‘I’ve Fallen, and I Can’t Get Up!’

National program brings a whole new technology to bear on monitoring the elderly in their homes.

“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” was first used in commercials for a company called LifeLine in the late 1980s and often as a punchline by comedians, but the deterioration associated with old age is no laughing matter for those going through it. That device depended on the patient contacting emergency rescue personnel. Since then there have been numerous attempts to monitor the elderly in their homes. 

Laurie Orlov, founder and principal analyst of Aging in Place Technology Watch, a consulting firm, tells the Wall Street Journal that there has been no real breakthrough in home monitoring in years, but a new national program is drawing interest.

That program is called CART—Collaborative Aging (In Place) Research Using Technology Initiative. It is a joint $7 million four-year study funded by the National Institutes of Health and Department of Veterans Affairs.

It involves strategically placing monitors in participants’ homes. There are currently 50 participants, but officials hope to soon expand that 250. The monitors track the patient’s every move, measuring when he takes his medicine (and how much), when he uses the computer, how often he’s been outside (less going outside might mean more cause to worry about depression) and noticing if there’s been a change in the person’s gait, which can flag frailty problems. Also included is a scale, which participants are encouraged to step on every day. It measures weight, body composition, heart rate, and arterial stiffness.

The people running CART describe this as passive data, and hope that that may make the system more palatable. Jennifer Marcoe, a CART project coordinator, tells the newspaper that “there’s no cameras, no video. It’s just getting real-time, passive data” as the participant goes about his day in residence.