Putting the ‘Home’ Back into Care Homes: How Innovative Technologies Can Help Carers Give Residents a Better Quality of Life

By Phillip Moorcraft, UK Director, CLB (global.clb.nl)

When a person moves into a residential care home, the quality of their medical and social care is hugely important to that individual and their loved ones. However, they also want a place that feels genuinely welcom- ing and homely, and which allows its residents to enjoy appropriate levels of privacy and independence.

Striking that delicate balance, between providing a ‘home from home’ and ensuring that residents’ medical and social care needs are met, can be hard for residents, families and care home staff alike. And it is a widespread problem – with about 21,556 care homes in the UK alone, there is lots of pressure on care staff to make residents feel ‘at home’, while also meeting each person’s (often complex) needs. This pressure has greatly intensified with the challenges of the pandemic. Technologies can ease the pressure of regular and unnecessary adhoc welfare checks on top of providing personal quality care, while giving residents more privacy and independence.

For example, acoustic monitoring technology, which has been used in many countries worldwide for more than 25 years, can monitor for adverse events and reduce their potential to cause life-changing effects. What is more, residents with acoustic monitoring can establish better sleep patterns because they are less frequently disturbed by staff visits, and better sleep conveys multiple health and wellbeing benefits. Meanwhile, the technology alerts staff as soon as an event occurs, which also improves quality of life and can make a crucial – even life-saving – difference to medical outcomes in the case of health emergencies.

Furthermore, acoustic monitoring gives greater privacy and autonomy for each resident. For example, those who prefer to go to bed later/earlier than their peers are no longer restricted by the facility’s monitoring schedule and can enjoy more flexibility, and those with particular concerns about privacy can be left in peace without having to compromise their safety.

WHAT DO GOOD CARE HOMES PROVIDE?

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has told service users and those who care for them what they should expect of a good care home. The expectation that residents will be treated with respect and able to exercise their rights (to privacy, to self-determination, to care of high quality, to dignity) is woven like a golden thread through that docu- ment.

No reasonable care professional would argue with those values, but they can be tough to achieve simultaneously.

The need to monitor residents is a prime example. Many homes carry out periodic checks on residents – often, every two hours or so – and this is a critical element of providing good social/clinical care. However, it is also highly disruptive for patients, who may be disturbed several times during the night, and it takes carers away from other duties.

Residents who are disturbed during the night (even for the best of reasons) may suffer chronic or recurrent sleep deprivation, which has a serious impact on their quality of life. Sleep deprivation causes grogginess, mood changes (in some cases, aggression, anxiety or depression) and increases vulnerability to illness. So, an action that is intended to protect a resident can also make them ill.

Meanwhile, carers may become frustrated with the constant need to interrupt whatever they are doing to carry out welfare checks, particu- larly if this takes them away from providing personalised care for indi- viduals, and their morale, along with the broader functionality and productivity of the care home, can suffer as a result.

ACOUSTIC TECHNOLOGY MEETS THE NEEDS OF CARE HOME STAFF

AND RESIDENTS

Unsurprisingly, some care homes have tried to solve this problem with technology. And the CQC agrees that care homes’ use of innova- tive technology is key to maximising their performance. The challenge lies in knowing which type of technology to use.
For example, some care homes have used voice and video baby monitors, or alarmed mats that detect movement. However, these are primarily for domestic use and often cannot cope with the demands of a care home. They can be hard to maintain and may not have an appropriate radio frequency; all are intrusive but video monitors in particular compromise residents’ privacy. And they can lead to a delayed response by care staff, which has significant implications in time-critical events like a heart attack or stroke. Acoustic technology, in contrast, is not intrusive and has been designed for care home settings.

Acoustic technology allows individual sensitivity settings for each resident and will alert staff when the thresholds are exceeded. It is highly accurate, so will sound if a resident falls, for example, or if a resident (e.g. with mobility problems) tries to get out of bed.

When acoustic technology is used in an intelligent nurse alert sys- tem, it monitors resident welfare with a high level of accuracy. When triggered, an alert is sent to a professional operator who can assess the situation and forward the alarm directly to a carer’s device if applicable. That allows an immediate response, giving the resident the best out- come, including in cases of medical emergency.

Acoustic technology also reduces adverse events, thanks to the quality and consistency of its monitoring that allows swift and preven- tive action. For example, it reduced resident falls by 35% in one facility. Meanwhile, carers can reduce the number of in-person visits and can maintain their focus on other work, such as meeting the needs of individual residents, which increases morale and productivity.

For the residents, acoustic monitoring delivers the privacy, dignity, self-determination and appropriate independence that good care homes provide for their residents. It gives them a more relaxing and homely environment and allows healthy sleep cycles that enhance their quality of life. Above all, it keeps them safe.

IT IS TIME FOR CARE HOMES TO MAKE TECHNOLOGIES WORK FOR THEM

The pandemic has caused much anxiety for care home providers, residents and their families. It has also focused national attention, per- haps more than ever before, on the most vulnerable members of our society and the people who dedicate their lives to caring for them. It has been an incredibly hard and draining time.

Innovative technologies in care homes, such as acoustic monitoring, provide an exciting opportunity to move the emphasis from intrusive and unnecessary checks to discreet, yet continuous, monitoring that gives both residents and carers the comfort and security that a home should have. By putting the right technology to work in care homes, we can relieve that burden and grow a care sector that genuinely provides the relaxing and homely environment that all residents, families and staff desire, along with the top-quality care and working conditions they deserve.

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