Technologies that can measure, track and transmit data to gauge how residents’ personal health affects things like their overall physical appearance, sleeping habits, walking patterns and vital signs are becoming ever more prevalent in senior living communities for their use in not only keeping older adults healthy, but keeping them out of the hospital.
It’s the pivotal role these technologies play in preventative health care that establishes them at the forefront of innovation and what brings together the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) and Christian Care Communities, a not-for-profit senior living provider.
With the help of a nearby university and a federally funded grant, a Texas continuing care retirement community (CCRC) is ushering in a new era of senior living technology at its campus, and it’s using one of its vacant apartments as a test lab for the futuristic gadgetry.
Working with UTA’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation, as well as the school’s College of Engineering, Christian Care Communities earlier this month unveiled “Smart Care,” a project focused on using technology to improve health care for seniors and people with disabilities who are living independently at home.
Christian Care Communities donated the use of a vacant apartment at its Lakewood Village CCRC in Fort Worth as a testing grounds for the project that infuses a senior’s home with a variety of intelligent technologies designed to reduce health risks and deteriorations in condition that could potentially lead to serious injury.
The program’s tech makes devices such as personal emergency response systems (PERS) and wearable health trackers look like mere child’s play.
For instance, a special camera embedded in a bathroom mirror can tell researchers about a senior’s vitals, letting them know of changes in a person’s day-to-day heart rate. It can also observe a person’s facial expressions and skin color, noting any visible changes that may reveal underlying aspects of a senior’s overall health, such as oxygen content of the blood.
Similar to an iPad, the coffee table resembles that of a giant tablet, says Teresa Scott, senior vice president of Christian Care Communities, enabling the inhabitant to take their blood pressure and subjecting them to other health monitoring at the swipe of the table’s “surface screen.”
Other systems will detect whether medication is being properly managed or if the resident is not sleeping well or staying in bed too long, while connected exercise equipment such as a recumbent bike and Xbox Kinect-based Tai Chi trainer focus on a senior’s physical fitness activity.
But of all the technologies developed by UTA’s engineering school, the pressure sensor flooring is arguably the most important contribution to the project, says Kathryn Daniel, program manager for Smart Care and an associate professor and director of the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Program in UTA’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation.
“Through pressure sensors underneath the entire floor, we’re able to remotely capture information about gait and motion, as well as things like activity and tell how much a person is walking or sedentary,” Daniel said.
The Smart Care project has been several years in the making for UTA, which in 2010 received congressionally earmarked funding championed by U.S. Representative Joe Barton (R-Arlington) for about $635,000.
“We’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long time and had been looking for funding to develop technology from off-the-shelf tech to integrate it into something that could support older adults in their striving to be independent at home,” Daniel said.
When the funds finally came through, not only did it give UTA the opportunity to finally “get serious” about developing Smart Care, Daniel said, but it also prompted the school to look for a community partner to help them make their vision a reality.
That partner was in their very own backyard, not even 20 minutes off campus in Fort Worth.
“UTA approached us looking for a partner in senior living. We’re about 15 minutes from their campus in Arlington, and they heard about us and the technology we’ve implemented in the last 10 years,” said Randy Richey, executive director of Lakewood Village.
Christian Care Communities “started a kick” to implement more technology about 12 years ago when its current President and CEO Phil Elmore started with the company, Richey said.
The result was a slew of new tech adoption at Lakewood Village not yet seen in the community’s 32-year existence, including the rollout of electronic medical records, remote pharmacy dispensing, PERS pendants for residents, campuswide Wi-Fi and a variety of social tech platforms and activity programs such as Linked Senior and Posit Science’s brain fitness system.
To date, Lakewood Village features 157 independent living apartments, 34 assisted living apartments, a 48-bed skilled nursing facility, as well as a hospice division and private-pay home care program.
Smart Care, however, only takes up one 900-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment at Lakewood Village. Since the CCRC formally unveiled the high-tech unit to the general public on May 7, about a dozen current residents have already signed up for a 30-day stay in the apartment.
Residents who stay in the Smart Care unit have control over the data recorded on them during their habitation. This means they don’t have to share the information with Lakewood Village unless they want to, Scott said.
Even if residents choose not to share their data, time spent living in the Smart Care apartment, if anything, will give them some insight into their own health and maybe even encourage them to be more proactive about their health care with others.
“Smart Care gives residents the opportunity to be researched and evaluated, and find information they can take back to their caregivers, doctors and families,” Richey said. “It’s helping residents gather information themselves, but also letting the general public learn more about Christian Care Communities and Lakewood Village.”
Written by Jason Oliva