AgeTech solutions: New technologies will make a difference in long-term care

By Alex Mihailidis

As we start to imagine life after this global pandemic, we must not lose momentum in searching for lessons.

There is an important and essential national conversation underway about how to do better for residents of long-term care and to give more support for dedicated staff who have endured extraordinary stresses.

As challenging as the pandemic has been, it is important to understand that many of the stresses are not new. Addressing the challenges is a complex matter requiring a multifaceted response, but we do have some readily available tools that can make a difference: the burgeoning AgeTech sector is offering up an array of technologies that can help to transform long-term care.

While there is no substitute for the human touch, new and emerging technologies can help to ease the burden on staff, allowing them more time to devote to caring for residents. Technology can also improve safety for all.

Think about the daily challenge of moving residents with mobility difficulties. Shifting someone from a bed to a gurney or a wheelchair often requires several people, with the constant risk of injury for the staff. A Toronto startup called Able Innovations has developed a compact device called the Delta Platform, which allows a single caregiver to safely transfer an individual to and from a bed, without contact and while preserving the person’s dignity.

Infection prevention and control are long-standing issues that predate COVID-19. A Nova Scotia company called Tenera Care is now testing a wearable device that can help trace, reduce and prevent the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19 by providing a readout of everyone who has been in contact with an infected visitor, resident or care worker. The system can also “see” people moving around and alert staff if a resident falls or goes into the wrong room.

Nighttime can be particularly challenging for staff spread thinner. A Vancouver-area startup called Tochtech Technologies has developed a non-wearable health tracking device that is placed under the leg or frame of a bed and allows staff to monitor residents as they sleep. It could make work easier and more effective for hard-pressed workers on the overnight shifts, alerting them when a resident is experiencing heart or breathing problems.

The isolation felt by older people in long-term care has been heartbreaking to witness during pandemic lockdowns. While nothing can replace face-to-face contact with loved ones, a Canadian-designed app called FamliNet helps fill the gap, with an easy-to-use communications platform that allows older adults with little or no computer experience to connect with family and friends.

And there are new technologies that can help to increase cognitive and physical stimulation for residents in long-term care. The list goes on.

Technology as part of a new national standard for long-term care   

For all it can deliver, technology is one of the topics that will inform a new national standard for long-term care homes in Canada. You may have heard about this proposed standard, which will provide requirements for safe operating practices and for infection prevention and control in long-term care. I am honoured to be leading its development for the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group). Along with technology, topics including cleaning and disinfecting processes, waste removal, HVAC, plumbing and medical gas systems will be referenced or inform the standard.

I am pleased to be working closely with Dr. Samir Sinha, who is leading the development for Health Standards Organization (HSO) of a national standard for long-term care services to ensure that long-term care residents receive the quality of care they deserve.

The two standards will be complementary and developed in parallel. We want to hear from as many Canadians as possible. We will be working with stakeholders, experts and people with lived experience to develop standards that address challenges in long-term care, and take into account lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. Broad-based consultations will ensure that the new standards are informed by the wisdom and experience of people on the front lines, including caregivers and residents.

When it comes to technology, we will certainly be looking at the many possibilities it offers to improve safety and quality of life in long-term care, and ease stresses on staff.

Dedicated human beings will always form the core of care but let us call upon the brilliance of Canada’s emerging AgeTech innovators to help us do better for all.

Alex Mihailidis is Scientific Director and CEO of AGE-WELL, a federally-funded Network of Centres of Excellence. AGE-WELL brings together researchers, older adults, caregivers, partner organizations and future leaders to accelerate the delivery of technology-based solutions for healthy aging. Dr. Mihailidis is also Associate Vice-President, International Partnerships and a professor at the University of Toronto, and a senior scientist at the KITE Research Institute at Toronto Rehab-UHN.