It's All About The Tech

Essity’s Liam Mynes considers the role of technology in the care home and looks at ways in which it can help to boost residents’ morale, enhance safety and improve cleaning and hygiene regimes.

It appears that dementia sufferers in care homes around the country have been enjoying the company of faux ‘pets’ over the past year.

Robotic dogs and cats have been introduced into a number of UK care facilities in a bid to provide residents with comfort, affection and emotional support.

Created by Ageless Innovation – an offshoot of toy manufacturer Hasbro – the battery-powered pets are said to be furry and cuddly. They also make realistic purring and yapping sounds and incorporate sensors that enable them to respond to motion and touch.

Meanwhile, robot assistants in human form have been deployed in other care homes during the past 18 months. These humanoid robots are able to gather and store information relating to residents’ life stories so that they can initiate conversations with the elderly based on individual interests and experiences.

Robot care assistants have the advantage of freeing up time for staff members to perform other essential tasks. The humanoid faces and soothing voices of the machines provide a comforting presence - particularly since unlike human carers they are not obliged to wear face masks or gloves.

Robot pets and humanoid assistants are possibly among the most headline-grabbing of technological innovations in today’s care homes. However, there are many other examples of tech being put to more mundane use in such facilities. And some of these applications have proved vital to the wellbeing of residents and their families over the past 18 months.

For instance, the use of video-calling systems such as FaceTime, Zoom and WhatsApp has become much more widespread during the global pandemic. These have allowed care facilities to ease the pressure created by visitor bans and find new ways of connecting residents with their loved ones.

Informational meetings with residents’ families and virtual events such as tea parties and Christmas gatherings have also been conducted over Zoom rather than in person during the COVID-19 crisis. Some facilities have also been offering remote viewings to prospective residents and their families as well.

Mansfield Care in Edinburgh, for example, has invested in new technology to facilitate virtual tours of its premises. These enable interested parties to gain a feel for a residential facility from the safety and comfort of their own homes.

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Meanwhile, communications inside the care home have also been improved with the aid of technology, again providing safety benefits. For example, one nursing home claims that the use of its innovative wireless nurse call system has helped it to avoid any cases of COVID-19 within the facility. The Tunstall Carecom care assist programme divides staff members and residents into ‘bubbles’, and automatic notifications are sent out to employees within the bubble whenever a resident needs assistance.

Keeping vulnerable residents safe from COVID-19 has of course been a top priority during the pandemic. And for this reason, the profile of cleaning and hygiene has been raised dramatically during the past 18 months.

The Care Quality Commission recently updated its guidelines to stress that personal items such as toiletries should no longer be shared between residents. The commission also advocates that all residential rooms should be subject to regular and enhanced cleaning. The strict new methods suggested include the frequent cleaning of high-touch points such as light switches, keyboards and door handles.

Another requirement of the Care Quality Commission is that all residential facilities should keep meticulous cleaning records so that no high-touch area has been missed. Such records are obviously vital in ensuring that a property is scrupulously and thoroughly cleaned. However, the act of keeping a manual check on all cleaning processes is a time- consuming and tedious process.

Once again, technology can improve things. Suppliers are now offering customised cleaning plans to care homes in which every task is listed on a smartphone or tablet app. The cleaner then simply ticks off each job electronically as he or she completes them.

Customised cleaning plans form part of Essity’s Tork Vision Cleaning solution which offers care homes a choice of three digital cleaning tiers depending on their needs. The first tier provides people-counters to enable staff to monitor traffic flow throughout the facility, whereas the second tier also incorporates connected dispensers for soap and paper products. This ensures that no dispenser need ever run out

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