Technology in Care Homes
Technology today is having an increasing impact on global daily life. According to Statista (2020), 4.7 billion people use the internet, equalling 59% of the global population. The advancement of modern technology has affected society in numerous ways, such as how people communicate, learn and think.
Figure 1: Graph created by Office of National Statistics (2019) which shows internet use separated by different age groups. It also demonstrates a comparison of internet use between 2011 and 2019.
As the graph suggests, since 2011, the 65 to 74 year age group has had the largest increase in recent internet use in the UK. This clearly shows that technology is growing rapidly in terms of how it affects human communication. But is technology in the UK being fully utilized in terms of how it can help the elder generation with healthcare?
According to Stephenson (2015), care homes in the UK are ’15 years behind those in Canada and the US in adopting technology that can help free up nursing time and improve care’. Sources suggest that implementing modern technology into care homes can bring numerous benefits CQC (2018). These benefits include:
- Giving the elderly more control over their health, safety and wellbeing
- Allowing the elderly to live more independently and feel less isolated
- Help the elderly communicate with loved ones and health care staff
- Useful links to important services
- Helping care worker staff prioritise patients
- Gathering useful data
We can see the potential application of care and treatment being more efficient through the use of technology. It should be noted however that the CQC also states that technology should never replace person-centred care.
This blog details how applying modern medicine in care homes is critical. According to Laing and Buisson, (2016) around 418,000 people live in care homes. This is equal to 4% of the total UK population aged 65 years and 15% for those aged 85 or more. There is already a shortage of workers in the caring industry in the UK, and with the ageing population increasing, this shortage will become more problematic. The Office of National Statistics (2018) states in 50 years time, there is going to be an increase of around 8.6 million people aged 65 years and over.
Figure 2: Graph created by the Office for National Statistics (2018), showing the UK’s growing population (separated by age groups).
As Figure 2. shows, the elderly population will be increasing, supporting the prediction there may potentially be a care worker crisis in the future if no changes are made. Indeed, according to the Global Future director Peter Starkings (The Independent, 2018), unless action is taken in the care sector, it will face a staffing shortfall of almost 400,000 by 2026.
But how can technology help with this? Technology can help carers give more effective care to the elderly by providing support in –
- Physical care
- Psychological care
- Keeping relatives/friends in touch
We will now look at examples, such as how robots provide communication through keeping relatives in touch and how sensors can help monitor loved ones in order to allow them to live independently.
Digital Options for Domiciliary Care
Domiciliary care is supporting individuals in the comfort of their own home, meaning having either carers or personal assistants providing a range of services to allow people to live more independent lives. These services include household chores, personal care, maintaining medication, providing food and drink etc.
There are numerous benefits for individuals having home care services and remaining at home :
- Having more independence
- Personalised care
- Owning pets (According to Age UK (2015), 49% older people say that TV or pets are their main form of company)
Despite these advantages, there are negative aspects which include:
- Carers cannot be around 24/7 (unless living with the elderly individual) – This means less monitoring and some elderly individuals may not feel reassured that they feel safe and experience feelings of anxiety when the carer is not around.
- Location – Depending on where the individual lives, such as living in rural areas, the choice in services may be limited
- Changes in Staff – Decreased efficiency due to carers needing to familiarise themselves with the older persons personality, medication and deeds
One example of current technology that is used in people’s homes in order to improve care is LifePod. LifePod uses existing technology such as smart speakers but expands on them to make a ‘Caregiver Portal’ device which uses a 2-way voice service for older individuals and their carers. According to LifePod, the technology allows the carer to use an online portal in order to ‘configure and schedule proactive-voice check ins, reminders, entertainment and other content providing virtual companionship’. The use of LifePod suggests that it can fix the issue of carers and family not being able to provide 24/7 care. With the use of the 2-way voice system, the elderly can easily communicate their wants or needs at any time while the carer can have peace of mind.
Robots in Care
Robots in the UK are being introduced to combat loneliness, boost mental health and free up care workers time. However, there is some resistance for the use of robots due to the belief that they may eventually replace care workers and overall provide less efficient care to the elderly. Dr Papadopoulos (Learner, 2019), a public health lecturer at Bedfordshire University argues that robots in care homes ‘is not about replacing jobs, it is about complementing existing care’. This implies that robots in care homes can be described as a care workers ‘assistant’ by completing secondary tasks. Other countries, such as Japan however, have embraced the use of robots in care homes by funding robots for elderly care in order to help fill the 380,000 worker gap by 2025 (Foster, 2018). One example in particular is Japan developing a robot called Robobear which helps lift patients from their beds into wheelchairs, as well as helping them stand.
Another case study into the use of robots in care homes comes from CARESSES, a global study to investigating robots in caring for the elderly. According to Middlesex University (2020), the key findings from this study is that ‘older adults in care homes who used the culturally competent robot (up to 18 hours across two weeks) saw a significant improvement in their mental health’. It also found that there was a ‘small but positive impact’ on loneliness severity among the users. Overall, the introduction of social robots in care homes gave a significant positive impact on users’ attitudes towards robots. This case study provides evidence that robots can indeed help the elderly with positive mental health issues. It also shows they have the capacity to free up care workers time in order to provide better care.
Another example of robots currently being used in care homes is Paro, a robotic seal aimed to provide psychological benefits to elderly individuals who experience emotional distress or have cognitive disorders. The robot’s features include being able to respond to sounds, learn names, produce seal noises and be capable of being active during the day and then ‘sleep’ at night. It is a certified medical device which has evidence to prove it can reduce an individual’s agitation, improve socialisation, encourage positive moods and increase interaction between users and carer. Professor Moyle at Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland, New Zealand (as cited in Purves 2017) conducted a 10 week study to look at benefits of Paro and reducing anxiety in people with dementia. It was found that the participants who were living in caring facilities were ‘significantly more verbally and visually engaged with the Paro than those in the plush toy group, suggesting that the robotics were beneficial’. In addition to this, in 2018, Sense Medical announced the introduction of Paro in the UK and Ireland. The company states that ‘they encourage care-givers to try Paro in their own care setting, to see the benefits first-hand’.
Another example is Misty, which has features, such as…
- A fall detection monitor
- Observation cameras so carers can keep an eye on activity
- Giving medication reminders
- Playing memory games to help cognition skills
- Serving as a companion to help with loneliness
- Answer common questions
The development of this robot also strongly suggests that robots are capable of assisting the elderly not only with loneliness, but also with medication, cognition skills and falls prevention which helps carers save time to provide better care. A case study is currently in place in Barcelona, where 20 elderly individuals are using Misty in order to study how effectively the robot can improve the quality of life and well-being of its users. Interestingly, due to COVID-19 the developers of Misty have upgraded the robot to make it capable of sensing people’s temperatures and sanitise surfaces such as door handles. This would be hugely beneficial to care homes by not allowing visitors who have a temperature to come into contact with the elderly and potentially help reduce the spread of the virus.
Robots that specialise in socialisation and care are in the early stages of being adopted both in people’s homes and care homes. UK wide acceptance of robots providing care may still be a little way off but there are certainly elements of care that are figuring more commonly in care services. As the ageing population is increasing and the problem of diminishing pool of carers, robots seem to be an obvious solution to help with the problem. As Graham Allen (Director of Adults’ Health & Care in Hampshire County Council) states, ‘there simply isn’t a workforce we can grow fast enough unless we try to innovate and do things differently’.
Due to the aging population, it is becoming more of a challenge to deliver effective and satisfactory healthcare services to the elderly. As resources are becoming scarcer, domiciliary care services, for example, are becoming increasingly limited due to financial constraints. Providing regular check-ups on clients is becoming more difficult.
According to Age UK (2019), 4.3 million (36%) older people state that falling over is one of their main concerns. Caroline Abrahams, the Charity Director at Age UK states that ‘falls are a serious threat to older people’s health, wellbeing and independence, causing pain, distress and loss of confidence’. Age UK also states that in 2017, the most common cause of injury related deaths in people over the age of 75, was a result of a fall (over 5,000 deaths). This is a 70% increase compared to 2010. While falls cannot be completely preventable, technology solutions have been produced to assist older people with falls almost immediately, stopping further injury and providing the elderly with assurance that they will not be left alone. These technologies include home monitoring (or telecare). Which (2020), describes home monitoring as a system designed to provide warnings to the users carers or family (typically through a mobile application) if there is a problem. These issues can be from falls, fires, inactivity, potential illnesses, front doors being opened etc. By monitoring the users activities, it can keep them safe and live more independently without needing extra resources.
Home Monitoring System Examples
- Karantis360 – Winning the ‘Best Elderly Care Technology Solution’ in 2020, Karantis360 uses a ‘system of sensors, machine learning and automatic data communication to flag exceptions to routines and habits’ (such as an elderly person potentially having a fall). With the use of Karantis360, the system would recognise a lack of sensors being activated and immediately alert the carer. The system is also useful for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease as it can trigger an alert if they open the front door. This allows more older people who have cognition issues to live independently without needing to go into care.
- Canary Care – System uses wireless sensors that are placed around the house in order to monitor activity and gain ‘useful insights’. The information gained is sent to the Canary Care portal. Information obtained can be on whether the user has gone to the kitchen to eat, taken bathroom breaks, received visitors or gone to sleep. The system can also monitor room temperatures, and carers can receive updates stating whether a room is too cold or too hot.
- CLB’s Acoustic Monitoring – Targeted for care homes, the system works by having a sensor monitor sounds. When any ‘sound profile exceeds its individual set threshold, an alert is sent to a central station or mobile device’. CLB states that the benefits of the acoustic monitoring is numerous, such as allowing the elderly get a better sleep routine (carers have to regularly visit each room to check on the residents which can disturb their privacy and sleep). Another benefit is potentially preventing falls, as staff are alerted as soon as a resident is about to get out of bed, allowing them to quickly provide assistance. The CQC (2016) acknowledges these benefits, stating that the ‘monitoring system enabled staff to respond more promptly and appropriately to people’s support needs during the night’.
To summarise the use of home monitoring, sources strongly suggest that it can provide impressive benefits. Clear indication is given that effective care can still be given with the use of technology, even when a carer or family member is not present. In fact with the use of home monitoring, carers can provide more personal care due to the reduced demands. Overall, home monitoring provides the elderly with more privacy, independence and confidence.
In conclusion to this blog on technology in care homes, it is undeniable in terms of how it can benefit elderly care for financial, physical and psychological reasons. However, the main issue is getting society to adopt this solution. To elaborate, the following concerns people have with technology in care homes are..
- The fear of losing jobs
- The fear of technology itself
- Having no personal care (e.g. human interaction)
- Lack of privacy
However, this blog gives evidence to sources and examples that technology gives more pros than cons. As stated previously, technology can organise record keeping more efficiently, monitor and prevent falls/accidents as well as increasing communication amongst carers and family. Overall, it would seem that the best way to get society to accept the adoption of technology in care homes is to demonstrate its benefits to care worker staff, older people and family themselves.
BG Healthcare Consultancy – News Bunny
BG Healthcare Consultancy successfully won a Welsh Health Hack 2020 in order to develop a robotic solution called ‘NEWS Bunny’. It is currently in development with partners.
What makes NEWS Bunny special is being able to benefit the elderly by Scoping the parameters of a broader NEWS score (National Early Warning Score) – to be used in the community, or in patients’ homes – thus providing clinicians with information on trends and other factors not covered in the standard NEWS measurements and potentially predicting (and giving opportunity to prevent) escalation of illness/deterioration. Some examples of its features are being able to monitor the users oxygen levels and temperature. The robotic pet would have an added benefit of being a companion for socially isolated individuals.
Author of Blog: Nicole Smith (Intern at BG Healthcare Consultancy)