Aging Well

CareBox to Help You Age in Place

A highly sensitive alarm unit called the CareBox, which will be available toward the end of 2014, can immediately call  family members, neighbors, or caregivers by telephone, cell phone, or the Internet when someone in the home falls or is otherwise in need of assistance. A release from Fraunhofer, the German research company that created the device, notes that an estimated 30 percent of people over 65 years of age lwho live at home fall at least once a year. For those over 80 years old, more than 40 percent take a tumble annually.

Many of the accidents happen during daily housework. However, older people who are unsteady on their feet frequently have accidents at night as well. Often many hours go by before they help arrives. The elderly cannot always trigger a domestic emergency device such as a radio button  because they are not wearing the device, are unconscious, or are injured. An emergency alarm of this type has only limited value. As for sensors worn on the body, they react to rapid hand movements and are therefore particularly prone to triggering false alarms. Sensors built into the floor do detect emergencies but installation requires extensive construction at great financial expense.

On the other hand, the CareBox using safe@home is cost-effective, maintenance-free, and detects emergency situations in every room automatically without restricting the movement of the people in the home. Partners in the project currently being developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPAare the BruderhausDiakonie, a nonsecular social service foundation in Reutlingen, as well as the Vitracom and Sikom companies. Boxes that are installed on the ceiling work with highly sensitive optical and acoustic sensors that determine the location and condition of a person as well as the person’s movements within a room. The technology uses this data to detect a fall within seconds and identifies a motionless state if no movements are detected within a specific period of time.

The system also responds to cries for help. The release quotes Marius Pflüger, a scientist at IPA in Stuttgart, as saying, "The occupant is immediately phoned by the CareBox in order to exclude a false alarm. A computer-generated voice asks how they are. The occupant can cancel the alarm by answering. If they fail to answer the phone, safe@home identifies it as an actual emergency. The sensor boxes, which are about the size of a box of chocolates, operate unobtrusively and automatically. Changing batteries, activating the hardware – none of this is necessary. Privacy is also assured, since the data are evaluated directly in the sensor without having to be stored or transmitted."  

Prototypes of the emergency detection system have been undergoing round-the-clock operational testing in six residential care home units since mid-2012. In order to establish statistically significant detection rates, emergency situations were simulated in addition to evaluating normal operation. So far, the subjects of the test system have accepted the system and do not feel the sensor boxes are annoying. "One reason for the high acceptance rates are the comprehensive interviews we carry out in advance with potential users in order to find out what they value in a fall detection system," says Pflüger. The most important criteria for those interviewed was that the system work reliably and properly in every room during routine daily life, and that it could be integrated in every kind of living space. Those interviewed also wanted to have as little contact with the technology as possible.

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