An independent living community that uses sensor technology and on-site care helps older people remain independent for longer, according to US nurse researchers.
The study focused on the University of Missouri’s TigerPlace initiative, in which all residents receive care co-ordination from an on-site team of a registered nurse and social worker.
“The sensors help the nurse or the social worker focus on alerts to potential health problems”
The nurse focuses on physical health concerns, while the social worker addresses mental health and relationship-based concerns.
Some of the residents also have sensors in their apartments that monitor walking patterns for increasing fall risk, respiration rate, restlessness and pulse. The health information is relayed to the care co-ordinators who can intervene to address any changes.
For the current study, published in the journal Nursing Outlook, the researchers monitored length of stay for TigerPlace residents for nearly five years.
They found TigerPlace residents stayed longer than seniors who live in other senior housing across the nation, indicating that their health remained stable enough for them to continue living independently rather than transferring to an advanced-care facility or hospital.
Additionally, the 52 residents who lived with sensors in their apartments stayed at TigerPlace the longest. Those with sensors had an average length of stay of 4.3 years, compared to a stay of 2.6 years among the 81 residents living without sensors.
Elderly live independently longer with tech monitoring
The US national average for the time older adults spend in senior housing is 1.8 years, according to previous studies.
The researchers suggested technologically enhanced care co-ordination, such as that used at TigerPlace, could prove cost-effective for improving the health and function of older adults whether they lived in senior housing, assisted living, retirement communities or their own homes.
Marilyn Rantz, curators professor emerita in the university’s Sinclair School of Nursing, said: “To double length of stay based on care co-ordination and then to nearly double again based on adding sensors, to me, is huge.”
She also noted that the sensors enhanced decision-making for the care co-ordinators.
“The sensors help the nurse or the social worker focus on alerts to potential health problems,” she said. “The alerts can also indicate potential depression, increasing confusion and/or other problems the person may be experiencing.
“With the sensors, the nurses get a head’s up several days or weeks before the health condition becomes serious – before people will even detect it themselves and complain about it. It’s all about early detection,” she added.
“Helping people stay functionally active and independent is what it’s all about”
Professor Rantz said she hoped the positive outcomes from the TigerPlace study would translate to other senior housing facilities and, ultimately, older adults’ own homes.
The researchers are now in the pilot phase of a new service to help older adults live independently in their own homes using sensor technology and off-site care co-ordination by a registered nurse.
“When we started TigerPlace, we hoped to learn new things about aging in place,” said Professor Rantz. “Now, 12 years later, this research reemphasizes that we’re able to continue to discover new ways of helping people age well.
“We’re learning the real benefits of how care co-ordination and technology can come together to find new solutions to the persistent problems of aging,” she said. “Helping people stay functionally active and independent is what it’s all about.”