Technology is becoming an ever-increasing presence in our daily lives. From the moment we wake up, to the moment we hit the pillow again, a bright screen is never more than an arm’s length away. And yet, the one generation which has missed this revolutionary bus is perhaps the most in need of its potentially stimulating effects: the elderly.
The possible benefits technology can have in improving the health and wellbeing of the elderly in care homes is vast. Here, we list but a few.
Reaching the wider community
One worry many people may have for their relatives in care homes is that they may become isolated from the wider world. If not particularly mobile, then your relative may be reliant on family visits for any contact with anyone beyond the four walls of the care home.
Introducing care homes to technology such as Skype, a platform in which people can communicate using voice and video, can help care home residents communicate on a more interactive level with friends and family, and contribute to maintaining a sense of connection to their family and wider community.
As well as helping residents stay connected, video chat software can also be used to engage with doctors. The Airedale NHS Trust invested in video consultation services, which allowed residents to engage with their particular GP. The results were staggering.
The reduction in hospital admissions from the participating care homes was 35%. Additionally, the admission to A&E by residents from these homes fell by 53% and the total number of days spent in hospital beds by the sampled residents decreased by 59%.
On a more basic level, introducing residents to email or social media can be another great way to help them remain engaged with the world.
Unfortunately, the stereotype is that the schedule of an elderly person is predominantly organised around meal times. Taking this stereotype with a fair pinch of salt, it’s still easy to imagine that a sacrifice in independence can also hamper any hobbies one might have had before being a resident in a care home. Of course, this isn’t always the reality, as many seniors retain a strong sense of independence regardless of their residency in a care home, and technology can only further inhibit this.
Providing access to the internet, and educating residents on both how to browse the web and the internet’s possibilities, is an excellent way to help enable the elderly to retain engagement with something that interests them.
As an example, Kenneth Wallace, a resident of Inglewood Care Home, discussed how having access to a computer and the internet allowed him to pursue his hobby of researching his family tree, as well as reminisce about his association with the Dambusters, a subject which became a discussion point with other residents.
As well as technology facilitating a better quality of life, it also cannot be exaggerated how important mental stimulation is. Alzheimer’s is a growing problem; with our life expectancy increasing in the UK rapidly, so comes the risk of dementia. Having technology provide something to focus on besides a daily routine is an essential deterrent to offset dementia and Alzheimer's. Of course, this is by no means a cure, but research strongly suggests that mental stimulation reduces the chances of Alzheimer’s and dementia developing.
A lot of care homes already promote activities and exercise classes to keep residents fit and healthy. Technology doesn’t always involve sitting hunched over a computer, and can also provide both an active and involved hobby and an opportunity for social exercising.
Games consoles like the Nintendo Wii or peripherals such as PlayStation Move or Xbox’s Kinect offer fun, energetic games which can be played by multiple people. The games range in difficulty, with some requiring players to be on their feet and moving, and even sometimes running! Others, however, can be played while still sitting but require players to move their arms and sometimes legs.
Most importantly, these games are fun, and a great way to encourage socialising and bringing people out of their private rooms and into a communal space. The technology is easy to grasp and intuitive and doesn’t require any prior knowledge of video games to pick up on quickly.
Investing in equipment such as digital cameras can also be a great way to encourage residents to venture outside. Organised photography classes might engage people who are interested, but aren’t confident enough to try photography independently. Discussing with your residents about hobbies they might be interested in pursuing or picking up again is a good way to gauge what technology you should invest in, but don’t be deterred if residents are hesitant or unsure about embracing these new ideas.
Less admin, more caring
Investing in technology that can replace the copious amounts of paperwork carers often have to deal with can allow for more time to be spent with residents, and less time spent at a desk. Centralised file management technology means that any documents regarding medication for residents, for example, will be filed by an electronic system that automates much of the process, rather than requiring the carer to fill out forms manually.
Of course, this sort of system still allows for the carer to check for any errors in the files and adjust accordingly, and should always be checked periodically.
Another benefit of electronic documentation is that there’s no physical storage space required for the often mounting amount of paperwork a care home has to file for compliance reasons.
A system like this requires fast and stable broadband, so ensure you have this in place before embarking on investing in any electronic file management systems. Without stable internet, there becomes the risk that documents may not be filed during internet downtime, and a slow internet speed may mean that the system isn’t efficient at all.
With electronic data, it’s also easier to share data between care home and hospital, so that records can be kept up to date and a resident’s doctor can be notified of their patients’ health changes quicker.
Despite the outstanding work carers do to ensure the health and wellbeing of residents, it’s impossible to be everywhere at once. Technology can help fill in these gaps of observation in several vital ways.
Ambient monitoring technology can be used in each room to track the safety of residents. This technology is incredibly intelligent and sophisticated and can be programmed to send out alerts. Some examples of its use could be informing particular residents that they’re due to take their medication if self-administered, alerting staff if someone falls over or, in a self-catered environment, warning a resident that they should turn their oven off if it’s been left on.
For less mobile residents, speech recognition technology can be used to communicate with other electronic devices to perform functions, such as opening the window or switching the lights on or off.