Whilst care homes used to be notoriously behind the times when it came to technology, this now couldn’t be further from the truth.
Innovations in the care industry, including assistive technology in care homes means that both residents and employees are feeling the benefits, resulting in less time spent on administrative tasks, and more time spent on compassionate care.
Here, we take a look at the technology that is already being used in care homes across the UK, and uncover the benefits that they have brought.
Robots in care homes
Robotics are perhaps the most exciting piece of technology to currently exist in the care industry, and are already helping both employees and residents of care homes.
Loneliness is sadly very much predominant in the elderly, with many feeling cut off from society. There are two million people in England over the age of 75 who live alone, and over one million often go over a month without speaking to anyone. What is perhaps unknown, is the fact that loneliness can be just as detrimental to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes can be, with mortality increasing by 26%.
Whilst living in a care home can help to reduce extreme isolation, robots are helping to further reduce this isolation through companionship.
Of course, with new technology comes misconceptions, and robots certainly have a stigma attached to them, for a couple of reasons. One concern is fear that they “steal” jobs, and this was widely discussed about at the Future of Care conference in March 2019. Dr Papadopolous of the University of Bedshire, a partner of CARESSES robotics in care project, stated: “this is about assisting and complementing care as opposed to replacing jobs”.
The other concern, is the lack of trust of robots providing compassionate care – while a survey carried out by the European Commission found that 68% of those surveyed agreed that robots are beneficial in helping people to carry out their jobs, only 26% of respondents said they’d be comfortable having a robot to provide them with companionship when elderly.
This is arguably something that will need to be tackled not too far in the future. For example, as part of the CARESSES project, Pepper the robot was introduced as an assistant at an Advinia care home. Manufactured by SoftBank Robotics, Pepper can greet residents, and through the use of images, voice and video, can set reminders for residents to take their medication, enable them to access messages from loved ones, and even play their favourite songs.
While we’re very much at the stage where robots in care homes are used purely for administrative tasks, this shows the incredible potential they bring for the future.
Japan: leading the way in robotics
Similar to the UK, Japan has an ageing population. By 2025, it’s estimated that there will be a shortfall of 370,000 caregivers, which has resulted in them turning to robotics to help bridge the gap.
CARESSES – a Japanese government and EU funded pilot project – continuously assesses how robotics can be used to assist the elderly in a care setting
From manufacturing robots that can help residents get out of their beds and into a wheelchair, or ease them in and out of bathtubs, robots are conducting simple tasks that can free up human carers to give more compassionate care.
Lifting robots have been deployed in only 8% of care and nursing homes in Japan, with a main issue other than cost being the mindset that robots simply can’t provide care.
The stigma of robots providing compassionate care are reiterated in Japan, yet their robot strategy predicts that by 2020, four in five care recipients will accept having support from robots, showing that there is hope that people in the future will view robots in care homes differently.
Digital software solutions to reduce administrative tasks
With an increasing pressure in care homes due to lack resources and rising staff costs, there has been a continual search to discover ways in which the industry can optimise their administrative and operational processes, allowing for a more efficient business model.
While it’s clear robots in care homes will play a part in some of the more autonomous tasks, when combined with digital software solutions, employee time is further freed up, to enable them to provide compassionate care for residents.
From budgeting, to day-to-day care planning, monitoring and supply chain management through the likes of eMAR, this type of technology can help to reduce the pressure on employees. One example of this is Global Connect, our online customer portal that has been designed specifically for care home management. Enabling employees to generate real-time reports, drill down to the site and budget level, and identify efficiencies at a glance, Global Connect speeds up and simplifies the purchasing process through automation. The result of this, is tasks that would have taken hours now take minutes, turning attention away from administrative tasks, towards patient care.
Memory aids and activity provisions for dementia care
Dementia research and care have drastically improved over the last few years, as we’ve grown to understand how to care for dementia residents, and the most effective methods.
This has allowed for assistive technology in care homes that can aid dementia residents, such as therapy dolls. Whilst there have been some concerns by caregivers that it could be demeaning to gift an older adult a doll, there are many benefits that must be considered.
Soft and lifelike, research has shown that these dolls can effectively calm older adults who are severely agitated, helping them to feel safe and happy in their environment.
This, coupled with supportive activity provision such as listening to the radio, playing a game of cards or looking after a pet, shows how an increased understanding of dementia has really helped to improve residents’ wellbeings.
Innovations in the industry have meant that there are other products now available for dementia residents, in the form of memory aids. Multi-sensory equipment and tactile stimulation tools such as life-like animals, help residents feel safer in their environment, whilst aiding with recollection.
Patient monitoring equipment
One of the latest introductions of technology in care homes is wearable technology, which enables caregivers to accurately track residents, without interfering with their day-to-day lives.
Whilst pressure mats are commonplace in care homes, to notify professionals when a user has fallen out of bed; recent innovations have been made in acoustic monitoring. This means caregivers are now notified when a resident is at risk of falling, enabling them to prevent a fall before it even happens.
Additionally, the use of smart watches allow care home employees to help find dementia residents who may have wandered off, and can also track their vital signs such as heartbeat, without having to invest in extra equipment. For the wearer, there are benefits too – they can make emergency calls, and guide them back to their home address. The recent introduction of 5G to select UK cities means that this type of technology could be enhanced even further.
The future is exciting when it comes to assistive technology in care homes, with undergoing research looking at monitoring patients through the use of radars and acoustic monitoring. Xandar Kardian, a six year university research spin-off start up, has introduced a revolutionary new way to monitor care home residents’ activity, without the need for pressure sensors or wearables.
By sending out nano-pulses, this innovation is able to detect micro movements and vibrations such as breathing and heart beats; and can detect falls by analysing a resident’s distance, speed and movement.
Smart home devices
While smart home devices are nothing new in residential houses, they’ve become increasingly popular in care homes, and with good reason. By automating day-to-day tasks, it relieves stress from caregivers, while helping care homes to save money and time, and increasing the wellbeing of residents.
Thermostats such as Nest and Hive are one example of smart technology in care homes, and can be used in both individual and communal rooms, to ensure areas are adequately heated so both staff and residents are comfortable. As devices can be locked to prevent any unwanted changes, they also provide care professionals with an extra level of control.
Smart lighting takes many different forms, from small bedroom lamps in residents’ rooms, to large scale lighting solutions.
One care home in Germany has seen substantial benefits after introducing dynamic lighting. Particularly effective with dementia patients, the lighting aids with day-night sleep rhythm, helping residents to rest and feel less agitated.
Smartphones and tablets
Smartphones and tablets are already seeing positives within the care industry too – particularly amongst patients. Acting as a lifeline to keep in touch with loved ones, as well as a form of entertainment.
However, they are also bring about benefits for employees. Assessments and evidencing care can all be done via apps, allowing for a quicker, more efficient and accurate medical assessment.
Acting as the main control which ties smart technology together, home hubs can also help to reduce administrative tasks in care homes. From controlling thermostats and lighting by voice command, to playing a resident’s favourite song, they are being used extensively in care homes across the country.
Technology in care homes is undoubtedly an exciting development, and it’s clear to see the benefits it has brought the industry in such a short space of time.
However, with great breakthroughs comes great concern. Whilst currently, technology can’t replace the personal support the staff provide, they do a great job of complimenting employees’ work, and it’s predicted that in the future, their main role will be as companions to residents, to help combat loneliness.
We look forward to monitoring the success of technology in care homes in the future, and the further benefits they bring for both employees and residents.
For the latest news and developments in the care home industry, head on over to our blog. Alternatively, you can get in touch with us to find out more about our products and projects.
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