Smart care in senior citizen homes
Care of the elderly or senior citizens has become a very hot topic today and according to global statistics.
By 2030, one in six people in the world will be aged 60 years or above. At this time the share of the population aged 60 years and over will increase from 1 billion in 2020 to 1.4 billion. By 2050, the world’s population of people aged 60 years and older will double (2.1 billion). The number of persons aged 80 years or older is expected to triple between 2020 and 2050 to reach 426 million.
In Asia, the number of elderly people, such as those above 60 years are rising rapidly in many countries such as in Japan and South Korea, where some of the elderly are over 100 years old, as well as in Singapore, Hong Kong and so forth.
For example, Singapore has a rapidly ageing population, coupled with a low birth rate, where 18.4% of its population is 65 years and older in 2022, and is expected to rise to 23.8% in 2030, according to Singapore’s Department of Statistics, whilst citizens aged 19 years and below are expected to remain at 20.2% in both years, whilst citizens aged 20 to 64 years are expected to decline from 61.5% in 2022 to 56.0% in 2030.
Senior citizens are living longer due to general public health awareness, advancement in development of medicine and better medical care, so there correspondingly is an explosive growth of senior citizen homes globally to cater for the increased needs.
According to traditional Asian culture, children would care for their elderly parents themselves in their own home, rather than send them to a government or charity old folks home.
However, with the pressures of today’s modern urban life, where often both husband and wife work, often having to commute long distances across the city through heavy traffic, coupled with having to care for their children, send them to and from school, as well as the cost of hiring a maid to care for their elderly parents at home, and since around the 1980s, there has been a growing market in Malaysia, where more well-to-do children send their elderly parents to private elderly care homes, where they will be better cared for 24 x 7 by more professional staff.
At the same time, attitudes amongst elderly parents have changed, with them not wanting to be a burden upon their children, whilst some children may not want their parents staying with them, and moreover, with their children out at work, some elderly parents feel bored staying at home alone, so prefer to be in elderly care homes where they have the company of other residents.
Also, questions have arisen about the need for accommodation for the elderly, such as apartments which are designed to suit their needs.
“So, it’s critical to now look into these homes for the elderly, or to provide the means for elderly care at home, and there is no doubt that smart senior citizen homes will be the norm in the future”, said Mr. Wang Swee Lee, an independent consultant and technology advisor in the hospitality, healthcare and senior citizen home industries. He also has over 42 years of experience in telecommunications, information technology, multimedia building intelligence, smart control technology and AI.
“However, most important is the ability for the elderly person at home to communicate with the caregiver in case of emergencies, so they can come to their assistance immediately, and this is something which must be considered carefully when designing their homes”, Wang added.
Elderly people are either mobile and can move around on their own accord, whilst others are immobile, such as bedridden and in need of more assistance. However, both categories need the right facilities such as a care centre or a medical centre which can take care of their needs.
Smart senior home components
The choice of smart senior home components and features depends on each home’s requirements. These can include, smart beds, contactless smart room controls, smart nurse call system, smart digital door signage, contactless smart door locks, emergency (SOS) alert system, surveillance cameras, voice assistants, companion robots, service delivery robots, floor cleaning robots, smart dustbins, related Android and iOS mobile apps, as well as web apps, smart fitness mirror, smart shower system.
Having caregivers in every elderly person’s own home is expensive and labour is hard to find, so if the elderly person is still healthy and mobile, a robot is the best option. Whilst not as flexible as humans, however they can help elderly people to some degree, provided they can still take care of themselves.
In Japan, robots are used to assist in the care of the elderly and are very advanced, whilst in Hong Kong, some high-end elderly-care homes have started to use robots to assist with care.
Companion robots such as Temi are fitted with a tray for medical self-diagnostic and self-monitoring equipment, which the elderly person at home can use to monitor their temperature, blood pressure, glucose levels and so forth themselvesSuch robots also have Internet access capability, camera and flatscreen display.
Their readings are downloaded to the robot and the results displayed on the robot’s screen, and if any possible complication is indicated, the robot lets the elderly person to remotely consult a doctor or a specialist as the first level of care over the Internet, with the results of their diagnoses displayed on the robot’s display screen.
Also, for disabled people who cannot move or have limited movement, they can call the robot to come to them when they need to do any diagnostic tests.
There also are home diagnostic weighing scales which download the person’s weight reading to the robot, and can also transmit them to their doctor or the medical centre.
Where, it is difficult for the person to perform certain tests upon themselves, there are centres, such as in China, which they can go to to have these tests done, with the results transmitted to their companion robot for them to view, and if there is anything the person cannot understand, he or she can remotely consult their doctor via video on the robot’s display.
Such robots are currently being used for elderly care in Japan, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, the US and perhaps also in Singapore.
Companion robots can also provide social interaction and assistance by reminding the elderly person about upcoming events, appointments and deliveries, proactively support their needs such as remote control and health monitoring, help seniors to care for themselves, provide emotional support, and enable remote access to and by doctors and nurses.
When integrated into the smart senior room control system, they enable seniors to turn lights on and off, control room temperature, open or close curtains, select TV channels and turn on music by voice command or from their own mobile device, as well as to provide support, telepresence, rehabilitation, health monitoring, entertainment, as well to communicate and view entertainment on its display screen.
They can also deliver food and medicines in timely manner to seniors in homes, support disabled persons by wheeling them to required destinations in the home, fitness robots guide seniors through exercises through a smart mirror, which can be personalised according their heart-rate, personality type, mood and fitness level, based upon a 3D digital image of the senior, physiotherapy and massage robots intelligently decide on the right type of treatment according to their problem, and can also help rehabilitate seniors who have suffered a stroke, whilst disinfection robots use ultraviolet-C radiation to disinfect all surfaces in rooms and homes. Such robots can also be customised with certain functions required by elderly persons.
“At the end of the day, robots can become a very important part of our lives in the future, especially for the elderly”, said Wang.
Smart shower system
There already are smart shower systems in the market which a disabled person or one who has limited movement can operate by voice command. They are intended for the disable and obese, who often need to sacrifice their independence and privacy to maintain good hygiene.
Examples include voice-interface points like Alexa which are waterproofed, and these are not only available for hospitals, but are also easily available for use in homes, such as by elderly parents, though right now they are not cheap.
The system consists of two chambers, one to take a shower, and the other to dry the body. Users only need to stand and wait for the washer bars or dryers to move up and down to do the job.
Fortunately, bathrooms don’t need to be renovated to allow for such systems which come as a cabinet sliding doors and water temperature controls, which can fit into existing standard bathrooms.
“Robotic or smart beds are very specialised equipment, which I’ve seen in a factory in China”, said Wang.
They provide a comfortable environment for the senior citizen which contributes to improving his movement and helps caregivers, doctors nurses to obtain the most accurate details about the person by reading their vital functions remotely, and they also help improve collaboration between caregivers, whilst enhancing the quality of care and safety of seniors.
Functions and features of smart beds include control of the bed rail position, control the turning of the body of disabled occupants, detect how long the person lies in the bed and the related vital symptoms, has an in in-bed toilet as well as an in-bed hair wash facility for disabled occupants, as well as smart occupant monitoring and control via a smart app.
With the hair washing facility, the disabled person places his or her head in a container and water automatically come out and washes the hair.
Its in-bed toilet facility has an opening where the person defecates into a container in a drawer under the bed, and when finished, the caregiver pulls out the drawer, takes the container away and disposes the waste. The container has a cover to contain the smell of the waste from troubling others.
For bedridden persons, there also are equipment which automatically adjust the temperature and softness of the mattress to suit the person’s body and also have sensors which provide certain readings to the caregiver centre, so they know how long the person has been lying in a certain position in bed, their changes of sleeping position in bed, whether their heart is still beating and transmit all these data digitally to the caregiver within the facility, and trigger an alarm, when they detect a possible emergency situation.
“In case of an emergency, the elderly person can also trigger an alarm, either on a wearable, a device on his or her head or neck and immediately speak to the caregiver centre to seek assistance or to seek help”, said Wang.
For disabled people who cannot walk around their own home, there are smart beds which can separate into different parts, and the person sits on the part which separates off and functions as a wheelchair, which lets them move around their home. Such products are widely available in Japan, where there is a large elderly population, as well as from smaller companies in China.
Smart Home Assistants
Smart home assistants are becoming increasingly popular. Many companies now make entire lines of smart home assistant products that make performing menial tasks easier than ever. Smart home assistants are typically voice activated, so they are easy for seniors to use.
They can control other compatible products in the home, play music, make phone calls, look up information, and read books. Not only are these types of products convenient for the elderly to use, but entertaining as well.
Most of them can be remotely controlled, with information viewed using Android and iOS smartphone apps, as well as Web-based apps, and by caregivers on master caregiver station dashboards as well.
Contactless smart room control systems control, room temperature, lighting, open and close drapes, turn on and off television and music. They also monitor, relative humidity, carbon dioxide levels, oxygen levels, air quality and air pressure.
Some elderly care homes may also have surveillance cameras in an on-premises closed circuit TV (CCTV) system with monitors and video recorder, all linked to a display on the caregiver station from which all elderly residents are monitored for emergencies.
All video recordings can also be monitored, played back or recorded remotely over the internet or cellular network.
And, some elderly care homes or elderly people in their own homes may also have smart door lock systems where they can remotely control door opening, closing, locking and unlocking using a mobile app on their smartphones, with an alarm triggered in case of forced entry. Especially in elderly care homes, the time stamped door lock status information is displayed at the centralised dashboard on the caregiver station.
About Wang Swee Lee
Wang, holds a BSc degree (1st Class Honours) in Computer and Control System from the U.K., as well as professional accreditations and memberships such as C.Eng, FIMA, C.Eng, MinstMC, MMIM, MMNCC.
In his long career, Wang served as Chief Executive Officer at Siemens Malaysia Private Communication Division, a member of Siemens AG, Germany Private Communication Asia-Pacific
regional management board, as Senior Vice-President with Siemens China where he brought Siemens hospitality communication solution to No.1 in the China market, led a team to develop and implement the command-and-control centre application for the 2008 Olympic games in Qingdao and installed professional dispatching systems at most major airlines in China.
After he retired from Siemens, Wang joined Cotell Intelligent Technology (Shenzhen) Co. Ltd., in China, where he spearheaded the development of guest centric hospitality communication terminals, connectivity devices, electrical faceplates, integrated smart guest-room controls, robotic, artificial Intelligence and software applications.
His guest-room telephone design had created a breakthrough in the global market and his mission was to provide a series of guest-friendly communication devices, applications and solutions to the global hospitality market community, which can enhance their organisations’ performance and improve guest loyalty.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wang turned his attention on new normal contactless smart technologies for the hospitality, healthcare and senior citizen home sectors. He also provides consultancy and advises on the new technology to suit the latest market development.