An Elderly Answer

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm

A West Bend family that is running a business out of its home has created a system to help people monitor elderly relatives, so they can stay in their homes instead of moving to nursing homes.

The company is GrandCare Systems Inc. Charlie Hillman is the chief executive officer. His wife, Gaytha Hillman, is the chief operating officer. Their daughter, Laura Mitchell, is the marketing director, and her husband, Nick Mitchell, is the lead programmer.

The system developed by the company, through a series of sensors, can monitor a home or living space and record movement. If there is no movement in the house for a certain period of time or the door sensor goes off at an odd hour, the GrandCare system alerts family members, and if need be, the police, Charlie said.

GrandCare is still in the pilot phase with the system and plans to launch it commercially in April or May, Charlie said.

The system was developed by Charlie and his son-in-law, Nick Mitchell, and runs on a Web interface, so that family members can send messages to the elderly individual via a television interface. The television interface can also provide the loved one with news briefs, weather forecasts, the family’s calendar of events and scrolling photos selected by the caregivers.

"It is not where you live, but who takes care of you," said Laura Mitchell.

The system consists of a fanless computer that hooks up to the Internet, television, telephone and a power outlet, Charlie said.

The computer connects wirelessly to the sensors placed within the living space. Caregivers and loved ones can have as many sensors in the living space as they need or want.

"GrandCare is unique in that it has the television interface," Charlie said. "Loneliness and isolation are major problems with aging, and with the interface, the individual can keep in touch with his or her family even if they are a long ways away."

GrandCare provides default pictures, headline news, weather, definitions, quotes or spiritual offerings that caregivers can set to scroll on the television interface. Caregivers can input their own ideas, pictures and notes, as well as customize what scrolls on the screen.

Both the caregiver and the loved one can log into the Web interface through GrandCare’s Web site, www.grandcare. com. The caregiver’s Web page is the administrative page where family members can set options for what appears on the television interface, see charts and graphs of patterns of movement and control how the system reacts to any inconsistency in movement, Charlie said.

In the future, GrandCare plans to be able to monitor blood pressure and health care devices and have sound recognition, Charlie said.

Currently the sensors only monitor motion.

"People who are able to live independently still make unwise decisions, and other people need to be notified about them," Gaytha Hillman said.

The graphs of sensor activity give the caregiver the idea of motion in the living space compared to the norm, Laura said.

The idea for GrandCare Systems first came to Charlie out of personal needs. Charlie’s father lives in a small house about 100 yards in front of the Hillman’s home. Charlie’s great aunt lived there until she passed away, and Charlie plans to live there some day.

The house is there so that the aging individuals in the Hillman family can keep their independence while staying close, Charlie said. Charlie’s father comes over for dinner nightly and helped develop the GrandCare system by becoming a monitored subject, Charlie said.

The idea first came to Charlie, who holds a degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-founded HNET, the first Internet service provider in Washington County, with Gaytha in 1983, when his great aunt was still living in the house. Charlie and Gaytha sold HNET in 2003, Charlie said.

"When she was staying in the house, there were a few dire situations, and we had to keep an eye on what was happening over there," Charlie said.

In one instance, Charlie’s great aunt left the house at night in the winter to take a walk. She ended up slipping on the ice and lost her glasses. Charlie and Gaytha later found scrapes on her knees, but she did not tell them what happened and that she had lost her glasses. They did not find out that she had fallen until they found her glasses when the snow melted.

"GrandCare could have prevented this specific instance in two ways," Laura said. "It would have noticed no motion, and the door sensor would have gone off. The whole situation could have been avoided."

GrandCare’s first official pilot project took place in Daytona Beach, Fla., connecting Jean, a 73-year-old mother, with her daughter, Carol. The mother suffered from periodic seizures during the night. The seizures leave her disoriented.

GrandCare records the motion in Jean’s condo, and when there is more movement than usual or less movement than usual, the system calls Carol.

"I have been very concerned about the worry my physical problems and living alone are causing my family, especially Carol," Jean said. "To alleviate that, I would have to consider not continuing to live independently and moving to a facility of some sort. That possibility is abhorrent to me. I think GrandCare monitoring will take care of me and will relieve my three children of a lot of their worry."

GrandCare Systems made its national debut at the White House Conference on Aging in Washington D.C. last December. The conference is an exposition held once every 10 years.

GrandCare was one of 31 companies and universities chosen to exhibit in the Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST) Imagine pavilion, which showcased technologies of the future for long-term care.

"The White House Conference on Aging was truly a vendor exhibit and exceeded all of our expectations," Charlie said. "We were among people who had the same business and vision that we had."

Although GrandCare’s technology has not even officially launched, the company already has an exit strategy, Charlie said.

He hopes to sell the GrandCare technology to a company with a strong marketing arm and the ability to produce the products involved in the system, he said. In the meantime, GrandCare will go through distribution channels where it can be sold alongside other long-term care products, Charlie said.

GrandCare received venture capital funding from individuals and businesses in the West Bend area to support the research and development of the system, Charlie said.

GrandCare will be marketed to both residences and assisted living facilities, as well as to other venues, Laura said.

GrandCare has found that aging individuals do not mind monitoring systems as long as it does not involve video surveillance or impede their ability to have privacy and partake in every day activities, Gaytha said.

"Monitoring has to be passive," Charlie said. "The house has to take care of the loved one. Not ask questions."

The sensors will be sold for $20 each, and the family will provide the monitoring service for a monthly fee that has not yet been determined.

GrandCare Systems Inc.

  • Founded: 1993
  • Leadership: Charlie Hillman, CEO; Gaytha Hillman, COO
  • Location: 5085 Oak Road, West Bend
  • Employees: Laura Mitchell, marketing director and Nick Mitchell, lead programmer
  • Web site:

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