Are Granny Cams Ethical?

by Senior Care Staff on February 17, 2012

Video surveillance systems are quickly becoming an affordable and efficient way to ensure vulnerable seniors stay safe when in the care of others, whether it is an in-home caretaker, nursing home, hospital or other type of managed care facility. A granny cam can also provide a clear picture of how an elderly person is getting along on their own, or it can capture mistreatment.

Most experts estimate between 1 million and 2 million elderly Americans have experienced abuse or neglect. However, the Senate Special Committee on Aging believes the number of victims may actually be closer to 5 million, which means five additional cases may exist for every one reported. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, physicians and other healthcare professionals are involved in 21.6 percent of reported cases, while family members are the perpetrators nearly 15 percent of the time and service providers are involved 9.4 percent of the time.

People suffering from dementia, as well as women and those with physical disabilities, are the most likely victims of caregiver abuse and neglect. Depression, lack of a social support system, verbal or physical aggression, substance abuse as well as fear of institutionalization and loss of independence are just a few of the numerous barriers that prevent the reporting of elder abuse.

As technology improves, many families are turning to granny cams as a way to prove their suspicions. According to a report on theWBAL evening news in Baltimore, Jaki Taylor used a granny cam to capture images of an in-home caregiver repeatedly abusing her father, a stroke victim. In New York, 22 nursing home healthcare workers were arrested after authorities used hidden cameras to prove mistreatment was taking place.

Since only Maryland, Texas and New Mexico have enacted laws that allow nursing home residents to have video surveillance equipment in their private rooms, the use of granny cams to prove suspected abuse of vulnerable adults is largely a moral issue. The largest criticism concerns privacy, both for the caregivers as well as for the elderly residents. Opponents also claim insurance costs will rise, and hiring qualified caregivers, who are already in short supply, will become even more difficult. The long-term care industry has spent considerable effort and funding to fight legislative measures to legalize surveillance cameras.

Granny cams can also enable elderly relatives to continue living independently in their own homes. The latest technological innovations affordably transform any house into a smart home that actively or passively monitors the occupant’s activities. However, some of the most sensitive rooms, such as the bathroom and bedroom, are among the most likely places for an accident to occur. This may present some unique ethical problems that can be solved by pointing a camera at the floor or providing blind recording spots within the room.

Active surveillance systems require participation, such as fall detection devices that involve pushing a help button. Passive systems, such as motion detectors, seamlessly operate in the background. Equipment also comes with a variety of viewing options, including photos, videos, color, black and white and infrared night recording. Fixed cameras and those that scan the room using a remote control are also available.

Surveillance companies, such as Eye Spy Pro, sell a vast assortment of ordinary objects that contain concealed cameras, including iPod docks, air purifiers, smoke detectors and tissue boxes. Most require a video cable and monitoring software that feeds images to a computer or television. Others work with a Secure IP Internet to enable online viewing in real time via a wireless access point.

The most cost efficient option is a wired camera. Because this version requires electricity, it is often hidden in an everyday item that also requires an outlet, such as an alarm clock or table lamp. A higher-end wireless camera runs on batteries, although not for long. The broadcast range can vary greatly, typically from 700 feet to 3,000 feet, and other devices running at the same GHz frequency can cause interference.

The newest product on the market, an SD Card DVR camera, is completely self-contained. This device utilizes an internal recorder to capture the video, which is stored to a removable SD card for viewing on a computer or television. Some models are equipped with a keychain remote that can activate the system.

While motion detectors can be incorporated into surveillance camera systems, the latest technology converts motion detectors into their own monitoring systems. Secured to the refrigerator or attached to pill bottles, these tiny sensors can ensure meals are eaten and medications are taken. Sensors can also be placed on doors, windows, cars, bath mats, bedside tables and any other place that receives frequent or unwanted attention. Although sensors are relatively inexpensive, the monitoring services that analyze daily activities for patterns are expensive. Yet this can provide the least intrusive option for monitoring an independent elderly relative.

Personal tracking devices can also offer peace of mind where cameras cannot penetrate. A GPS, for example, is a great tool for families concerned about an elderly relative who still has access to a car. Using phone mapping and the Internet, it is easy to track when and where a car is driven. As the technology for surveillance equipment grows, granny cams are combining several features into a single product, such as adding a motion detector, internal DVR and remote Internet viewing to a wireless camera. Some systems can even be accessed with smartphones and tablets.

Despite the current controversy, granny cams just may change the future of how older adults live out their elderly years. The installation of surveillance equipment is primarily an issue of suspicions, and because this strategy is an invasion of privacy and dignity, it should be used as a last resort to confirm those suspicions and gather evidence.

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