in Longview assisted living at Christian Health
Care Center in Wyckoff, New Jersey, play Hangman
during a morning activity with Cheryl Wolf,
director of activities, standing on right, March
N.J. — Sensors under the mattresses of elderly
residents with dementia track how much they sleep at
night. Others in the showers note how often they bathe,
while sensors in the walls watch over their movements.
are sent to the nurses at the assisted living center
where these residents live, a red dot appearing next to
the names of residents whose normal routines have
changed dramatically. This was how staff was alerted
recently about a patient who is usually up and out of
her apartment early, but instead had been lying in bed
most of the day. It turns out she was developing
caught it early enough that we were able to treat her
here instead of in the hospital,” said Indra Sooklall,
director of resident care at Spring Hills Somerset, a
120-unit assisted living residence in New Jersey that
installed “smart sensors” two years ago in a wing
for dementia patients.
is changing life inside nursing homes and other
residences for seniors. The most cutting-edge among the
new systems offer lofty promises of helping providers
cope with the coming tsunami of aging baby boomers even
as they grapple with funding cutbacks and with the
increasing demand to care for sicker and older residents
in less-restrictive and less-expensive settings.
the recent technology upgrades inside long-term-care
centers mirror the digital advances of the times, with
Wii, Skype and YouTube being used to spice up therapy
routines and entertainment programs. Wii games are
helping get patients in rehabilitation moving again
after an injury or surgery, while heath experts believe
computer chess, trivia or other skill games can keep
brains active and potentially ward off senility.
most closely watched technological revolution to hit the
long-term-care industry is the growing use of motion
sensors and so-called “patient-monitoring systems”
to better track changes in a resident’s health and
are a whole host of things that are arriving on the
market and being looked at as ways to improve care,”
said Paul Langevin, president of the Health Care
Association of New Jersey, a trade group that represents
the long-term-care industry.
Initiatives, a Manalapan, N.J., firm that designs
technology and communication systems, is finalizing
contracts with seven long-term-care centers in New
Jersey to install resident monitoring systems, said John
Dalton, the company’s president.
them is at Friendship Village, a retirement community in
Basking Ridge that is in the middle of a multi-year
project to install technology specific to the needs of
the different facilities on its campus. The nursing home
and assisted living residence at Friendship Village is
being outfitted with electronic-medical-records kiosks
in hallways where staff will type in data about
everything from blood pressure readings to when the
patient was last bathed. The community’s independent
living units will have telephones with LCD screens that
allow residents to call for concierge-type assistance as
well as high-tech personal emergency systems that send
signals to the staff’s two-way-monitors.
technology advances, the big push is going to be
installing sensor systems at assisted living residences
and independent-style living communities, with
data-recording devices in the walls, floors, carpets,
beds and bathrooms enabling staff to keep tabs on
residents without having to physically send a staff
member to every room for routine checks, Dalton said.
homes, where patients require closer monitoring, are
likely to turn to more sophisticated systems — ones
that incorporate two-way video communication between
patients and their caregivers as well as wearable
monitors that alert caregivers if a patient has fallen
or wandered out of a unit. There is even a sensor on the
market that monitors whether a nursing home patient’s
diaper needs to be changed.
are all sorts of technologies available now that can be
incorporated into a whole system designed to meet a
facility’s needs,” Dalton said.
technologies may one day become more commonplace in
private homes as a way to allow elderly residents to
remain independent for longer periods, said Michele
Kent, president of Leading Age New Jersey, an industry
group that represents non-profit long-term-care centers.
digital advances come at a time when technology is being
touted as a way to improve health care overall, with
doctors and hospitals switching to electronic medical
records and increasingly using remote monitoring systems
to check in on patients who have been sent home.
whole idea is to keep residents at their highest
functioning level, and technology is seen as being able
to play a role in that,” Langevin said.
is far from widespread, however. While technology in
long-term-care settings is much buzzed about these days,
many of the systems in place remain in the pilot stage.
too early to say if there’s going to be a broad
deployment of some of these technologies,” said Laurie
Orlov, an industry analyst and author of a blog, Aging
in Place Technology Watch. “Nobody has really figured
out a good model for paying for them.”
Jersey, recent cuts in Medicaid and Medicare
reimbursements have made it harder for long-term-care
companies to upgrade or install new technologies unless
they secure grants to help pay for it, Langevin said.
Even the recent push by the federal government to fund
the transition to electronic medical record keeping has
largely targeted hospitals and doctors’ offices.
homes and long-term-care centers in general have been
left out of all preliminary discussions about going
high-tech,” Langevin said. “None of the federal
money and little of the state money is going to them.”
market for technology in nursing homes and assisted
living centers has begun to pick up significantly in the
last year, said Bryce Porter, a sales manager with
Intel-GE Care Innovations. His company has installed its
Quiet Care sensor systems in hundreds of communities
nationwide, including Bella Terra, an assisted living
residence in Ocean County.
long run, Langevin predicts, long-term-care centers will
find a way to pay for technology upgrades. “Boomers
aren’t going to want to stay in a 30-year-old building
without modern technology,” he said.
eye to the future wants and needs of the boomer
generation, many centers have already invested in
technology to improve not just clinical care but also
the quality of life inside their buildings.
Health Care Center in Wyckoff, N.J., secured a grant to
create an electronic medical records system five years
ago. At the same time, the non-profit invested in a
computer system called IN2L — It’s Never 2 Late —
which residents use to play games, surf the Web or work
have become hooked on Chicktionary, a Scrabble-like
computer game. “We’d be lost without this,” said
Betty Mowerson, a 94-year-old resident who had never
before owned a computer. “It keeps your mind going.”
computer brain games could actually help ward off
dementia symptoms by exercising memories, attention
spans, orientation and word-finding skills, said
Michelle Zaks, a speech pathologist at Christian Health
Care Center’s assisted living residence.
rehabilitation wing, a Wii computer game system has
become a standard tool in treatments. “This makes
therapy fun but also functional,” said Ritchie Lim,
director of rehabilitation at the center.
one recent session, 92-year-old Leonore Albert found
herself doing some virtual snowboarding just three weeks
after breaking her pelvis. Albert, of Paterson, N.J.,
seemed unaware of the exertion of the exercises,
laughing good-naturedly when the computer voice told her
she was “unbalanced.”
when do they qualify as a psychiatrist?” Albert
centers have installed systems focused more on improving
entertainment and giving residents more opportunities to
connect with the world outside.
— a national chain of assisted living residences with
locations in Wayne, Emerson and Paramus — partnered
recently with a technology company called Connected
Living, which has designed easier-to-use-and-read
software, with touch-screen capabilities for residents
too arthritic to use a mouse. One resident used it to
watch her grandson’s wedding at the Shore.
about a dozen residents used the system to prove that
kids aren’t the only ones who enjoy making mash-up
videos. The two-minute montage of them vamping — in
wheelchairs and walkers — to “The Lion Sleeps
Tonight” is filmed over a strange clip of a
computer-animated hippo and dog. It hasn’t made it to
YouTube yet, but that’s only because its producer —
Emeritus’ “life enrichment” director Itzik Bader
— is a little insecure about letting the world see his
just decided to do it one day just for fun,” Bader
the residents weren’t sure at first about why they
were dancing. But like the millions of teenagers and
college students putting themselves out there on YouTube,
they found it entertaining to see themselves on video.
“They get a kick out of watching it over and over
again,” he said.