by Fahad Aziz, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, CareMerge
But that’s starting to change. Today, the industry is on the brink of total transformation via technology like AI, IoT, voice, and telehealth. Here’s a look at what these monumental changes mean for the nation’s seniors and the people who care for them.
WELLNESS: THE MANDATE FOR SENIOR LIVING
Before I dive into specific technologies, it’s worth noting that the central drive for senior living communities right now is to make the case that they will offer greater wellness – better health, community, activities, engagement, etc. – than aging in place.
The pandemic complicated that narrative for many senior living communities. Lockdown policies increased social isolation and forced the cancellation of many communal activities. We also saw high rates of infection and fatality in some senior living settings.
While those outcomes are tragic, they also served as a wakeup call for many communities. The pandemic has made clear that the communities that succeed now and in the future will be the ones that make a definitive case that they can offer greater wellness for residents than they’d have at home – regardless of external circumstances.
The most exciting technologies, then, are the ones that directly enable communities to deliver improved wellness. Let’s take a look at what those technologies are.
INTERNET OF THINGS (IoT): GATHERING BETTER DATA
By now, most of us are familiar with how various “smart” devices (from refrigerators to watches to toothbrushes) collect and share data as we live our lives. But we’re only just beginning to see the opportunities for impactful applications in senior living.
Take floor sensors. They can record data about a resident’s gait and whether and how it changes over time. Crucially, they can also detect when a resident is on the ground – and whether they got there intentionally or because they fell.
That in itself has huge implications for senior care. If, for example, a resident is less than forthcoming in a telehealth appointment after a fall – or if they forget the fall happened – the doctor can still find out about it, which empowers them to deliver better care. What’s more, if the fall is accompanied by a gait change, the doctor has valuable background information about potential causes.
Because few, if any, people invest in this technology for their homes, what amounts to a fairly simple IoT application gives senior living communities a serious edge as seniors and their families consider wellness implications.
But smart sensors alone aren’t enough to transform senior care. The more IoT-connected devices we add to a community, the more data there is to sift through. Without technology to do that sifting, the data would be meaningless – too much noise with no way to find clear signals. That’s where AI comes in.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: MAKING SENSE OF THE DATA
AI helps make meaning from all the data that IoT devices collect.
Following a resident fall detected by floor sensors, for example, an AI algorithm could determine whether the incident was a “true” fall or a false alarm and alert staff accordingly. This layer of technology is crucial to ensure that care teams don’t get alert fatigue and start to tune them out.
But that’s just the start. AI that connects systems within a community could correlate a fall with, say, changes in a resident’s medication or information about their recent return from a rehab facility.
The potential impact on wellness is profound: rather than missing information (as might happen without IoT devices) or getting information without context (as might happen without AI overlays), care teams can immediately gain insights about their residents.
Within seconds of a fall, a care provider can understand that a resident’s new medication is making their blood pressure too low and take steps to consult with a physician. A similar incident for a senior aging in place could take weeks to diagnose, and would likely cause far more stress in the interim.
While all of these technologies are transforming senior living in exciting ways, the tech that seniors themselves tend to be most excited about is voice.
VOICE: THE DARLING OF SENIOR CARE
Today, voice-powered smart home devices have gone mainstream. For families, they can facilitate everything from turning on music to adjusting the thermostat. For senior living communities, their applications – and their potential to improve wellness – are profound.
Popular voice skills in senior communities (announcements, calendar updates, daily briefings, dining menus, event sign-ups and reminders, work orders, and USPS mail status) reveal the impact this technology can have: delivering residents vital information in the comfort of their rooms.
For those with limited mobility, voice tech makes it possible to be integrated in the life of the community without risking unnecessary trips. In pandemic times, it keeps everyone in the community safer by eliminating the need for many visits to communal spaces with high transmission potential.
Already strong today, the technology is only going to get better. Developers of voice technology are currently working on more streamlined conversations, smarter responses, improved workflows, voice push notifications, and improved privacy and security settings, among other things.
The results, powered by AI, will have the potential to seriously amplify residents’ wellness. Consider an example of how smart responses might function: a resident asks about yoga classes that day. There are none, but the assistant doesn’t leave the conversation there. Instead, powered by AI, it suggests alternative activities that those who attend yoga also frequently attend, as well as activities that align with the resident’s other interests.
THE FUTURE OF SENIOR CARE TECH IS NOW
Communities that embrace emerging technologies will transform the way they deliver care and offer wellness benefits significantly better than those available to seniors aging in place. Communities that don’t will soon find themselves playing catch-up as they compete for the business of an increasingly tech-savvy population.