This is my last blog for the year 2017 and I usually reserve the right to bring up the most disturbing fact or new innovation in senior care that I have come across. I am well aware that our population bump will put a strain on the need for individual care-giving and I respect what technology can bring to the table in terms of monitoring and safety. However, when I read this title: Is Caregiving by Really Smart Buildings in Your Future?, on the Senior Housing Forum blog, I did a double take.
I went on to read how the chandeliers of the old style retirement communities were put in as nice amenities; now they are loaded with air quality controls to help manage infections and and hydration control. They also provide more sophisticated fire and smoke alarms, which is a good thing. There will be three layer smart floor tiles in residents rooms and hallways to monitor gait, weight and somehow help prevent falls. The first layer will read vital signs continuously, the second layer artificial intelligence (AI Force Cell Transducer) learns the residents movements to help prevent falls. The third makes the most sense in that is is just a softer safer barrier to reduce injury from falls. All of the above point to more sophisticated instruments.
The part that leaves me cold is the prediction that this type of system will evolve and ‘learn’ the individual residents obviously at a distance. How many actual human faces would an individual see in a day beyond other residents? Will the watchers of the main monitor know what other dynamics are going on with the residents? I wonder if it will learn how cranky people can get when they feel like they are pawns on a giant game board. To the owners of these retirement complexes ( I would use the word communities very loosely) it is about reducing risks and costs. Yes, I understand there is a looming caregiver shortage. Those demographics are as solid as the older population doubling in 20 some years. If you invested in paying for a costly long term care insurance plan for years and years then actually moved to one of these higher end places, I would think there would still be an expectation that you see something resembling human caregivers on a regular basis.
I am trying to balance this out in my mind after reading a long depressing article about the epidemic of death in isolation that is happening in Japan. This is the complicated result of decades of social change and demographics within that particular society. Having also read the wonderfully funny and sad book on a very lively assisted living community in the Netherlands, The Secret Life of Henrik Groen, Age 83 1/4, I will finish by trying to balance all three of these reads in my mind.
There will never be a tech device or app that can really recognize the need for dignity and the desire for human closeness even as we fade into the sunset in huge numbers. Always forging new relationships is hard, but it is the key to remain open to life. So if you are taking a tour of one of these pumped up on tech steroids places, and you pass by one of these mastermind chandeliers, remember to stay tuned to your own inner voice, even if you are the only one really listening