Technology equals independence for residents

Technology is being used to improve the quality of life, safety and security of the residents of Mary T Inc.’s various housing facilities.

Courtney Spies, Mary T executive assistant to the chief executive officer/dietary and rental services manager, demonstrates the grand care system computer, on which a resident uses the touch of a finger to bring up wellness features, news and weather information and fun things like games. It also comes with a calendar that can be updated remotely by family members as well as a Skype feature through which family members can communicate with loved ones.

Courtney Spies, Mary T executive assistant to the chief executive officer/dietary and rental services manager, demonstrates the grand care system computer, on which a resident uses the touch of a finger to bring up wellness features, news and weather information and fun things like games. It also comes with a calendar that can be updated remotely by family members as well as a Skype feature through which family members can communicate with loved ones.

Coon Rapids-based Mary T provides programs and services, including housing, to seniors, people with traumatic brain injuries, children and adults who are medically fragile, individuals with physical and developmental disabilities and those who need accessible rental housing.

“We are using technology as a way to keep people living independently for as long as possible,” said Dr. Mary Tjosvold, founder and chief executive officer of Mary T, Inc.

“It can empower people’s lives.”

And in this economically challenging time, the use of technology can save money by enabling people to live independently longer without needing more costly care, Tjosvold said.

The assistive technology services that are available are on display in what is called a Smart Apartment at Mary T’s Margaret Place senior housing building in Coon Rapids.

The demonstration systems in place at that apartment cover all the rooms – kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedroom – as well as outside the door.

But the assistive living services don’t have to be used in their entirety, according to Jim Neuswanger, Mary T security and assistive living coordinator.

“They can be used on an a la carte basis whatever the needs,” Neuswanger said.

The technology systems have been in place in the Smart Apartment for the past 14 months, he said.

They include remote controls to open doors and control lights, technology to help people self-medicate on schedule and sensors that can detect if a person has fallen.

But more than improving the security and safety of the person in a Mary T facility, the technology that is available also enables family members and/or caregivers to monitor their loved one remotely via cell phone, iPhone or home computer and receive an automatic alert if something is wrong, according to Neuswanger.

Through the la carte option, portions of the technology are being used by some residents of Margaret Place as well as Mary T’s group homes and catered living facilities, Neuswanger said.

“Our assistive technology is also a feature that is offered with our hospice care and as a coordinated service through Mary T Inc. personal and home services,” said Courtney Spies, executive assistant to the chief executive officer and dietary and rental services manager.

According to Neuswanger, Tjosvold was the driving force in setting up the Smart Apartment as well as the implementation of assistive technology at Mary T facilities.

Shrinking budgets and the cost of skilled nursing and assisted living care convinced Tjosvold to come up with ways to help people stay as independent and self-sufficient as possible, Neuswanger said.

“Our goal is to keep people living independently as long as possible,” he said.

But it’s not all about technology, Neuswanger said.

“It cannot operate in a vacuum,” he said. “There have to be support systems and a safety net.”

And the technology that is available through Mary T is designed to be as affordable and cost effective as possible, Neuswanger said.

The technology support can be provided as needed including a 24/7 global system plan, according to Bob Johnston, Mary T program director and a member of the assistive technology team.

The assistive technology on display at the Smart Apartment begins outside the front door.

There is a traditional lock that can be unlocked by a key, but also an electronic key pad feature where the resident can punch in a code, which could be placed in a pendant round their neck, to open the door, according to Neuswanger.

Inside the apartment, sensors can turn the lights on and turn off automatically and other sensors in the apartment detect if the occupant has had fallen, no matter in which room, plus there are remote controls to operate the television and/or radio, Neuswanger said.

In the bedroom, there is technology, a motion sensor, to alert in-house support services if the resident is moving around at night when they should be in bed, for example, he said.

Padding, complete with a wireless transmitter, has also been placed under the mattress of the bed in the event the person has a wetting problem, Neuswanger said.

“This is used a lot in transitional care facilities,” he said.

In the kitchen, there is technology in place, called a stove guard, that automatically turns off the stove if it is left unattended and is on too long, according to Neuswanger.

It works on stoves/ovens both electrical and gas and can be set for any time, Neuswanger said.

A self-medication safety component is set up in a way that medication is placed in a container in which the day and times it should be taken is spelled out.

And it also comes with both an audible alarm, which increases in volume if there is no response to the initial alarm in the event the person fails to take the medication at the appropriate time, or the wrong medication.

That alert is also transmitted remotely to family members/and or caregivers, Neuswanger said.

In addition, the Smart Apartment has an Amber X phone system, where if trouble is detected by the sensors, a call is placed and if there is no answer, then family members/caregivers are alerted and ultimately emergency medical services, if required, according to Neuswanger.

In the bathroom, there are not only sensors to detect if there has been a fall or if the person is slumped over, but also sensors on the shower/bathtub to provide temperature control of the water by lighting up red if it is too hot or blue if too cold, he said.

The Smart Apartment also comes with a computer, which Neuswanger said residents are told is a television set.

“We call it the grand care system,” he said.

It not only has a plethora of wellness features that the resident can use, but also information, like weather and news, and fun things like games, all accessed by touch, according to Neuswanger.

Another feature is a calendar through which the resident can keep track of appointments and family members, remotely, can track and add appointments that their loved one might have forgotten to list, Neuswanger said.

There is a pop-up reminder built into the calendar, too, he said.

“This is a wonderful feature,” Neuswanger said.

In addition, there is social interaction built into the computer through Skype, allowing the resident to communicate with and see loved ones, he said.

“The family member can see how their loved one is doing and looking and also see how the apartment and living area looks,” Neuswanger said.

Also available to the resident is an active alert button, which they can wear around their neck in a pendant or lanyard, through which can summon help by pushing it, he said.

“This is not a same size fits all system,” Neuswanger said.

“It can be customized to fit individual needs and budget.”

Depending on how much of the assistive technology is chosen, it can cost anywhere from $400 to $4,000, according to Neuswanger.

“And as needs change, so can the equipment,” Neuswanger said.

Right now the assistive technology in the Smart Apartment has four full systems and a fifth will be added in the next month, according to Johnston.

Peter Bodley is at peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com

  • Mary tjosvold

    Thanks Peter, you always do a great job of capturing the essence of what we do

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