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High-tech devices help boomers keep an eye on aging parents

Published Mar. 23, 2014

After her 75-year-old mother suffered a severe health problem last fall that required surgery, Colleen Sturdivant needed a better way to 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. So when she heard of a new device for just such situations, Sturdivant, 45, decided to give it a try.

The product, from a San Francisco startup called Lively (mylively.com), is built around a system of network-connected sensors that can tell Sturdivant when her mom gets something out of the fridge, when she takes her medicine or 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. It can't directly notify Sturdivant when there's an emergency, but by keeping track of her mom's patterns, it can indicate when something might be wrong.

While the potential demand for products such as Lively is huge, the market is still nascent, industry analysts say. The company and others like it hope to expand the market by addressing some of the flaws they saw in earlier senior-onitoring systems, which were expensive and complicated.

By contrast, Lively's service is simple. Its kit comes with six sensors and a hub device that are already paired when users open the box. Basically, all users have to do is attach the sensors to refrigerator doors or medicine cabinets and plug in the hub.

Perhaps most important, the service is relatively cheap. 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.