The health crisis opens the debate on care and assistance for the elderly
The pandemic highlights the need for active and healthy ageing.
Despite the fact that the official figures may not be 100% accurate, the numbers are still shocking: currently the COVID-19 pandemic in Spain has left 10,765 elderly people dead in care homes and at least 19,714 elderly people are still infected within these centres. Statistics that go beyond our country, leaving similar data at a global level.
Since the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread around the world, the numbers of affected and dead people are growing, with the elderly being the most affected. This is because this group of the population is affected by a certain degree of health deterioration and also suffers from other pathologies that aggravate the infection, such as heart disease, respiratory diseases or immunosuppressive conditio
Many of those affected so far have been cared for in nursing homes or senior centers where the virus has spread mercilessly. According to World Health Organization figures, more than half of the 110,000 deaths recorded in Europe from COVID-19 have occurred in people living in gerontological residences and other similar facilities.
There is no doubt that these data should make society consider the need to modify the current model of care for our elderly. The debate has already been opened at a national level, with statements by the Spanish Minister of Health, Salvador Illa, who assured at a press conference that after the pandemic a number of lessons will be learned, including a review of the model of nursing homes. At the European level, the director for Europe of the WHO, Hans Kluge, has also highlighted this need for review and change.
Will the pandemic cause a change in the model of care for the elderly?
Spain has been a country where traditionally the care of the elderly has been done within the family. However, this trend has been changing over the years with other more extended options such as home care by professionals or the use of retirement homes.
According to data from the Networked Aging Report of March 2019, in Spain there are 4.2 residential places for every 100 elderly persons; in total, 366,633 places (2017). Although there is no exact certainty regarding the level of occupancy, it may be between 75-80%, using data from the population living in collective accommodation/residences (Population Census, 2011), and from the residence base.
A model of care that has worked until now, although on some level it has not been given enough attention by the different public organisations. A situation of neglect that has been highlighted by the pandemic, such as the lack of information, staff training, budget and aid, health material and protection for the professionals working in them.
The exact figures are not yet known and until the situation is stabilized in the medium term it will not be possible to know the true extent of the problem. However, both the data already reported and those that can be intuited, the images and the testimonies of relatives who have not been able to say goodbye to their loved ones highlight the need to discuss the current model of care for the elderly.
Although it is true that there should continue to be centres where the elderly can be perfectly attended to, it is necessary to set up projects and aid to provide the residences and their personnel with the resources they need. In addition, it is vital that people who can still look after themselves can continue to live at home with the care and supervision of relatives, thus enjoying active ageing.
The evolution towards active aging: LOCS
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted two situations that affect the care model for the elderly:
➜ On the one hand, the lack of resources available to the residences. This lack of attention, although not new, has been devastating in the current situation. Among the factors that have most affected the residences are the lack of personnel, lack of resources, lack of preparation and protocols for infectious diseases, etc.
➜ On the other hand, the deficiencies suffered by the elderly who are isolated in their homes without contact with their loved ones. Confined, most of them are unaware of new technologies and need this contact with their relatives to let them know that they are well. A feeling of loneliness that adds to the uncertainty of their relatives for not knowing at any time how they are.
Two circumstances in which MYSPHERA’s LOCS project can be fundamental. The solution, which seeks to promote active ageing, is based on three objectives:
• To create safe environments that facilitate independent living at home for older people living alone, for as long as possible.
• To reduce the levels of concern and uncertainty among family members about the state of their elderly at any given time.
• To provide reliable and accurate information to their caregivers to act proactively against possible risks.
The digitalization of society and IoT technology has allowed the creation of this system, under the European project ACTIVAGE, which aims to achieve a more active and healthy aging of the population through technology. The project already has 12 pilots distributed throughout 9 European countries.
The LOCS system is implanted in the homes of the users in a simple way and without the need for wired installation, motion sensors are installed in rooms and doors with a tablet or smartphone as the central device that collects all the information.
So the solution registers:
– Absence of activity
– Prolonged absence from home
– Sleep problems
– Absence at unusual times
– Daily routines (rest, feeding, cleaning…)
– Exit from safe areas
– Visit to points of interest
All this information is sent automatically from the tablet or the user’s smartphone to the family members, who have an app where they can check all this information, as well as to a care manager for all the users where, in addition to this data, they also have knowledge of alerts, operation and loading of the devices, home temperatures, routines, etc.
A system that in addition is extensible to the outside through the user’s smartphone that, if it is connected to LOCS, also allows to know the location through GPS and even to indicate certain zones or areas of alert to the relatives.
Regarding its possible implementation in the residences, through LOCS it is possible to take the attention of the residents one step further. It is possible to control within the rooms of the residence hall, so that at all times the staff can check the movements they make in the rooms where they are, and if they have any emergency within their own room.
A tool that has been useful to many pilot users, but which has undoubtedly become fundamental in these moments of quarantine as reported by some media.