Wearable technology has been an accelerating market trend throughout our culture, and these devices have obvious — and not so obvious — uses in assisted living settings as well.
With over 200 million such devices shipped worldwide in 2019 (Source: CCSInsight | Statista), they’re within the reach of a great many individuals. And they’re improving lives.
These devices, paired with a wide range of software available, can enable older individuals to communicate better, track activities and goals, operate common household devices such as light switches and thermostats, remember to perform certain tasks (such as taking medication or engaging in behavioral modification and monitor and report vital signs.
These are just a few of the small (and steadily growing) capabilities of wearable devices — mainly smartwatches now, but also even now including lanyards, shoes, gloves, chest straps (for pulse monitoring) and forearm-mounted screens.
It’s clearer than ever that engaging with wearable devices can help DSPs to provide better support for aging populations.
But how can these devices best be leveraged to increase the quality of life and quality of support? The potential answers are as unlimited as the needs multiplied by software designers’ ability to imagine ways of meeting those needs.
But let’s look at a few solutions already available and being used on a widespread basis.
- Safety. Paired with a smartphone, a smartwatch can, much like a Bluetooth headset, be used to call for help or service immediately. Some smartwatches can even place calls directly without being paired to a phone.
- Location monitoring. Paired with a smartphone (and a few even without), DSPs or family members can monitor the location of an elder individual, for example, to make sure they’re at a known location in their general routine, or to find them if they’re lost in a bus system or after a walk to the park.
- Exercise alerts. Regular exercise or activity throughout the day can be crucial for good health, emotional health, and continued mobility, especially for aging individuals. But time can get away from anyone while relaxing, watching television, or otherwise seated for long periods of time. That’s a problem with a perfect solution in a wearable smartphone programmed to sound an alert with a pictured or text reminder: “Take a walk,” or “Time for gentle stretching.”
- Mitigation of social isolation. Sometimes people just forget to pick up the phone and call a friend — for months. Other times, plans are made but forgotten in the routine of the appointed day. But with socialization alerts, wearable technology can remind seniors under support to text a friend, to telephone a relative, or to walk down the hall to the activity room for a planned activity.
- Removing perception of stigma. Some wearable devices are made obviously for aging or infirm individuals, and these can bring some psychological pain and stigma to people who don’t want to be perceived as aging, or who fear aging. Think: lanyard fall alarms, or those big wrist-worn fall alarms. These are useful and life-saving. But some seniors avoid using them because of the perceived stigma. And in some cases, these devices can be replaced by a fashionable smartwatch paired with a phone. And in any case, if you’ve fallen and can’t get up, and aren’t injured, then placing a telephone call to staff or to a relative is far preferable to pressing the emergency button on the lanyard which triggers a call to just one number — 911.
- Wearable technology for staff can reduce reporting times. It all depends on the software. But EMR systems that can be integrated with smartphones, or which can be accessed via smartwatches, can potentially be updated and accessed much more rapidly than by opening a laptop.
- Voice recording memory aids. For example, memory-impaired elderly individuals can press a “just record” button to record a voice file for a quick “to do” list. This is far easier, especially for many elderly individuals than using a pen and paper, or typing on a screen. “Milk, butter, eggs, and cereal. But no bread. I have enough bread. Oh and pick up my new prescription.” Then at the grocery store, they can replay the recording as often as needed to remember all that is necessary. Instantly, their self-sufficiency has been maintained or even expanded, with this memory assist.
- Vital signs. This capability is still developing, but it is, in fact, developing rapidly. Some smartwatches, and some medical smart wearable devices, can monitor and report pulse rate, activity rate, blood pressure, gait, balance, blood sugar, insulin levels, and so on. This key information can, of course, be used by the individual under support or by the DSPs to increase the quality and timeliness of routine interventions.
- Staff communication. All of your staff members likely have smartphones. And yet they’re busy, with a high number of tasks, and a constantly changing environment, every day. So pulling a phone out to check for messages can be highly inconvenient to say the least. With a wearable device such as a smartphone that can display staff alerts, reminders, announcements, changes of schedule, etc., efficiency improves.
- Reduced costs, so the money can be spent on improving support further. Wearable technologies, with their more efficient communication, and more efficient reporting and retrieval of information, are able to reduce the overall costs for supporting especially aging individuals, who tend to need a little more support.
Care must be taken to select devices and implement software within those devices which are designed especially for the aging population. For example, screen size, font size, button size, and alert tones should be designed for elderly eyes and ears and fingers. Styluses should be widely available. And adequate training for everyone needs to be observed.
But with those few common-sense guidelines, the potential for improved support and for cost savings and improved lives is enormous. Smartwatches are only the most common, and the earliest widely adopted wearable technology. For that reason, they should be the first focus. Then build out from there.
Right now, today, people living in assisted living facilities can benefit enormously from the use of these devices; and DSPs can cut costs, reduce administrative time, and provide better support with these resources saved.