Silent sentinels

Senior living residents and their family members expect non-institutional, aesthetically pleasing communities. But above all, they seek environments that foster independence while discreetly promoting safety and prompt caregiver response.

Experts say this demand for autonomy and advanced security will only grow greater in the years ahead as resident age, acuity increases and more memory-impaired residents enter senior housing communities. Along with more “open concept” community designs that encourage broader access to safe and secure areas, operators are adopting increasingly innovative, unobtrusive and silent security solutions that can be tailored to each resident’s unique needs. This innovative technology encompasses emergency call systems, wander and elopement solutions, fall prevention systems, sleep and physiological monitoring, and more.

“A safe and secure environment is crucial to residents and their families,” says Jared Pitney, vice president of senior living for RF Technologies. “The ultimate goal is to provide that protection in the most dignified way possible, promoting resident mobility in a homelike, barrier-free environment, while allowing visitors and staff to move easily throughout the community.”

Proactive protection

Today’s resident security technologies help caregivers more promptly and proactively respond to resident needs, regardless of the resident’s location. Real-time locating system technology and wearable smart sensor solutions are gaining ground in the senior housing segment, in large part because of their improved tracking capabilities, which let employees pinpoint a resident’s location with far greater accuracy than what was possible in the past.

“We now have in-room granularity, so we can know if someone is in a particular room versus a [general vicinity],” says Martin Rokicki, CEO of Skynet Healthcare Technologies. “You can pull up a map of the community on a mobile device and see the resident’s location in real time.” Precision locating capabilities can greatly improve caregiver response. When one community went on lockdown because a resident couldn’t be located, Sky-Net’s system showed that the resident was in the bedroom. Caregivers already had been to the room but left and kept looking for her elsewhere because they didn’t see her.

“She had fallen between the bed and the wall. Because we were able to narrow the location down to the bedroom, they could respond and assist her much more quickly,” Rokicki notes.

RTLS technology can offer other benefits as well, including allowing caregivers to quickly locate residents to administer medications, for example. This can be especially valuable in large, sprawling communities where residents might travel a distance from their private residence. Further, when employees wear RTLS sensor technology, they can quickly and easily find colleagues, which further improves caregiver response. If a caregiver is with a resident and needs assistance, a simple tap of the wearable band can alert other staff that help is needed, explains Rokicki.

RTLS-enabled solutions also can allow facilities to create rule-based alerts when residents are not visiting restrooms, dining areas or activity areas over prescribed timeframes, adds Jennifer Mazzei, marketing specialist for Secure Care Products LLC. “This helps ensure proper care and health.”

Continuous monitoring solutions also are available to monitor residents’ vitals, as well as their movement while they are in bed, a chair or in common areas. Sensors can be placed under a mattress or chair cushion, which allows for discreet, unobtrusive monitoring.

“The system alerts clinicians to changes in a resident’s health, as well as when residents are at risk of falling or developing pressure ulcers,” adds Maayan Wenderow, director of marketing for EarlySense Inc.

On the move

More than ever, high-tech resident security solutions are alerting employees to resident needs via mobile devices, which prevents the need for a caregiver to monitor a centralized computer station. Audible alarms that diminished residential appeal, disrupted residents and visitors, and resulted in alarm fatigue for staff also are becoming things of the past.

“Silent forms of staff notification have become much more the norm, along with shared notification via Wi-Fi-enabled smart phones,” says Pitney. “Caregivers can receive, acknowledge and coordinate response on mobile devices, enabling coordination of care that improves workflow and enhances resident care.”

With roughly 60% of assisted living residents living with dementia, wander management and elopement prevention are top priorities for operators. Reliable technologies that promote autonomy while reducing elopement risks also are an expectation for many residents and their family members. Today’s solutions offer more flexibility, allowing them to be tailored to each individual — and scaled up or down to meet their evolving needs.

“A resident can freely access certain areas at certain times, for example — such as an Alzheimer’s garden during the daytime — or when accompanied by a spouse,” says Steve Elder, senior marketing manager for Stanley Healthcare. “You don’t have one-size-fits-all anymore.”

If a resident who is at risk for elopement wears a sensor-based monitor, the system can automatically and silently lock down certain doors or access points when the resident is not traveling with a caregiver or approved chaperone. The technology also can alert staff when a resident enters a “hot zone,” allowing employees to redirect the resident.

Improved battery life — some lasting a year or longer — and around-the-clock system monitoring offers added assurance that resident security solutions will remain reliable.

“Because we monitor the [environment where our equipment is installed], we can even tell when there’s a problem before the community discovers it, such as a broken air conditioning unit that could harm their other servers,” Rokicki says.

Data drive results

Perhaps the greatest benefit of today’s resident security systems is their data-capturing capabilities.

Heritage Communities, a senior housing operator based in Omaha, NE, uses system-captured data as leading indicators for quality. “We are continually pulling data to keep a pulse on residents’ conditions and monitor our response times,” says Amy Birkel, VP of Heritage Communities. If the data show a resident has required more assistance or experienced physical or behavioral changes, for example, then that may indicate the need for more care and services being provided.

Predictive analytics further increase the merits of today’s monitoring solutions. New fall prevention solutions, for example, use artificial intelligence to predict resident behavior and determine fall risks.

“This technology helps mitigate the event-decline cycle and alerts staff to any conditions that may cause a fall,” notes Laura Wasson, director of healthcare for Tech Electronics. Data captured by wander management systems let the care team map the behavior of each individual to better understand their wandering patterns — including when and where it generally happens, and how frequently.

“This kind of analytics is made possible by not only capturing alerts, but also the resident’s movement and, potentially, even interactions with caregivers to form a full picture of the behavior,” he says. “Combined with the insights of caregivers, these data help facilities develop a better care plan for each resident.”

The ability to track key card access and entry to residences and other community access points offers even more assurance for residents and operators. As Birkel explains, the system not only documents and tracks who entered, but at what time. Not only does this promote greater resident security, it also provides operators with employee response times to care and service issues.

Soon, operators can expect even more system advancements to streamline efficiencies, enhance system integration and eliminate the need for costly, labor-intensive installation. Wireless solutions will gain even more momentum because they allow operators to use existing infrastructure, eliminating the need for category 5 cables to carry signals throughout the community. They also allow providers to seamlessly add new additions and upgrades for their customers, and automatically push system updates to each mobile device.