Direct impact

Today, technology is being used for a broad array of purposes in senior living communities as a means to help improve quality of senior care and strengthen accountability. In this overview we will briefly examine some of the technologies that directly impact resident care including:

  • Comprehensive assisted living software systems

  • Safety technologies

  • Passive activity monitoring

  • Electronic health records and telemedicine

  • Social connectedness, recreation, and entertainment

  • Cognitive fitness

By integrating these technologies into day-to-day operations, senior living communities are able to offer new and more personalized models of care. These technologies can provide caregivers with a broader range of information and do so in a timely, accurate, and actionable manner. Caregivers can use this information to help residents age in place longer, foster their independence, and enhance their physical and mental well-being.

Comprehensive assisted living software systems. These systems can respond to many of the needs of senior living communities by integrating staff management, billing, marketing, cost allocation, and care management. A noteworthy element is the capacity of these systems to assess based on staff data input, the care level needs of residents and to automatically develop the appropriate care plan. As staff members update the electronic records, the system continually reassesses and readjusts the care plan.

Safety technologies-fall response systems. Perhaps one of the first technologies to help seniors age in place, the personal emergency response system (PERS) is a device seniors wear on a pendant or a wristband. In the event of a fall or emergency situation, the resident pushes the button and an alert is automatically transmitted to a responder. The system often provides residents with a sense of security and peace of mind. But, the limitation with these types of systems is that, all too frequently (in more than 50% of real emergencies), users are not wearing their PERS or are unable to activate it due to incapacitation. There is a new generation of PERS with built-in accelerometers that do not require user activation and automatically detect falls and generate alerts.

At a glance…

Quality-focused communities are finding that investing in technologies can enable them to better fulfill their mission and objectives. Technologies can give them a strategic marketing advantage, help better manage risk, and generate additional revenue.

Passive activity monitoring systems. These systems use one or more motion-triggered wireless sensors strategically located around the home to track the activity of residents. Some of the simpler systems generate alerts when there is a lack of activity at specified times (e.g., morning wake-up) or for specified periods of time (e.g., one hour). These parameters must be individually set by the caregiver. The systems are based on the premise that the lack of motion could be indicative of a fall or incapacity. More sophisticated systems operate 24/7 and can capture more in-depth data. Using sophisticated algorithms, technologies automatically generate individualized norms for a variety of activities. The system continuously evaluates changing patterns of a resident’s behavior that may be indicative of a potential problem and automatically notifies caregivers so they can intervene. It can also help identify patterns of behavior that may indicate that the resident may be at risk of falling, such as increased nighttime activity. The system does not require resident activation, nor is it dependent on the resident’s physical, mental, visual, or language capacities.

Electronic health records (EHRs) and point-of-care systems. These information systems allow the automatic electronic integration of data from multiple sources. The technology then converts the data into knowledge (often informing it with best practices) that can assist clinicians in their decision making. Components of EHRs can include: electronic clinical charting, documentation systems, shared care planning systems, and e-prescribing. Although government funding for these technologies has focused on promoting adoption among hospitals, physicians, and to a lesser extent skilled nursing facilities, EHRs can be exceedingly valuable in ensuring a continuum of care as residents transition between assisted living, hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities.

Telemedicine/telehealth. There are a variety of technologies that provide a means of replicating an in-person clinical visit remotely, all of which include the remote capture and transmission (to a central clinical response setting) of biometric data such as pulse, blood pressure, blood glucose, temperature, and weight. The systems automatically trend and record vital signs and alert clinicians to problematic levels. This allows for improved accuracy, accountability, and disease management. Some systems, such as the Intel HealthGuide, allow for live or programmed interviews with patients that can help physicians diagnose conditions, monitor compliance, and guide and reinforce healthful behaviors.

Social connectedness, recreation, and entertainment. These technologies can be engaging, stimulating, and promote mental and physical well-being. New recreational technologies based on television quiz shows and games are popular with residents, can enhance group interaction (e.g., It’s Never 2 Late), and promote physical activity (e.g., Wii bowling leagues). Other programs, like virtual senior centers, can expand the capacity of a community’s recreational staff to better serve the diverse needs and interests of their residents. More broadly Web-based social networking allows groups of seniors to communicate with their friends and caregivers by exchanging information and providing support.

Cognitive fitness. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests engaging in cognitively stimulating activities may delay the onset or moderate the functional impact of Alzheimer’s disease. Cognitive fitness and assessment technologies use progressive, cognitive, challenging games and regimens that automatically assess performance and adjust levels of difficulty to the capabilities of the user. These technologies can use computers, Internet-based multimedia platforms or, as in the case of Dakim, proprietary easy-to-use touch screen games.

In these economically challenging times, it may be difficult to consider investing in technologies. Yet, quality-focused communities are finding that investing in technologies can enable them to better fulfill their mission and objectives. Technologies can give them a strategic marketing advantage, help better manage risk, and generate additional revenue. These experiences from the field are being confirmed by ongoing research focusing on the clinical and economic outcomes resulting from the use of these technologies.

David J. Stern, is Marketing Manager, Home Health at GE Healthcare. He was formerly Chief Professional Officer with Living Independently Group, Inc. He has more than four decades of experience in geriatric social work. Mr. Stern has served as Executive Director of the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged, a New York City-based geriatric social service agency serving more than 52,000 older adults annually. He is a CAST commissioner, a fellow of the Brookdale Center on Aging, and a recipient of the Family of New York State Award.

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Long-Term Living 2010 May;59(5):30-32

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