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Where There's Smoke...

April 1, 2004
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Interview on communication technology with Dr. Anthony Glascock and Dr. David Kutzik, Drexel University

Where there's smoke...

The "Smart Home" concept comes home at last-with a few changes In the last few years, there has been quite a buzz in the long-term care industry about the "Smart Home" concept-a new wave of technologies that aims to monitor elders in their homes electronically and with minimal interference to encourage aging in place. While conference audiences and magazine readers have embraced the idea, they are generally left wondering when exactly this futuristic technology would actually be ready to enter people's homes. For the most part, that question has gone unanswered.

Enter Dr. Anthony Glascock, a gerontologist and professor of anthropology at Drexel University, and Dr. David Kutzik, an associate professor of sociology at Drexel and a gerontologist with a background in technology. The pair are co-inventors of the technology used in New York-based Living Independently's QuietCare system. They hold the patents on the technology in both the United States and Canada, with patents pending in the European Union and elsewhere. The system strips the Smart Home idea of bells and whistles, using small wireless sensors placed throughout the home to monitor activities of daily living (ADLs). It reports these findings to the QuietCare-Status center for analysis 24/7, and immediately contacts a designated caregiver if anything seems amiss. The system is simple, affordable, and unobtrusive, but perhaps most significantly, it is available today, the first of its kind to actually hit the market.

Glascock and Kutzik talked with Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management Assistant Editor Todd Hutlock about aging in place, their system and how it differs from the Smart Home concept, and other related topics.

How did the project begin?

Glascock: My area of research for the last 10 to 15 years has been home healthcare and home delivery of care. Dave and I have been working on this project for ten and a half years. Back in the late 1980s, I had been doing a lot of research on multisite, multicultural projects supported by the National Institute on Aging, in Africa, China, the United States, and Ireland. I lived in a small community in western Ireland for about 18 months, and as part of my research, I asked people there a series of questions, one of which was "Have you ever cared for or helped an older person?" Usually I got answers like, "Yes, we drive my mother to the hospital in Galway" or "We take my older aunt to Mass on Sunday." A man named Sean said, "Yes, I get up every morning and I look across the valley at Paddy's house to see if smoke is coming out of the chimney." I had no idea what that meant. He said, "If I see smoke coming out of his chimney by half-seven in the morning, I know that he's up, he's started his fire, he's got his tea going, he's up and around, and everything's okay. If I don't see smoke by half-seven, I walk over there because there might be something wrong."

Fast-forward another two or three years, and my mother was experiencing some health problems and needed to change her medication regimen. At that time, she was extremely hard of hearing-now she's deaf-and I didn't want to make that phone call to ensure she was taking her medication for some fairly typical reasons-because it was in the morning, I was on my way to work, I was rushed, etc. Plus, that awkward role reversal-I have over time assumed the parental role, but it is still very difficult for children to become the parent. All I wanted to do was just see if she had taken her medication somehow. So I asked Dave if it would be possible for us to check via computer if my mother had taken her medication, following the idea of the smoke coming out of the chimney. Dave said no, that's too difficult. A day later, he came back and said yes, it can be done, let's do it. His father was very ill at that time, my mother was having health problems, and so we developed the system primarily to help our own parents and ourselves, to provide more security for them, and more peace of mind for us. Our philosophy, though, goes right back to the smoke out the chimney-to develop a system that is nonintrusive, passive, and doesn't ask people to change their behavior, and yet provides a record of what they are doing so changes can be seen and you can intervene before they become a crisis.

How did Living Independently get involved in the project?

Kutzik: They sought us out, but our contact there, George Boyajian [see sidebar], is someone whom we met years before when we were looking around to see how to commercialize. He contacted me, and then the main people behind Living Independently came and met Anthony and myself and our business representative in Philadelphia and the rest is history.

Glascock: We're not business people. We decided a long time ago that we are what we call "true believers in the system." We really just think it will help people. We did not take out second mortgages on our houses, and we did not build these systems in a garage and sell them out of the back of our truck.

Kutzik: Though we did build them in a garage!

Glascock: True, we did do that in the research stage. But we decided a long time ago that the only way we could only have this system brought to market in the United States was through a company like Living Independently. We explored different options, and this seemed to be the best one.