In the UK over 11,000 free iPads are being gifted to care homes across the country to help residents keep in touch with relatives as part of broader government plans to protect the vulnerable elderly population by reducing their exposure to possible virus carriers.
Care homes are advised to follow some of the most strict virus control methods, but this obviously has the harshest impact on residents who are suddenly cut off from their family and friends. Widespread use of tablets and the use of omnipresent video calling apps give residents a much needed way to stay in touch with loved ones that goes beyond a simple phone call. And for care staff they carry the advantage of allowing them to access patient records, reorder medication and hold virtual consultations with GPs on the fly, streamlining their work while reducing unnecessary contact.
An option that is made much more viable with the widespread use of tablets is the use of connected / smart devices. While “domotics” are common among elderly people living at home, they haven’t yet seen the same widespread adoption in care homes. The idea behind them is to automate day-to-day tasks – or hand over control of them to residents themselves – resulting in reduced stress for caregivers and autonomy for residents.
With more advanced “home hub” controls, staff or residents are able to set things like temperature, light levels or even TV or radio channels by timer or voice, both of which can help cut down on virus transmission vectors while ensuring continued comfort for users.
Even a few years ago this would have sounded like science fiction, but a robot’s ability to perform simple tasks that would normally need close physical contact make them the ideal tool to limit the person-to-person spread of diseases – and reduce pressure on care sector staff.
From the most basic robots that can be used to deliver food or medicine to patients in care, to the more heavy duty machines that can help residents get out of their beds and into a wheelchair, robots are naturally suited for unskilled or heavy lifting tasks – freeing up care staff to provide what they are best suited to do – providing compassionate care. While there is still a great deal of stigma about using robots in ‘human’ roles, ageing populations around the world mean that widespread adoption of the technology is inevitable, and will likely be accelerated by the current pandemic.
Smart sensors and monitoring:
While the use of motion sensors is common in care homes, they are unsuitable for anything but the most rudimentary of patient monitoring. Particularly at night, these systems are unable to tell the difference between a patient in need of urgent help, or just moving in their sleep – leading to false alarms that need to be checked by care staff night after night. A connected camera system monitored by a human operator fixes this, but it is a huge violation of a patient’s privacy – and having to constantly monitor multiple streams is another unnecessary burden on staff when that time could be spent on actually providing care.
Thankfully the advancement of technologies like computer vision offers a tidier solution. By using human activity recognition software, in conjunction with camera systems that activate when they detect a problem, care staff are only notified when residents need assistance – cutting down on unnecessary in person contact. This not only reduces the opportunity to spread diseases, but also helps residents sleep through the night without interruptions and reduces time lost to false alarms.
Maintaining daily records and incident reporting is one of the most time consuming aspects of a carer’s job, and it is a task that neither uses their skills or plays to the reason why they entered the profession, which is to provide patient care. With proper data protection in place, data from smart devices and monitoring systems can be compiled into reports automatically, and even organised in ways that reveal trends. These trends can be as simple as a resident regularly adjusting the thermostat to be warmer, or using the bathroom more frequently at night – all information that would normally require unnecessary in-person contact to gather.
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