By Ali Sareea, CTO, Glennis Solutions
Back in the mid 1970s, Business Week boldly predicted the advent of the “paperless office.” It was a concept that made sense because computers were becoming commonplace for the first time, and functions such as accounting and record-keeping were perfectly suited for digitization. As it turned out, however, the amount of paper used in business doubled between 1980 and 2000 despite major advances in technology.
Over the last two decades, many industries have replaced paper-based processes with digital tools, but senior living has been significantly behind the curve. The industry is finally at an inflection point where owners and operators of residential facilities for the elderly are making the shift. And it all comes back to data.
Why the hesitation?
Before we consider how data can transform resident care, let’s look at why this industry has been so steadfast when it comes to manual and paper-based processes.
For starters, few industries in the United States are as heavily regulated as senior living. This goes all the way back to the late 1950s, and regulatory compliance is essential for senior living facilities to keep their doors open.
Failure to keep proper records, meet federally mandated safety standards, or support resident privacy can all lead to significant consequences. To stay on the right side of regulators, senior living operators created a system of record keeping and reporting that has worked remarkably well for more than 50 years. So even if it seems a bit outmoded, it still gets the job done. Or does it?
As technology advances, lifespans expand and more people enter senior care, just getting the job done isn’t enough. Sophisticated artificial intelligence and machine learning platforms can facilitate and streamline the personal care for residents on which senior living centers hang their reputations.
Meeting the emotional and physical needs of elderly residents requires professionals to display an impressive range of services and skills beyond providing medical care. Senior living centers must keep residents happy and engaged while also assisting people who cannot fully care for themselves to live with dignity.
Outdated analog systems may allow businesses to keep their heads above water, but modern technologies and the data they produce can help senior living communities and their residents thrive.
The personal touch
People often see technology as too sterile or impersonal for hands-on senior care. The truth is the exact opposite: analytics and machine learning can help tailor an infinitely more personalized experience and approach for each individual resident. Collecting and analyzing data from a wide range of available sources teaches caregivers more than ever before about what each resident needs to be comfortable and happy.
Data and analytics can provide much needed insights, such as a care assessment that gathers information on a resident’s personal preferences (their favorite sports team, article of clothing or author, for example). These systems can track community event attendance, entertainment preferences, dining choices, favorite volunteer visitors and more. Data is a great and unobtrusive way of getting to know every resident.
Likewise, AI can help caregivers flag issues early, before they can become a problem either for a whole community or one single resident. Technology is as useful for solving widespread problems as for ensuring the comfort of any given resident.
Lessons from the pandemic
No recent event has drawn attention to how dependent senior care is on data quite like the COVID pandemic. This worldwide emergency made it clear just how fast systems can collapse or prove inadequate under pressure.
While thought leaders within senior care have long advocated a switch to digital solutions to help bear the organizational load, COVID proved that adopting innovative tools could not wait.
Data simply supplies too many advantages in terms of understanding trends within one’s own business and the industry as a whole to be ignored. The enthusiasm with which other verticals of the healthcare industry have embraced data and other innovations should prove how useful these solutions are.
For just one example, let’s look at how wearables and other digital assistance devices can improve seniors’ lifestyles while gathering data for their caretakers.
Wearing your data
Analyzing data means gathering data, and technology makes this easier than ever before. Traditionally, staff had to enter each data point manually — recording nutrition, medication, behavior and preferences for each patient was its own long-term task.
Today, wearables like the Fitbit and digital assistants like Alexa can track this information automatically. They make residents’ lives easier and more automated while checking vital signs and health statistics.
Medication management systems enable caregivers to easily dispense multiple medications with one scan and automatically document administration details. Like so much modern technology, these items’ utility to the end-user (the patient) is as valuable as its utility to the provider (the senior living operator).
Isolation is one of the biggest concerns for families and elders considering senior living centers. Residents who feel depressed or anxious may avoid social interaction, even in facilities that supply all sorts of community activities like game nights, trips, meals and more. Senior loneliness is a major problem and increases risks of stroke, mental health issues, heart disease by as much as 25 percent for residents without sufficient social stimulation.
Thankfully, data can help the managers and staff of senior living facilities pinpoint which residents need extra attention and encouragement to take part in social events and meet their fellow seniors.
Once more, wearables like the Apple Watch can save the day, gathering an enormous amount of data on wearers’ behavior, preferences and wellness. As seniors use these devices (not to mention their digital assistants and senior living facility apps) to manage their lives, their care providers can non-invasively monitor their choices and activities.
Suddenly, finding out if wearers aren’t getting in enough steps or spending too much time alone becomes easy and instantaneous, eliminating the risk of waiting months for staff or other residents to notice trends, or for sufferers to self-report. One look at a resident’s dashboard for flagged data can tell staff it’s time to invite residents into group activities or introduce them to potential friends.
Data to the rescue
Anxiety and depression (in everyone, not just seniors) is always worsened by a lack of physical and social activity. Mobility and activity data can assist senior living personnel to spot patterns, then change those patterns using solutions like physical therapy, counseling, and recreational activities to help seniors live happier, more fulfilling lives. Wearables and similar modern lifestyle devices can simultaneously gather this data while directing and facilitating these helpful positive steps in real time.
Wearables and other interactive technology will gather data that assisted living software will leverage moving forward. Personnel will be able to evaluate resident socialization, preferences and participation, as well as staff efficiency and the ROI on each facility and program.
All this data will help create new best practices for resident care and operations. The influx of retirees heading into senior housing centers can look forward to much more attentive and responsive care thanks to technology, particularly the endless utility of data.
Boasting more than 22 years of IT expertise with focus on systems development, e-commerce and business intelligence applications, Ali Sareea is chief technology officer at Glennis Solutions. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Bellarmine University, a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Louisville and an MBA from Vanderbilt University.