updated 12/28/2009 8:45:31 PM ET 2009-12-29T01:45:31

At 88, Grif Crawford knows he's at risk of a fall or other sudden health problem. So he wears a pendant around his neck that can summon help if something goes wrong.

  1. Don't miss these Health stories
    1. Splash News
      More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?

      Rates of women who are opting for preventive mastectomies, such as Angeline Jolie, have increased by an estimated 50 percent in recent years, experts say. But many doctors are puzzled because the operation doesn't carry a 100 percent guarantee, it's major surgery -- and women have other options, from a once-a-day pill to careful monitoring.

    2. Larry Page's damaged vocal cords: Treatment comes with trade-offs
    3. Report questioning salt guidelines riles heart experts
    4. CDC: 2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US
    5. What stresses moms most? Themselves, survey says

"It's kind of like life insurance," said Crawford, of Lee Summit, Mo. "I feel very comforted with this."

The device has come a long way since the days when it merely allowed the wearer to alert someone that he or she had fallen and couldn't get up. Crawford's equipment also can be programmed to answer his phone, remind him to take his medicine or alert him to a fire, among other things.

It's one of several new products designed to help seniors stay in their homes rather than move to a nursing home or assisted living facility.

At-home technology now can monitor senior citizens' movements, vital statistics, and sleep and bathroom patterns. There are products that remind seniors to take their medicine.

Such devices allow older people to remain in their homes with more oversight from loved ones or medical specialists.

The products can monitor how well seniors are managing the chores of daily living, and offer "peace of mind" to caregivers or family, said Majd Alwan, director of the Center of Aging Services Technology, in Washington. The products are most successful when they are tied to an agency that can dispatch meals, medical help or other senior services, he said.

Monitoring systems cost $150 to $200 a month
Currently, the monitoring systems, which cost about $150 to $200 a month, are more often prescribed to seniors for a limited time after a hospitalization or health issue, Alwan said. Some also are being used in assisted living facilities where operators like the additional protections they offer.

But many people would like to see the technology become more mainstream, added Elinor Ginzler, senior vice president for livable communities for AARP, which recently surveyed seniors about their interest in the products. Seniors are willing to use the technology if it's affordable, she said.

"We're at the beginning of the wave," she said. "Money is an issue."

Alwan foresees technology allowing seniors to avoid "unnecessary early institutionalization" because it will relieve the anxiety of loved ones. The ability to closely monitor a person's lifestyle also can help family members know when the older person is unable to remain home, said Katie Boyer, director of marketing for Home for Life Solutions, in Lee Summit.

Besides monitoring falls and day-to-day activities, her company sells equipment that will turn off a stove if the user forgets. A built-in motion detector turns the appliance off if the user leaves the room and does not return in a specific timeframe.

As for managing medicine, systems exist that will dispense it at appropriate times and remind patients to take it. If the patient fails to take the medicine, the pills can move into a locked chamber to avoid an overdose.

Many older people like having technology provide this extra layer of security because it doesn't require them to give up privacy, said Agnes Berzsenyi, general manager of home health for GE Healthcare in Milwaukee.

GE has two products aimed at seniors: Health Guide allows users to check their blood pressure, sugar levels or heart rate daily. The information is sent to a medical provider who tracks it. If problems arise, the patient can have a teleconference with a nurse or schedule an appointment with their doctor.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Advertisement