Technology with the Human Touch
Technology is a major area of innovation and expansion in senior care facilities, and many seniors who may not be as comfortable with touch-screen technology often have a clear preference for voice technologies.
The rapid proliferation of voice-activated devices and other tools is changing the landscape for many senior living facilities and their residents.
HARMAN Embedded Audio, a division of HARMAN International, is working on many voice-activated devices that will have primary applications for the senior care industry, says Olivier Bourdeau, a senior sales manager with the company.
The company focuses on sound processing innovation, and Bourdeau says voice-enabled and voice-activated devices and solutions are going to be showing up more and more in senior care facilities around the country. “At the moment, the core of our work is to enable voice as an interface everywhere,” he says.
This future of voice-interface goes well beyond smart speakers and means you’ll be able to tell a number of devices to perform an action without ever having to touch a button to initiate the interaction. Everything from hearing aids that manage or eliminate problems with speech recognition to voice-controlled devices that can assist in emergencies and companion or reminder devices that talk to seniors about important topics are coming for your organization.
Smart speakers are the vanguard of voice-enabled devices and are already becoming prevalent in homes and senior care facilities across the country. But even more exciting technologies are on the cusp of making their debut. Bourdeau says you can expect to see lots of other exciting innovations coming down the pike soon, including:
- Voice-activated televisions and other consumer electronics. For a lot of people, regardless of age, the remote control can be a nightmare. And some seniors in particular may struggle with these devices because the writing on them is small, the buttons are fiddly, and the functionalities are quite complex. Voice-activated televisions would eliminate the need for a hand-held remote control and make accessing a favorite program simpler for many people. Look for this technology to become more widely available in not just televisions, but other devices in coming years.
- Independent AI voice agents. One concern about the ever-expanding Internet of Things is that these devices are typically connected to the internet 24/7 and provide relatively easy access points to your facility for those seeking to steal information or otherwise commit bad acts. Bourdeau says that HARMAN and other companies are working on developing more sophisticated AI-supported, voice-activated devices that don’t need to be connected to the internet but can still offer information and conversation to a senior.
- Companion devices. Japan’s senior care industry is already embracing robotic caregivers and other technologies that can extend the capabilities of staff members and provide companionship for some seniors. And here in the U.S., work is ongoing to develop robotic companions that can help alleviate the chronic scourge of loneliness for the many adults who experience it while living in senior care facilities. These robotic, AI-driven companions could “actively engage with the elder and therefore have a presence for them to reduce feelings of isolation,” Bourdeau says. These digital companions can act as a scheduling assistant — reminding a senior to take a medication or that it’s time to go to the doctor. But as the conversational capabilities of such devices improve, they may also be able to hold a meaningful conversation and help a senior feel a little less alone.
- Wearables. More wearable devices are headed to senior care facilities, says Bourdeau. Such devices may be similar to the current technologies that can track heart rate and other vital statistics but may also go a step further and be able to alert emergency responders or other caregivers in the event of an emergency — before it even occurs in some cases. These devices can improve safety while also providing useful health data about residents. Also included in the category of wearables are hearing aids that can eliminate problems with speech recognition and make it easier for seniors with hearing loss to engage with the tools and devices that are beginning to show up in their lives.
Some of these technologies may still be five or 10 years in the future, but as Bourdeau notes, “the technology is progressing. It rapidly evolves,” so some of these options may be available even sooner. In any event, voice tech is here to stay and only likely to expand, so keep an eye out for the options and devices that can enrich life for your residents and be ready to deploy them as they become more widely available.
The Human Touch
While the future looks bright for the further integration of safety- and comfort-improving technologies, it’s important to remember that, fundamentally, senior care is a human business, says Nancy Koenig, CEO of Caremerge, a Chicago-based provider of resident engagement, family communication, and EHR/eMAR solutions for the senior living industry.
She says that while Caremerge looks to make senior living a “period of your life that should be filled with joy,” it’s often a time “filled with stress and worry. So how can we use technology to alleviate that” and improve quality of life for residents?
Technology should support the work of caregivers, Koenig says, and ideally, it can help them free up time to spend more hours on direct human-to-human support of residents. “In some cases, technology does help bridge human connection,” she says, particularly when a resident is transitioning into a new facility from home.
Technologies that help seniors find like-minded peers in their new environment can make the transition to a senior care facility smoother and more rewarding. “We can use technology to help people find each other and build new relationships,” she says.
For example, “let’s take a new resident who’s moving into a new community. Through a portal and mobile app, you can introduce that individual into the new community in a way that helps with understanding.” The senior can then navigate through the device to connect with book clubs, gardening groups, veterans’ associations, and any other kind of group in your community that might make them feel more at home and less alone through social interaction.
In another example of how technology should be leveraged to improve person-to-person support, Koenig says some of Caremerge’s clinical solutions can help streamline delivery of medications so that caregivers have more time to devote to direct, hands-on care that many residents rely on and find helpful and comforting. Relieving clinical staff of some of the more mundane or administrative tasks frees up their time to focus more on the person under their care.
And by sharing these sorts of solutions with family members, loved ones can see at a glance what’s been taken care of for a senior — and that provides peace of mind. It also lets family members get beyond those basics when speaking with caregivers at your facility to talk about deeper, whole-person aspects of care.
“When clinical staff can share photos of mother at gardening, it changes the dynamic” with the adult child of a resident, Koenig explains. “It can be a deeper conversation” about the true state of wellbeing, rather than a discussion of which medications were delivered when and so forth.
Leverage Tech to Increase Compassion and Connection
As you adopt more technological solutions into your facility — and you will; these systems and devices are going to fundamentally change the nature of the caregiving industry — be sure focus on leveraging tech that increases compassion and human contact among staff and residents.
Elaine K. Howley is a freelance journalist for various publications. An award-winning writer specializing in health, fitness, sports and history, her work has appeared in numerous print and online publications, including U.S. News, AARP.org, espnW, SWIMMER magazine and Atlas Obscura. She’s also a world-record holding marathon swimmer with a passion for animals and beer. Contact her via her website: elainekhowley.com.
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