New technology is helping residents experience better cognition, live concerts and more independence, residential aged care providers tell Natasha Egan.

A group of aged care residents in northern New South Wales is keeping their mind active and improving their memory by playing video games. Several residents at Feros Care’s Wommin Bay and Byron Bay villages have been regularly playing Star Wars: Battlefront to keep their cognitive skills sharp and connect with younger visitors.

It is part of the Grand Gamers program, which began as a study on the impact of gaming on mental processes by Alex McCord, a psychology and behavioural science researcher and positive living manager at Feros Care villages.

McCord, a University of New England postgraduate, found residents who regularly played the Star Wars video game significantly improved their ability to switch tasks and maintain visual attention. And these benefits were sustained a month later, she says.

“My results suggest that the genre of first-person action games, particularly, has the potential to positively influence cognition and executive function,” McCord tells Australian Ageing Agenda.

Executive function processes govern the ability to operate a wheelchair, plan and follow a schedule and switch  between activities, for example. So if cognitive exercise can help compensate for the decline in these processes, seniors have another tool to help maintain their independence, McCord says.

Feros Village Bangalow resident Fran Boyle, 89, in costume for a gamer’s event

The twice-weekly gaming sessions over three weeks significantly improved working memory immediately after game play, but those gains regressed a month later, she says.

“This suggests that game play should be ongoing to preserve its positive effects and so last year Feros Care introduced gaming into its residential villages on a regular basis.”

McCord says it was easy to keep residents interested during the first 12 months of the Grand Gamers program because it was a popular activity when grandchildren visited.

“The gaming proved a fantastic way to lift spirits and promote intergenerational connections between the seniors and children. We even held some gaming events where seniors dressed up to battle with their junior counterparts, which was a huge mood boost for our residents,” she says.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 visitor restrictions mean children are not coming into the villages as regularly, which is having a flow-on affect, she says.

Virtual live events

However, the pandemic has not hindered residents at Feros Care’s Wommin Bay, Byron Bay and Bangalow villages experiencing a private live concert and discussion with soul singer Lisa Hunt.

Hunt’s matinee concert was held in Feros Care’s state-of-the-art studio in Tweed Heads and beamed live into the villages using technology developed by the not-for-profit care provider.

The studio was built for Feros Care’s Virtual Social Centre, which is an online platform connecting seniors in aged care villages and the community across Australia.

The VSC, which brings music, art, therapy, cooking and workshops into the lives of seniors, has become more important during the pandemic, says Jennene Buckley, Feros Care’s chief executive officer.

Jennene Buckley

“Feros Care works tirelessly to provide residents and clients opportunities to broaden their horizons and connect to the world beyond their home,” Buckley tells AAA.

“Lisa Hunt was our first live concert and for our residents and home care clients to have the opportunity to see and interact with such a big star was a real honour and a boost to their spirits.”

After overcoming the hurdle of familiarising users with the, technology take-up has been extraordinary with many seniors using it on a daily basis, says Vidya Gopinath, positive living program manager at Feros Care.

“We have created education sessions and programs tailored to supporting seniors and empowering people to step outside their comfort zone to improve their quality of life,” she says.

“As a result, we have seen hundreds of seniors join the VSC – which is still only in its infancy – to stay connected, learn new skills and cultivate new interests and passions.”

Provider invests in AI

Victorian aged care provider Lifeview has partnered with Israeli start-up EchoCare to develop and trial an artificial intelligence monitoring device for seniors in all settings.

The technology, which has the working name of ECHO (Elderly Care Home Observer) is a non-wearable and non-intrusive monitoring device that can learn a person’s routine within 48 hours.

It requires one unit for an aged care room, unit or house, and it can monitor up to two people within the allocated space, recognising each individual after 48 hours.

ECHO uses AI, rather than cameras, to constantly measure an individual’s location, posture, motion and respiration to detect falls or any changes in physical condition or routine.

Lifeview commenced trials in April 2020 and is now rolling the devices out to all homes. After extensive testing in the real-life environment, it became apparent the system exceeded expectations, says Dmitry Shibanov, Lifeview’s executive manager of innovation and development.

“The device is able to alert staff to any abnormal behaviour of the resident, such as out-of normal-routine movements in the resident’s room, respiratory distress, anxiety and agitation episodes, based on hyperventilation pattern analysis and room exits.

“Based on real-life data, we were able to update the device algorithms to significantly enhance reporting of respiration patterns. It is now reported at clinical level, including a deep analysis of respiration showing detailed stages of each respiration, such as inhale and exhale time,” Shibanov tells AAA.

Lifeview is rolling out monitoring system ECHO to all facilities

At Lifeview, ECHO is installed in residents’ rooms, which are all singles with their own bathroom. It knows the boundary of each room and the AI knows the resident. The device can also differentiate between a resident and a care-giver, says Shibanov.

Staff carry mobile devices to record resident care and receive alerts via the ECHO app if the system detects a change in a resident. If a fall is detected it will send an immediate notification while a change in gait overtime can be seen via a report and the resident referred to a physiotherapist for review and falls prevention, he says.

Lifeview is using the device to detect changes to heart rate, breathing and known routine, which could respectively indicate emergencies such as heart attack, a health matter such as COVID or influenza, or advancement of dementia or delirium.

“The device processes all data locally and only reports out-of-the ordinary events via the cloud console. Staff can download very detailed reports on resident routines and movement during a day, gait patterns and so on,” says Shibanov.

He says benefits include staff are notified immediately to a situation with no need for floor or mat sensors.

“Residents who fall and can’t reach the call bell are not left until someone comes by or hears their calls for assistance,” Shibanov says. “Resident privacy and dignity are maintained as staff do not need to wake or disturb residents during the night to check they are okay.”

Similarly a resident who can walk to the bathroom overnight independently can continue to do so because ECHO knows they do not need assistance, he says.

“If a resident has a change in habit, such as usually toilets twice overnight and this changes to say three, four or more times, ECHO picks this up, staff know to check for a urinary tract infection or other condition, picking it up early and saving the resident distress and most likely a trip to hospital,” Shibanov says.

“As staff do not need to check every resident in every room overnight their time can be reallocated to residents who are needing assistance. Our very conservative calculations estimate this can save one full-time equivalent [employee] overnight.”

He says these assumptions are based on five minutes saved on checking each resident overnight in 120-bed home.

ECHO will become a separate company from Lifeview but with access to the provider’s aged care knowledge to guide it during its growth phase. Lifeview will also be offering trials to interested aged care providers later in 2020.

Main image: Feros village resident Hugh Webster (centre) playing a video game with Alex McCord (left) and fellow resident Lois Sanderson (right).

This article first appeared in Australian Ageing Agenda magazine (Sep-Oct 2020).

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