AI technology brings innovation to elderly care

By | 3 minute read | April 17, 2018

Italy’s population is growing older. Today, more than 22 percent of our citizens are 65-plus. By 2050, experts say that number will reach 40 percent. There will be an immense need for elderly care. But will the healthcare industry be prepared for this demographic shift?

Overcoming challenges in the industry

At Sole Cooperativa, we are transforming Italy’s elderly care industry through our assisted living and independent living facilities, delivering innovative rehab, care and educational services to guests and clients. Our residents are 85 years old on average, so we are equipped to handle demanding issues like dementia, fall risks and de-hydration. However, to maintain our high levels of service as demand grows over the next 30 years, we need to make some changes.

First, there is a shortage of skilled caregivers, and that makes it difficult for us to grow our staff.  Second, Sole Cooperativa must be cost-effective. Because we are also funded through government grants, we have to strike the right balance between costs and quality of care. In other words, we simply must do more with less.

Knowing that 1) we can’t immediately solve the caregiver shortage problem and 2) there will always be a downward pressure on costs, my colleagues and I at Sole Cooperativa knew we needed to get creative—even visionary. How could we change the way we deliver care to increase efficiency without sacrificing the human touch?

We found the answer in AI and the Internet of Things (IoT). Our core mission is providing the best possible care starting with non-negotiable guide rails, respecting the dignity of the individual and being trustworthy and ethical in our every action. We strongly believe that technology can really help to augment our tenets, since it can provide us information about the context and the individual and allow us to provide more personalized feedback in our human face-to-face daily interaction.

Like having a nurse in the room 24×7

In a pilot project, we installed IoT sensors like motion detectors in corridors, flush-detecting sensors in toilet tanks, sensors to detect bed movements, carbon dioxide and monoxide sensors, and more. These sensors send streams of data to a central system based on IBM Watson technology, which can look for patterns in our residents’ behavior and alert our nursing staff when something deviates from the norm.

We’re also working on a so-called “frailty index” to help nurses spot health and safety risks. For instance, with AI analyzing historical data, we hope to find surprising connections, such as the correlation between unusual sleeping habits or irregular trips to the restroom in the middle of the night and a potential increase in the risk of falling. This would give staff members an early warning that a particular resident might need extra attention and thus potentially prevent a life-threatening fall.

 Nurses are at the center of our strategy

Of course, we know we can’t transform elderly care overnight. The work is still fundamentally about human interactions, and we ultimately rely on the expert judgement and intuition of our nursing staff to provide high-quality care. Thus, we have to make sure our nurses are happy. One of our primary goals in this project was to evaluate user acceptance, or the willingness of staff and residents to adopt and adapt to new technologies.

We took the time to evaluate how and where to introduce technology into the daily lives of residents and the daily rhythms of nurses. We asked night nurses to test the initial system for reliability and accuracy. Little by little, this is how we built trust and confidence in the technology and assured our staff that the system is a tool to help them do their jobs better—not to replace them!

With AI and IoT helping to monitor our residents and prevent potentially dangerous situations, Sole Cooperativa is finding new ways to help older people live safely and independently. The solution is giving us a better understanding of their everyday routines and long-term lifestyles, helping us identify risks, personalize care and pursue specific actions to improve quality of life.


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