Safety has always been a critical issue for assisted living operators. But as more memory care and high-acuity residents enter communities, keeping them protected is more important than ever, security specialists say.

The challenge for operators has always been keeping residents safe inside and keeping unauthorized visitors from entering the facility while maintaining a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. In an age where assisted living properties are marketing themselves as “home like” and “resident friendly” to prospective residents and their families, the need to balance security and freedom is becoming a paramount concern, says Sean Slovenski, CEO at Intel-GE Care Innovations.

“Managing efficiently and proactively is the most pressing security need facing assisted living facilities,” he says.  “Efficiently managing their staff resources to check up on and manage residents with the greatest risk of a transition of care is a pressing issue in this ever-changing landscape of aging and healthcare.”

For the most part, assisted living communities are doing an adequate job responding to residents’ security needs, says Steve Elder, senior marketing manager for Stanley Healthcare, but he maintains they need to take the next step for optimal protection. 

“They need to move beyond reactive mode into the analysis of data generated by the system to understand changing resident needs and ultimately arrive at predictive analytics,” he says. “Resident safety technologies like wander management or bed movement monitoring capture a wealth of data that can be used to make care plans better and more personalized.”

Because more assisted living facilities are taking on memory care residents, Elder says operators need to focus on providing a stronger security presence that meets their specific needs.

“Facilities need to expand their safety protocols to make sure that all their resident groups stay safe,” he says. 

Having memory care residents creates a higher security risk, which means operators need to review all their current equipment, staff training and processes, adds Mylinda Allen, a technology consultant for Direct Supply Technology Solutions.

“I am learning that the biggest impact is determining what equipment to use for this type of environment,” she says. “We are seeing a trend with a majority of memory care units leaning towards providing a locked, secure unit with access control versus adding wander management. A secured unit gives staff and family members peace of mind that the residents are safe and in an environment that is free from worn devices and bothersome noise.”

Yet while a locked unit may ease memory care security concerns, resident freedom is also an important factor in quality of life and needs to be addressed, says John Rydzewski, general manager of Direct Supply Technology Solutions.

“There needs to be a way to allow residents to move freely and safely through the community and campus,” he says. “This often means providing residents with a way to call for help, such as a personal emergency response device, that will alert caregivers when they need assistance. The next challenge is then finding a technology that will allow caregivers to more accurately and quickly locate the resident when they do call for help.”

Technology solutions

Technology has advanced the resident security field drastically over the past decade and it continues to evolve very quickly, Slovenski says. Among the product options are passive sensors that provide alerts on changes in behavior patterns, as well as when residents leave the premises.

“There are also mobile personal emergency reporting system products residents can use that allow a greater range of movement but still provide information on their whereabouts,” he says. “We are constantly testing new products for their effectiveness and integrating ‘best of breed’ into our software platforms.”

Amid a wide array of technologies available, Rydzewski says it can be a formidable process to find the one that will actually meet each provider’s needs.  

“When it comes to security technologies, many providers do not have the experts on staff to navigate and understand the technical aspects that may create a problems for them in the future,” he says. 

Choosing a security system is more about how a facility approaches technology than the specific technologies used, Elder says.

“The best results come with careful planning,” he says. “I’d recommend taking the time to thoroughly define your requirements, bringing in all the stakeholders in your community for input.”

Beyond surveillance

Effective security goes beyond watching and tracking residents in the facility — it should start at the bedside for memory care patients, says Maayan Wenderow, director of marketing for Early Sense.

“We focus on clinical safety and see the bedside as the center of safety,” she says. “The most challenging times for these patients is during the night. During the day, the staff can handle them; at night it is more challenging — the number of caregivers is lower and staffing is limited. These patients, when they leave the bed, they are at risk for falling and this is the time when most falls occur.”

While some bedside sensors rely on pressure, the Early Sense system detects motion and degrees of restlessness. 

“It gives caregivers an early indication of what the patient is doing in bed without having to be in the room,” she says. “By realizing what is going on at the preliminary stages, it lowers the risk of a fall.”