New technologies can help residents, care providers and families alike.
By Fahad Aziz, co-founder and CTO, Caremerge
Navigating the transition to senior living isn’t only daunting for incoming residents. Over the next 15 years, the population of Americans over the age of 65 will nearly double. That means millions more family members, healthcare providers and assisted living staff will have to figure out how to best care for the next generation of older adults.
The good news is that technology is making this shift easier than ever. But if there’s one tool in particular that has the potential to ensure tailored, person-centered care for every member of a rapidly growing population, it’s artificial intelligence (AI).
That’s right: AI could actually make our caregiving more human.
New tech is creating unprecedented amounts of data in senior living, and AI has the power to cull the most important pieces and translate them into insights that power a network of people to provide the best care possible.
Electronic health records (EHRs) streamline care in senior living communities by digitizing the documentation of health information. These records give community personnel a centralized platform with accurate reporting of every resident’s health profile.
But there are still pain points in the digital system: it often takes money, energy and consulting assistance to effectively integrate and optimize these tools in a senior living community. And even when staff have these tools available, learning to use them takes time. Plus, EHRs still can’t fully connect data from hospitals and specialists back to the senior living community.
The result is data isolation and misinterpretation, which can prevent the kind of informed decisions that maximize health outcomes.
AI can eliminate this data fragmentation.
It does that by merging data in disparate locations to paint a full picture of a person’s health that anyone can access. This helps caregivers make better decisions.
In clinical settings, AI can implement diagnostic and predictive algorithms to identify at-risk patients, extract structured data from provider notes, and even recommend treatment strategies. If a patient then transitions into a senior living community, CNAs can act on these transferable insights to monitor changes in a condition and follow through with care procedures.
Obviously, this makes for more person-centered care. But AI can do much more in this department.
The majority of older adults — 77 percent— are managing two or more chronic diseases. This makes documenting resident prescriptions and treatments complex.
Electronic Medication Administration Records (eMARs), together with EHRs, help care providers complete that documentation and stay on top of their daily agendas. Add AI to the mix, and this well-documented data can turn into a personalized care plan with suggestions based on a resident’s profile.
Voice assistants are using AI to deliver individualized care, too. Voice-based virtual assistants such as Amazon Alexa can give residents reminders about medications and even answer questions about doses and prescriptions.
AI and machine learning technology can even be used to help prevent falls. Sensors that supervise a resident’s room can measure walking speed and stride length to predict a fall and trigger an intervention response.
Not all of what AI can do is about measurable outcomes, though.
The aging US population — and the popularity of senior living communities — means that demand for nurses and nursing assistants remains high. Because many of these positions come with low wages, turnover is also high. And because so many communities are short-staffed, CNAs are often overworked and overextended.
AI can mitigate the burden on staff so that they can focus on the person-centered aspect of care. Mundane responsibilities such as scheduling, billing and manual documentation can be automated, and CNAs can spend more quality, one-on-one time with residents.
Plus, AI systems can evaluate the work logged by CNAs in a community to reveal overtime and gaps between care plans and care administration. AI can also identify exceptional caregivers and notify executives that those people deserve to be recognized.
Moving into a senior living community, sometimes of more than 900 people, can be overwhelming. It’s a major social transition.
AI can serve as a smart social network and connect residents with other residents. Through a digital community engagement platform, AI can sort through community profiles for shared interests and make suggestions for future friends.
For instance, AI might find residents who went to the same college, had similar careers, share a common faith, or have other similarities that can foster fast friendship. This can be helpful for residents who are looking for intimate social connections.
Traditionally, senior living communities have relied on bulletin boards, flyers and word of mouth to promote engagement with community events. But for staff, this takes a lot of energy and planning. And for residents with memory loss or limited mobility, attendance can be difficult.
With a digitized community calendar, AI can personalize wellness and social activity suggestions based on a resident’s preferences and needs. AI can then track a resident’s event attendance to identify gaps — if a resident has been going to yoga once a week but hasn’t been to any social events in a while, for example, it can suggest a book club meeting. Then it can send reminders once a resident has registered.
Digital family engagement platforms and apps are boosting transparency and communication between resident family members and senior living communities. Using an online, family-facing portal, CNAs can send updates to loved ones — especially those who live far away.
AI-powered family engagement can improve the quality and timeline of this dialog: automated systems will be able to answer questions and provide valuable information instantly if a CNA is busy. With an automated feedback system about health updates and community engagement, CNAs can take time to send personalized messages and photos to family members.
This way, there’s more potential for family members who can’t be physically with loved ones in a senior living community to feel more engaged.
While widespread adoption of artificial intelligence and other new technologies is still limited in senior living communities, research increasingly points at a huge potential impact.
As AI technology makes its way to communities across the country, residents, families and care providers alike will have more opportunities to engage with one another in meaningful ways. Algorithms do the tedious work so that people can spend more time being people, and as a result, senior living care works better for every person who receives it.
Fahad Aziz is the co-founder and chief technology officer at Caremerge, a software platform that connects senior living residents with staff and family members. In 2012, he launched Caremerge and, since then, the company has served 400 communities with over 100,000 residents.