by Chad Ries
As the Baby Boomer generation (people born between 1946 and 1964) continues to age, the US healthcare system is predicted to fall short of supply and demand for healthcare workers. By 2030, the number of Americans over the age of 65 could reach 78 million, which would amount to 19 percent of the country’s population. Senior care already significantly impacts the healthcare system, and the effects are only expected to grow.
In 2010, every high-risk senior of 80+ years had approximately seven potential caregivers. The ratio of caregivers to seniors in need of care is estimated to drop to 4-to-1 by 2030, then shift to 3-to-1 by 2050, when all boomers are in their high-risk years.
With the aging population comes added pressure on the senior living and healthcare industry to provide adequate care for the elderly. Unlike hospital facilities, senior living communities are residential homes. In addition to quality care, senior living communities must provide the crucial hospitality aspect and remain an enjoyable, safe experience that enables independence.
As senior living increasingly focuses on resident independence, the industry needs innovative ways to manage resident wander and infection risks, improve response time to emergencies, and ensure protection while maintaining resident freedoms. IoT-based technologies provide effective, connected, and fully redundant systems that senior care communities can trust and utilize to combat these concerns and give residents a safe and efficient environment.
Ensuring Independence and Safety Through Technology
Senior living communities offer residents various lifestyle options, ranging from independent living to assisted living, skilled nursing, and memory care. To meet the needs of all residents, staff and caregivers need a system that can be tailored to each individual’s risk level. IoT technologies are sophisticated tools that improve the quality of life for residents. They also provide information to give a sense of comfort to family members, who know that their loved one can be easily located and assisted in the case of an emergency.
The use of a real-time location system (RTLS) coupled with IoT devices grants the autonomy and dignity residents deserve. Knowing that independence doesn’t have to be synonymous with danger, residents gain a sense of freedom and security. Achieving autonomy in living situations has been found to promote both health and quality of life. After implementing an IoT-enabled resident security solution at Samaritan Village in California, the community’s response was overwhelmingly positive. A resident from the community said, “The badge is very important to me. I carry it with me all the time because I just feel secure. I know I can get help if I need it.”
The increased visibility improves staff operational workflow and minimizes the amount of time spent looking for a resident or team member. Staff members are empowered to spend more time interacting with and caring for residents. Knowing the residents’ precise location also helps to simplify the management of care schedules.
Behind the scenes, location analytics can help reveal any changes in a resident’s routine. Caregivers can note the differences and proactively respond. If unusual trends begin to develop for a resident, staff have an opportunity to discover the cause and make adjustments before the potential creation of a dangerous or unhealthy situation. This allows staff to deliver improved care without the need for the administration to add resources.
IoT as an Advanced Emergency Call System
Implementing personalized IoT-enabled devices that are integrated with a real-time location system allows senior living communities to benefit from the offerings of these smart technologies fully. RTLS provides an effective method for automating the collection of location-based data. Automated data collection reduces human error and frees up staff to spend time on more valuable and complex tasks, such as patient care. Analytics related to resident trends and routines also enable communities to improve care and outcomes.
The lightweight, waterproof IoT wearables pair to the community’s RTLS, making resident monitoring convenient and efficient for caregivers. These devices are commonly worn as pendants, belt clips, or watches. They are digitally assigned to residents and staff to provide definitive location information – both indoors and outdoors – creating an advanced emergency call system. RTLS sensors and beacons, leveraging a unique combination of technologies such as Second Generation Infrared (Gen2IR), Wi-Fi, Low-Frequency RF, UHF Active RFID, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), can be placed in strategic locations throughout the community, including buildings, floors, common areas, rooms, and even outdoor campus grounds. Facilities can also use geofencing capabilities to create outdoor or additional indoor safe zones. Through sensors, beacons, cables, and IoT-enabled wearables, staff members can quickly and accurately locate residents.
The system allows for customizable alerts, including resident- or staff-initiated alerts from IoT-enabled pendants and pulls cords, while also offering automated location alerts that indicate roaming, wandering, loitering, or lack of activity. To decrease response time during an emergency, the system displays and records the current locations of residents and staff in real-time. Staff receives immediate notifications through connected mobile apps, SMS messaging, and e-mail.
A fully connected community is possible with IoT because the devices and sensors integrate to monitor doors, windows, elevator controllers, and building systems such as smoke detectors. System data can also be used to automate electronic medical record solutions. The various RTLS beacons and sensors enable senior living communities to create total wireless coverage. The closed network system grants users visibility and control over who accesses records, minimizing the opportunity for data breaches.
Everyday Use Cases in Senior Living
Wander management remains a significant concern in senior care communities, especially those focusing on mild to moderate cognitive impairment and memory loss. At times, residents can become forgetful and wander into off-limit areas or exit the building, leading to dangerous situations.
Utilizing an RTLS with other IoT-enabled devices allows staff to quickly and easily locate residents in real-time and respectfully redirect wandering residents before they travel too far from the security of their residence. RTLS can integrate with security and access controls to actively restrict zones within a community. Sensors create indoor geofencing and set entrances to lock in unsanctioned areas when certain at-risk residents approach monitored doors, elevators, or other egress points. Previously unattainable, some systems even offer outdoor geofencing as a standard capability, alerting staff when residents begin to wander near ponds or beyond safe community boundaries.
While real-time location insights can help redirect wander risks, the knowledge can also be crucial information for residents under duress. The IoT-enabled wearables can come equipped with emergency buttons that, when pushed, immediately notify nearby staff that a resident needs help or is in a dangerous situation. Staff wearables can also act as emergency buttons to notify additional staff or security when backup is required.
Finding the Best Technologies to Improve Quality of Life For Seniors
By 2034, older adults are projected to outnumber kids for the first time in US history. In preparation for the aging population, senior living communities must begin laying the groundwork and infrastructure to meet their residents where they are, literally. Selecting an RTLS partner with a comprehensive suite of IoT-enabled solutions and unique geofencing capabilities makes it easier to expand the system to other aspects of operations as the future of senior living continues to evolve.
Integrating RTLS with IoT wearables provides senior living communities with a real-time view of the location of people and products. But more than that, the analytics that result will lead to recommendations for improved care. If aging is inevitable, then so is the technology that will evolve to meet the need. Artificial intelligence (AI) is already transforming RTLS healthcare solutions. In the near future, RTLS solutions will combine with predictive analytics algorithms for solutions that will increase efficiency, reduce costs, and secure a safe and exceptional resident experience.