From digital health assistants to interactive games beamed onto your dining table, technology is helping to solve the challenges of aging within elderly care.
Babies born today have around a one-in-three chance of living to 100, according to the University of Oxford. This means we are becoming ‘super agers’! But it raises an important question:
We may be living longer – but in our old age, are we living better?
Life expectancies are being pushed back into the horizon by the specialisation of geriatric medicine, but technology is playing a big role, too. Within an elderly care environment, the very function of technology is being subverted; deployed not just to create operational efficiencies or to increase productivity, but to facilitate human solutions to the challenges of aging.
This is more than just installing panic buttons and pull cords within a care home. We believe the best operators are using technology to make the physical infrastructure of a home promote wellbeing and prolong quality of life.
Here are some initiatives we think are already challenging the norm:
- Personal monitoring: such as sensors embedded within a room that raise the alarm if abnormal behaviour is recorded. Operators such as The Anchor Trust use mats linked to a central alarm system embedded into floors of resident’s rooms to monitor movement, and night time acoustic monitoring that listens for sounds of distress.
- Care-on-demand: access to digital medical services that are cheap, convenient and put control back with the user. This includes hand-held diagnostic tools that enable laboratory-grade analysis in non-traditional settings. Other care home operators use ‘Tovertafel’; an interactive light game projected onto tables that stimulates a number of senses and which has had great success engaging residents with advanced dementia.
- Connectivity products: older generations aren’t digital immigrants; many elderly people happily FaceTime their grandchildren! The Anchor Trust now offers access to iPads within all its care homes to encourage interaction across generations, and has developed a bespoke app called ‘My Yesterday’ as a memory aide for those suffering from dementia.
- Decision making tools: digital assistants that help make decisions as people start to lose their faculties, or to improve operational efficiencies within care homes. The Anchor Trust, for example, is working on a proof-of-concept for an electronic medicine management system alongside voice recognition technology to capture events in real time.
So what might the long-term future hold? The idea of robot nurses or carers might be unappealing to those that prefer the human touch in what can be a very clinical environment. We believe there is greater opportunity in the facial recognition technology being developed for commercial occupiers, which could easily translate into a security feature for those residents who are a flight risk.
We also expect to see greater synergies between monitoring and automation; a virtual health assistant that automatically books a doctor’s appointment when health metrics start to decline, for example.
The idea of robot nurses or carers might be unappealing to those that prefer the human touch
In the near term, operators would welcome the development of information-sharing platforms to allow care homes, medical teams and third-party services to collaborate more efficiently.
Clever use of technology by our care home tenants is now a metric our team uses to establish who are ‘best-in-class’ operators. This has important investment implications: long-term income security is underpinned by care homes with stable occupancy rates, where the physical environment is best aligned with physical needs.
We believe person-centred technology is a key part of the future-proofing toolkit: for buildings, investments and for the care of our elderly population.