How Wearable Tech Makes Senior Living Smarter

The 21st Century Senior Living Community is a series brought to you by CDW, a provider of technology solutions and services focused exclusively on serving the healthcare marketplace. The series takes a clear-eyed look at how leading providers and their partners are creating the next generation of senior living communities by raising the bar on services, design, and technology.

With respect to technology, the senior care industry has come a long way from the days of “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

Rather than the clunky, conspicuous emergency alert devices of the past, wearable sensors today are more discreet and powerful. And some senior living communities are finding it easier than expected to bring residents on board with the idea of using this technology.

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Getting comfortable with sensors

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how great a particular sensor technology is if seniors in assisted or independent living refuse to use it.

That’s why, above all, sensors must be placed and analyzed in a way that does not make anybody feel on edge, Dr. Dave Rhew, the chief medical officer and head of health care and fitness for Samsung Electronics America, tells Senior Housing News. Samsung is currently working to create integrated “smart” environments for seniors that incorporate health sensor technology, as well as devices to control environmental elements such as locks and lightbulbs.

“First and foremost, this has to be something that the senior feels comfortable with,” Rhew says.

Part of that process may involve educating seniors about what the technology will monitor, what the technology won’t monitor, and explaining that the seniors themselves will not have to alter any part of their lifestyle to accommodate the sensors.

It’s important that senior housing providers also realize the full potential of sensor technology, once it’s implemented. At first, it could seem as though the sensors are only helpful to the residents wearing or being monitored by them; in reality, however, the data gathered by the sensors have wide-ranging applications.

“Sometimes the data that comes through the sensors aren’t just consumer data,” Rhew says.

Providers, Rhew adds, can analyze data collected by sensors, such as heart rate and blood pressure, to target interventions more effectively, improving resident satisfaction and outcomes while saving money.

Promoting peace of mind

At Hillside Haven Retirement Residence in Campbellford, Ontario, Canada, sensors have managed to make a positive difference in the lives of residents—and on the peace of mind of staff.

Michael Gestetner, the director of Hillside Haven, categorizes his small community as “independent supportive living,” or “smack dab in between assisted living and independent living.” Hillside residents, in other words, expect a non-institutional environment where they can continue to live independently, but will have staff to assist them when needed.

The intrusion of staff was becoming an issue for Hillside residents, though.

Before purchasing sensor technology, Hillside staff would perform regular “wellbeing checks” on residents, checking in on them periodically throughout the day, and in some cases, at night.

“It’s not so intrusive, but it can make a resident feel like they’re relying on staff members, or they’re beholden to them in a way,” Gestetner tells SHN of the wellbeing checks. 

As a result, Hillside adopted sensor technology manufactured by Zanthion earlier this summer. The system involves sensors the size of a quarter that seniors can wear around their necks as a locket, on their belts in a leather pouch, or in their pocket.

Every single Hillside resident agreed to use the sensors—and the sensors’ appealing appearance likely played a part in that.

“They’re not intrusive, they’re not bulky or ugly,” Gestetner says of the sensors. “You wouldn’t even notice them if you didn’t point them out.”

Currently, the sensors only detect motion, but they also feature a button that seniors can push to alert staff they need assistance. Using the sensors, Gestetner and his staff can easily discover whether a senior has remained active during the day, or whether they have gotten up at night—all without performing wellbeing checks.

“Now we don’t do [wellbeing checks] at all,” Gestetner says. “We can rely on the system.”

Additionally, the Zanthion system keeps track of how long it takes staff to respond when a resident pushes the button on their sensor.

“It gives me peace of mind,” Gestetner says. “If there’s an incident, I can actually see who responded, and how quickly they responded to it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t really know how long response takes.”

Hillside Haven appears to be a sensor success story—and it might be a model for what more senior living environments will look like in the future.

That’s because, if done right, sensors will become just a part of life for seniors, Samsung’s Rhew believes.

“We would really like to see a lot of this technology to move toward a place where it’s not just a nice to have… [but] an essential part of one’s life,” he says.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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