Sensor technology alerts caregivers when nursing home resident wanders

Elva Mitchell’s 99-year-old mother, Kay Richardson, was living independently until just over two years ago, when she moved into a seniors’ residence outside Halifax, NS Then the pandemic hit.

“It shuts the world down,” Mitchell said. “It went from some confusion to almost full blown confusion. The pandemic robbed her of her last couple of years.”

Mitchell pulled her out of the residence, moved her to Ontario, and into her own home in the village of Richmond, located in the outskirts of Ottawa.

Elva Mitchell, left, and her mother Kay Richardson celebrate a family birthday in June 2021. (submitted)

But caring for her mother, whose dementia worsened, was difficult.

“She was up through the night. Frequently. And my mother doesn’t sleep a lot in the daytime. She’s not a big napper. So it meant that I was with her 24/7,” said Mitchell.

When an opening came up at Carefor Richmond Care Home, a kilometer from Mitchell’s home, “we chose to make the move for her.”

Richardson is now one of 16 residents, all of whom have cognitive issues related to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Many have issues with “sundowning” — increased confusion or anxiety late in the day, wandering or trouble sleeping through the night.

But now technology lends a helping hand.

A flat bed sensor is placed on top of the mattress, but below the bed clothes and mattress protector. When a resident gets out of bed, it sends a signal to a server at esprit-ai in Kanata. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

3 sensors in a room

The care home has partnered with esprit-ai, a west Ottawa company that uses 5G technology to keep seniors safe, using a system of electronic sensors.

The sensors detect when a resident gets out of bed, or is wandering in their room, or opening the door and potentially waking other residents.

Robin Meyers, director of community support services and personal support services with Carefor, describes a scenario where one restless resident can wake a half-dozen others, and overwhelm nighttime staff.

Patrick Tan is president of esprit-ai. The Kanata company uses sensors and 5G technology to monitor people with dementia. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

“One person wakes up … a little bit disoriented, maybe a little restless. They open their door … to find someone else. [They] go to the next room. They find their friend. They wake them up. Then they find the next person. They wake them up,” she said.

“If you could just know that person is up and maybe needs to use the bathroom or requires a little bit of comfort or support, then you could prevent the rest of the people from getting up and having this restless night.”

That’s where the early warning signals generated by the sensors are helping. One flat sensor is placed under the bed clothes and mattress protector, another is mounted high up on the wall, and a third contact sensor is on the door. They’re designed to be inconspicuous.

This motion detecting wall-mounted sensor blends in with the window and curtain hardware. (CBC/Radio Canada)

“Like any human being, we don’t want to be watched. We don’t want to feel like we are a prisoner. So we want it to be totally, if possible, completely invisible,” said Patrick Tan, president of esprit -ai.

“It’s about dignity. … I don’t have to shout to the world that I need help.”

When a resident triggers one of the sensors, a signal is sent to the servers at esprit-ai. The raw data is analyzed and if action is warranted, an SMS text message is sent to the overnight staff.

The servers at esprit-ai analyze the raw data to determine if an alert is warranted. If yes, an SMS text is sent to the nighttime caregivers. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Helps staff plan overnight response

Meyers says the system is helping staff be more strategic in their responses. If they knew a particular resident had a very restless sleep, they can be on the lookout for an increased risk of falling the next day.

Staff can also use information gleaned from the sensor analysis to pick up on behavior patterns that may suggest a need for a change in routine, or lead to less medication.

Mitchell sees the sensors as an added layer of protection for her mother. But she’s also glad the toonie-sized sensors are discrete.

A common area of ​​the Carefor Richmond Care Home in the village of Richmond on the outskirts of Ottawa. The Alzheimer Society of Canada says more than 500,000 people are living with dementia, a figure that is estimated to grow to 912,000 by 2030. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

“We don’t need alarm bells ringing. The unobtrusiveness of this device allows the staff or a family to keep a loved one safe without it being in their face,” said Mitchell.

Tan hopes to expand the esprit-ai system beyond seniors’ residences into private homes. The sensors cost $200 per resident to install, but monitoring and analyzing the raw data requires a subscription that costs $80 per month.

Each of the 16 rooms at the Richmond Care Home are equipped with three sensors that alert nighttime staff when a resident may need extra care. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Mitchell believes access to this technology might have allowed her to keep her mother at home longer.

“I’ll be honest, I’m surprised it’s taken us this long to get there,” said Mitchell.

Carefor is considering whether to expand the sensor program to two of its retirement homes in Pembroke, Ont.

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