Care Home Management

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Undercover boss

By Eleanore Robinson
Advances in sensor and artificial intelligence technology have  spawned a new generation of wearable technologies with applications as diverse as HR and resident care.

Analysts Deloitte Global predict that by 2024, 440 million wearable units will be available worldwide as new devices come onto the market and service providers, including care home operators, become comfortable using them.

Devices that can detect and manage chronic health conditions at an early stage, preventing serious illness or distress, remain the mainstay of the market. However, new applications are being found, including in employee performance management.  

During COVID the University of Leeds conducted a contract tracing feasibility study in care homes in Yorkshire using technology the size of a 20p piece worn on a bracelet or on a lanyard.  

The aim was to add “real” information for contact tracing, said Professor Carl Thompson at the University of Leeds School of Healthcare.  He explained: “In care, contact is unavoidable. We had to have a solution that could provide information about this unavoidable contact that could be useful for managers and their teams to think about infection control.”

However, during use, it became apparent that the devices also provided a lot of interesting information about personal relationships within the care home environment, for example, how long residents spend with each other, compared to members of staff, and, perhaps, more interestingly to managers, how long staff spend with each other rather than with residents. “Those pictures are not always what you would expect,” he said, adding that managers could use this data to see if this is “the quality situation” they want. 

Health benefits

Back in the more usual application of illness prevention, the latest arrival is socks (pictured) that can detect distress in residents.

Backed by the Alzheimer’s Society, the Milbotix project is the brainchild of Dr Zeke Steer at Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

The key measurement taken by the socks is sweat, but there are also sensors that look at heart rate and heart rate variability, skin temperature and motion.  

An algorithm analyses the received data and estimates whether somebody is in a state of distress, which can then be treated, or possible environmental triggers identified, before behaviour escalates. It aims to provide an objective measure of agitation and aggressive behaviours, especially for people on medication, he explained.  

 The footwear has only been tested on healthy older people so far, but should be piloted in homes at the end of this year.  Another challenge is to integrate the socks’ data into electronic care planning systems, where it can provide the most benefit. Currently, it is

Presented as a standalone smart phone app with a dashboard that would sit within the nursing station.

Future developments include using the technology in falls prevention. However, at current 70 per cent accuracy, there remains some work to be done. “We are not looking to get the socks on to the market until mid-2023,” says Dr Steer.

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