The best of both worlds
Residents and staff are taking advantage of new technology options in the personal safety field.
Today's assisted living operators seek technologies that deliver unsurpassed security without stripping residents of their autonomy. Reaching those goals isn't always easy, especially as residents become sicker and frailer, yet still aim to age in place.
Cognitive decline coupled with comorbidities factors heavily into operators' pursuit of customizable, comprehensive and reliable security solutions. “Resident acuity is going up. Many residents have dementia and are at risk for dangerous wandering and [elopement] and other activities that could jeopardize their safety,” said John Brasch, president of Brasch Group Companies. Facilities must address these issues on the front end, rather than reacting after an incident takes place. When the latter happens, it can sometimes be too late, he stressed.
Operators needn't look far for sophisticated, flexible, and increasingly cost-effective security solutions. From flexible wander management and fall detection systems to innovative nurse call and motion sensors technologies, and more, today's offerings are limited only by an operator's imagination. The best part? Virtually all residents, regardless of their needs, can benefit.
“Even though many seniors are still active and, for the most part, in good health, it doesn't mean they're not at risk for injury or confusion,” explained Donna Harris, director of marketing for SafetyCare Technologies LLC. “Having a robust and flexible solution in place allows a facility to keep all residents safe.”
Among the greatest advancements in modern-day resident security technologies is the ability to combine multiple solutions into one seamless system. Now that many low-voltage systems utilize service and wireless-based systems, solutions providers are able to merge user interfaces and create a more streamlined experience, said Wes Columbia, manager of project services for Direct Supply Technology Solutions.
“As technology has evolved, systems have gone from simple pager systems to full, real-time locating-type systems that can track every resident and piece of equipment in a building.” Integration of EMR, billing, facility management, staffing systems and cloud-based wireless systems are also trends emerging in the senior living segment, Columbia said.
Silent alarms coupled with the ability to merge and manage different systems, such as access control, emergency call, wander management, fire panel, and more, within the facility under one centralized location are key advantages of today's solutions. The clear trend is to push actionable information straight to caregivers so they can promptly respond to an event, according to Steve Elder, senior marketing manager, at STANLEY Healthcare.
System compatibility and easy-to-use mobile-based technologies allow for simplified implementation. In the past, new techniques needed to be learned by residents when they went to an ALF, said Harris.
“The implementation of less intrusive motion detectors, RFID, Bluetooth, and other devices means you don't need to train users how to call for help,” she said.
This helps eliminate false alarm rates triggered in the past when users didn't learn the new way of checking in with staff in the morning to confirm everything was okay, she noted.
Before committing to a security solution, operators should first conduct a comprehensive needs analysis —one that takes into consideration clinical, environmental and facility management requirements, and, above all, keeps a community's resident population in mind.
Some residents may not need a mobile solution and will want to see staff as little as possible, while others may need additional care and attention. “Find a scalable solution that will help with both ends of this spectrum, and one that will grow with you over the years with minimal upkeep and cost,” recommended Harris.
Using resident behaviors to guide system evaluation will go a long way toward minimizing implementation headaches and avoiding complicated systems that can frustrate staff and residents, added Columbia.
Security solutions that offer individualized support are key to allowing residents of varying needs to stay in their current living environment. Wander management solutions are a prime example of how customization based on each resident's unique needs can have a positive impact on resident safety and satisfaction.
As Elder pointed out, innovative wander management solutions let residents maintain their current activities within the community, while offering silent protection in the face of danger.
“It's even possible to enable a spouse to escort a resident through monitored exits at certain times of day — say, to access a garden or other outdoor amenity,” he said.
Data gathered by security technologies, such as wander management solutions, offers far more than just event notifications.
“Forward-thinking organizations are mining this information to understand residents' changing needs, and measure their own performance,” Elder continued.
Sensor-based technologies are also allowing operators to pinpoint patterns and behaviors that could indicate physical or cognitive change and place residents at risk. Changes in sleep patterns, for example, have been shown to be early indicators of oncoming health issues, like urinary tract infections, medication issues, and other complications.
“Changes in sleep can also be predictive of increased fall risk,” said Will Kaigler, president and CEO of NewCare Solutions LLC. With one plug-and-play sensor, the company's SilentAlert Sleep Index Algorithm models each resident's normal sleep patterns and emails the nurse of any significant changes.
More than ever, sensor-based technologies are blending seamlessly into a resident's home environment. The SafePresence Bedtime nTouch by the Brasch Group, for example, looks like a standard bedside clock, but is connected to a sensor pad in the bed to monitor if the resident is in or out of bed at an unexpected time. The system is passive, eliminating the need for the resident to press a button to send an alert for assistance. A pre-alert function allows the resident to touch the screen and avoid sending unnecessary alerts. If an alert is activated, a text is sent to the caregiver, so prompt action can be taken to ensure that resident's safety.
“In the past, if a person got out of bed and fell and needed assistance, that person could be on the floor for hours, waiting for a caregiver to check in,” said Brasch.
Staff steers success
Any security solution's efficacy lies in broad-scale staff adoption and a facility's willingness to use the information gleaned to improve resident care. Their use should not only make staff more efficient, but also more accountable for resident safety.
“Family members of assisted living residents are more likely to choose centers where the environment is perceived as being the safest,” Columbia stressed. Security solutions that advance this safety-focused culture are key to success.
The goal is not just central management of systems, Elder added, but “providing greater insight into what's actually happening in their community.”