After her 75-year-old mother suffered a severe health problem last fall that required surgery, Colleen Sturvidant needed a way to better keep an eye on her.
Because Sturdivant lives in Oakland, Calif., and her mom lives by herself in Sacramento, Calif., it wasn’t easy for Sturdivant to check on her, and there was little chance she could respond quickly in an emergency. So when a friend of her husband suggested she try out a new device his company had designed for just such situations, Sturdivant, 45, decided to give it a try.
The product, from a San Francisco startup called Lively, is built around a system of network-connected sensors that can tell Sturdivant when her mom gets something out of the fridge, when she opens her front or back door, when she takes her medicine and even when she leaves the house.
It may sound creepy to those concerned about privacy, but Lively’s system has been reassuring to both Sturdivant and her mom. The system can’t directly notify Sturdivant when there’s an emergency, but by keeping track of her mom’s regular patterns, it can indicate when something might be wrong.
“I talk to my mom often, practically daily,” said Sturdivant, who works in the information technology department of a local retailer. “But I want that conversation to be about what’s going on in her life and not about, ‘Are you OK?’ ”
That kind of peace of mind is precisely what Lively’s founders wanted to offer customers, said David Glickman, the company’s co-founder and chief operating officer, who is a college friend of Sturdivant’s husband. When Glickman and his colleagues founded the company two years ago, they set out to create a product that would help seniors live independently for as long as possible while helping their families keep an eye on them.
Lively is just one of a growing number of companies offering senior monitoring devices and systems. Among its competitors are startups such as BeClose and GrandCare Systems as well as Care Innovations, a joint venture formed by Intel and General Electric.
Their products are meant to address some of the implications of the aging of the American population. The U.S. government’s Administration on Aging forecasts that the number of Americans age 65 or older will grow from 40 million, or 13 percent of the population, in 2010 to 72 million, or 19 percent of the population, in 2030. People are living longer, and are contending for longer periods with chronic illness.
The number of seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s disease alone is expected to grow from about 5 million today to more than 7 million in 2025. At the same time, there’s a dearth of assisted-living facilities and lack of trained health givers, noted BeClose CEO Liddy Manson.
“We’re definitely going to have a human resources crunch,” Manson said. “So technology is going to have to bridge the gap.”
While the potential demand for products such as those offered by BeClose and Lively is huge, the market is still nascent, industry analysts say. Greg Caressi, an analyst who focuses on health care technology for research firm Frost & Sullivan, estimates that only about $15 million worth of senior monitoring products were sold in the United States last year. He forecasts the market will grow to about $25 million in 2017.
Many consumers simply aren’t aware that such products are available, Caressi and other analysts say. In many cases, the costs have been prohibitive to consumers and health insurers often don’t pick up the costs.
Glickman and his colleagues hope they can expand the market by addressing some of the flaws they saw in earlier senior monitoring systems. They were expensive; complicated, sometimes requiring professional installations; or invasive, some including video cameras or requiring seniors to wear something around their neck at all times.
By contrast, Lively’s service is designed to be simple. The kit comes with six sensors and a hub device that are already paired when users open the box. The hub includes a built-in cellular data connection, so users don’t have to worry about connecting it to their home network or to the Internet. Basically, all they have to do to set it up is attach the sensors to refrigerator doors or medicine cabinets and plug in the hub.
Glickman and his colleagues intentionally left out a camera and designed the system so that it doesn’t provide fine-grained details of seniors’ activities. It can’t tell what they’re eating or what pills they’re taking, and it doesn’t keep track of their movements outside the home.
Perhaps most importantly, Glickman and his colleagues priced the service relatively cheaply. The system costs $149 plus a $20 monthly subscription fee. By contrast, similar systems can cost $400 or more with monthly charges starting at $50.
For Sturdivant, the system has been well worth its cost.
“The monthly service price is fine for the peace of mind that it gives me,” she said.