Wireless monitoring helps prevent falls by elderly

As the population ages, serious falls are increasing. Counting the expenses of home care and assisted living, falls cost as much as $75 billion a year in the U.S., the New York Times reports. Until now, study and prevention mostly have consisted of doctor visits and self-reported surveys. But wireless technology is changing the whole dynamic. By attaching sensors to clothing, carpeting and rooms, caregivers now can keep track of their elderly charges in near-real time.

Intel and General Electric are spending big bucks to developing and market technologies to enable independent living. The European Union has pledged 1 billion euros (nearly $1.5 billion at current exchange rates) to study and pay for such technologies and services.

Stateside, the National Institute on Aging is sponsoring research in this area, notably a five-year study in Oregon that started in 2006. Wireless sensors that cost less than $200 each keep an eye on the test subjects in their homes and transmit continuous data streams over the Internet. Sensors may show, for example, if a patient with congestive heart failure keeps getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom,  creating a serious risk of falling. In such a case, it may be a good idea to cut the dosage of the patient's diuretic.

For more about remote monitoring of elderly patients:
- read this New York Times story