Video 'telecaregivers' keep seniors in their homes longer

Cell phones are ubiquitous. Plenty of American homes have high-speed Internet and wireless networks. And the population is aging. Take those factors together and it's no surprise that home patient monitoring is booming.

As National Public Radio reports in a series on aging at home, one element of home monitoring is the rise of the "telecaregiver," a health professional who watches aging, chronically ill patients by video. Octogenarians Edward and Lavinia Fitzgerald of Savannah, Ga., both of whom are in poor health, have cameras throughout their home that a remote caregiver can control. The telecaregiver, Denise Cady, located in Lafayette, Ind., even "joins" them at the dinner table by virtue of a computer set up in the kitchen.

The Fitzgeralds' daughter, Colleen Henry, hired the ResCare telemonitoring service after her mom, who already had had a stroke, broke her ankle two years ago. Henry also worried about her dad having a heart attack. "The burden's on me if something happened," Henry tells NPR.

For privacy's sake, there are no cameras in bedrooms or bathrooms, but if Cady is concerned that, for example, Livinia Fitzgerald might be in the bathroom too long, she rings up Edward's cell phone. "They're diligent," Edward says. "They're on the ball. And I like it."

The service isn't cheap: $600 a month to start, with bills exceeding $1,000 if the customer needs a lot of active monitoring. But it's still a lot less expensive than a nursing home, and the quality of life from being able to stay at home is immeasurable. That part actually surprised Henry, who had no idea her parents would make a new friend. "You see how old people are just lonely," she says. "This makes Momma and Daddy happy."

For additional details:
- read or listen to this NPR story