lower the cost of insurance at elderly care facilities.
That's good news for grannies who crave freedom and their loving families who want to keep them safe.
The original version of this story first appeared in Israel21c.