Startup Uses Motion Sensor Data to Keep Seniors Safe

The startup's new software program uses the data from home security systems to track seniors' activity, and family members can stay abreast of their relative's health through a mobile app.

by Sarah Gantz, The Baltimore Sun / July 12, 2016

(TNS) -- Mary Shofer could do anything. At least, that's what she thought.

She and her husband opened a tire business down the road from the family's Shofer's Furniture on South Charles Street in Baltimore. When Shofer was widowed in 1977, she insisted on living independently. She joined a gym at 102 years old.

But a bad fall in her late 90s that left her stranded on the floor for hours proved that even a silver superwoman like Shofer sometimes needs help.

Inspired by his grandmother's fierce independence but fearful for her safety, Paul Merenbloom set out to find a way for seniors to live on their own while offering family members a way to ensure they are well without being pesky or invading privacy.

In June, Merenbloom's company, Concordia Systems, launched its software program, which uses the motion sensor data from home security systems to track seniors' activity. Family members can stay abreast of their relative's health through the program's mobile application.

"They break all of the old molds," Merenbloom said of today's seniors. "Now the question is, 'How do we adapt and support them?'"

With the SentinelCare system, Baltimore-based Concordia taps into the $300 billion — and growing — elder care market.

As the baby boomer generation ages, their health-care costs mount, straining their savings and public support programs, which, in turn, puts emotional and financial pressure on families who take on the responsibility of caring for elderly relatives. There is enormous opportunity for businesses that help address these challenges and perhaps reduce the ballooning cost of care.

"We're in the early innings of a revolution in new products and services to not just serve older adults, but do things like keep families connected, monitor them as they age," said Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute's Center for the Future of Aging.

Concordia's SentinelCare system learns people's daily routines and sends alerts when something seems amiss, so that family members can respond quickly to emergencies and be alerted to potential health problems.

For example, sensors can tell if Grandma never got up from bed this morning, hasn't come out from the bathroom — a sign of a potential fall in the tub — or hasn't opened the cabinet that holds the medication she's supposed to take twice daily.

In Shofer's case, the system helped make her caregiver aware of a urinary tract infection, flagging her repeat trips to the restroom as unusual activity, Merenbloom said.

"It's having an extra set of eyes to identify things you wouldn't otherwise see and aren't necessarily looking for," he said.

Concordia's monitoring service, which costs about $45 a month, only works in tandem with an existing home security system with motion sensors in almost every room. Such systems vary in cost depending on the home's size.

The need for a security system makes SentinelCare a business opportunity for security companies, too.

Vintage Security, a Jessup-based subsidiary of Protection 1 Security Solutions, partnered with Concordia and is offering a 20 percent discount on its home security systems to people who also buy SentinelCare.

Charles Gerringer, a residential sales manager for Vintage, said installation would cost about $1,500 for a typical home, plus monthly monitoring fees.

Vintage agreed to partner with Concordia as a way to meet demand from customers asking for this type of service.

"We weren't exactly sure how to do it because we're a traditional alarm company — this is new for us," Gerringer said. "This kind of gave us an opportunity to dip our feet into this area and expand our customer base."

Vintage has about 18,000 security customers in Maryland and Northern Virginia, and Gerringer thinks the Concordia partnership could eventually expand its customer base by up to 20 percent.

Concordia isn't the first to use sensor technology to address seniors' health care problems.

Minnesota-based Healthsense has raised millions of dollars to develop remote monitoring systems for seniors. It's already deployed its system for assisted-living facilities and is working with home care companies on home-based monitoring. In a pilot study, Healthsense said its early-detection system reduced hospitalizations by 7 percent and emergency room visits by 38 percent.

It's also secured a joint federal grant with the University of Nebraska to study whether its remote monitoring system can benefit people with dementia, who typically need more intensive oversight.

And in May, national senior care franchise Right at Home partnered with Royal Philips on a sensor-based home monitoring system that it began rolling out in 25 U.S. markets last month.

©2016 The Baltimore Sun Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.