Senior care communities are seeing a new trend: an uptick in queries from prospective residents and their families regarding their commitment to technological innovation.
This trend, industry experts say, has everything to do with shifting demographics. The oldest members of the baby boomer generation began turning 70 in 2016, and every day until 2030, roughly another 10,000 Americans will turn 65. But it’s not only this silver tsunami that has senior care providers scrambling to keep pace. It’s also the fact that this wave of new clients is well versed in the digital world.
In a survey of older Americans’ technology use, the Pew Research Center found that among those age 65 or older who use the internet, 71 percent go online every day or almost daily. Another Pew study found that 82 percent of seniors with smartphones say the technology offers them “freedom.” They see their devices and associated apps as lifelines that let them stay connected with family members, caregivers and doctors.
Recognizing the opportunities around next-generation communication technologies, CDW Healthcare partnered with Intel and data science company Big Cloud Analytics (BCA) to investigate ways that wearable devices, tablets and cloud-based data analytics might improve seniors’ health, well-being and quality of life.
The three companies created a pilot program that launched concurrently in four senior care communities: Masonic Homes of Kentucky; Masonicare, in Connecticut; LifeWell Senior Living, in Texas and Florida; and Benchmark Senior Living, in Massachusetts. The program monitored user data with consumer-grade activity trackers, collected that data via wireless syncing with tablets, and analyzed the data using BCA’s Intel-powered Covalence Health Analytics Platform.
For the pilot, each participant received a kit containing a Garmin Vivosmart HR wristband, a charger and a tablet. Residents in Masonicare and Masonic Homes of Kentucky — both independent living communities — were encouraged to use the tablets on their own. In assisted living communities LifeWell Senior Living and Benchmark Senior Living, the tablets stayed in the background.
“We actually hid them so our residents wouldn’t even see them,” says LifeWell President Charles Turner. “They’d enter their rooms, their Garmins would sync automatically, and then the BCA software would pull all their raw data off of the tablet and suck it into their servers, where they ran their analyses.”
With guidance from experts at BCA, LifeWell staff explored uses for predictive analytics, such as monitoring residents’ sleep, stress and activity levels in search of insights that might boost well-being.
The project at Benchmark gathered similar data, but the overall focus in that case was on finding ways to reduce falls, says Moulay Elalamy, Benchmark’s vice president of IT. If providers can identify correlations between residents’ biometrics and their likelihood of falling, he says, perhaps staff could keep residents on their feet — and prevent future hospitalizations.
According to J. Patrick Bewley, BCA’s CEO, access to individuals’ wearable data was restricted to the BCA team and each community’s administrators. But once healthcare organizations work through issues of consent, he envisions that residents’ families and caregivers will be able to log in to their system and check on loved ones from afar.
When that day comes, Bewley says, it will open all kinds of opportunities for senior care communities to improve residents’ lives. For instance, they could use a resident’s sleep and activity data to identify potential onset of anxiety or depression, then intervene with a social outreach program. That proactive approach could, for example, enable a resident to delay a move to a more intensive (and more expensive) level of care.
There are other possibilities as well. For example, over the course of the pilot, a number of residents developed ailments that are common among seniors their age, such as pneumonia and blood clots. Other residents needed to have pacemakers put in, and a few residents died. However, Bewley points out, these unfortunate situations provided a window into health trends. “We could look back at the data leading up to those events and see if there was anything that might have helped them see it coming,” he says.
In fact, that was exactly what happened with one 89-year-old who developed pneumonia. “I looked at her data,” Bewley recalls, “and four days before she went to the hospital, her heart rate was elevated, but her normal activity decreased by 70 percent.” Another resident, who had a pacemaker inserted, also showed what Bewley describes as an unexplained “variability” in her heart rate in the weeks before the procedure. “Things like that have really got us thinking: What if we had a watch list, based on the data, that we could hand off to the staff first thing every morning? Something like, ‘Here are the three individuals who saw the biggest changes in their biometrics overnight. You might want to pay attention to them today.’ ”
Likewise, Bewley says, imagine if physicians had access to data as it streamed in from wearables. “We could set it up so they’d get an alert when something was off. They’d know right away that they needed to do something.”
That, he says, is where wearables offer the most promise — helping care communities and providers intervene early to potentially save lives.
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