What we learned from the pandemic: ‘smart’ residences arrive


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“This is wonderful,” says José Manuel Lamas, one of the residents of the A Estrada residence. Since this summer, the Xunta de Galicia has been shaping a “smart” model center for the elderly: they have installed motion sensors, monitored the measurements of the vital signs of the residents or enabled a room with a large screen to make video calls with families. Although at the moment it is a pilot project, the intention of the Department of Social Policy is to take it to all public residences in Galicia before the end of 2022.

The A Estrada building is not exactly new. Founded during the 80s, this residence might not attract attention on a technological level, except perhaps for the large «totem» at the entrance: a tall vertical screen announces that Manuel was on his birthday on the day of this newspaper’s visit. «It is one of the things that residents like the most», Says Alfredo Silva, the person in charge of this great pioneering project in all of Spain and head of planning of the General Directorate of Comprehensive Attention of the Department of Social Policy. “On the screen we put the menu of the day, and that is something very important to them,” he jokingly points out.

However, the differentiator of this residence is in details that go more unnoticed, but that improve the quality of life of both the residents and the nurses and assistants of the center; are advances that in addition to doing the residency a much safer place, make it warmer and closer. It all starts with the pandemic: the coronavirus was viciously cruel to the residences of the elderly (according to data from the IMSERSO, since March of last year more than 30,000 elderly people died in residences due to the pathology) and, although in the case of that of A Estrada there was no contagionFortunately, and due to the work of the professionals, it was evident that the management system of these centers needed to be rethought.

“Until not long ago,” says the nurse Esperanza Silva, when she had to take the users’ constants daily, “I had to take a piece of paper and write down the results and then put them manually into the program,” but since Televés and the Xunta has done the installation, data is dumped automatically: “So I know avoid human error at the time of transcribing and saving time that can be invested in other activities. But perhaps the changes that can make the most difference have to do with unforeseen events and emergencies.

«From the nursing team we contribute the idea of smart watch with geolocation», Says the nurse. When residents go out for a walk, go to the doctor or simply go on a group excursion, it is common for them to suffer some confusion and deviate, even getting lost. Above all, “after the pandemic, when they have come out again, we saw that cognitive impairment was evidenced»Due to the months of confinement. With these devices, the residence staff establishes a maximum radius, “a delimited geographical area”, that when the user leaves this area, the nurses will automatically receive a warning on their mobile phones.

In fact, this type of technology has already saved them from more than one scare. In the residence of A Estrada there are a couple of residents who «they can’t go out alone, they can only do it accompanied “, and they have been fitted with a bracelet that detects when they leave the main door, trying to get away, to send an alert to the workers. However, “the residents do not notice anything, their private life has not changed.”

Contact loved ones

Servando has a garden of little more than a square meter with his name in the residence of A Estrada; Before he passed away, he took care of him. ‘Rincón de Servando’, puts on a wooden sign that hangs above the plants. In addition to the gardener of that small green space, he is the protagonist of the last great love story of the residence. He met his girlfriend, Josefa, at the senior center, she was older than Servando and her level of dependency was higher, but nurse Silva says that It was not an impediment for him to take care of her like nobody else. However, in A Estrada they could not meet the needs of the woman as necessary and she was transferred to another residence, with the bad luck that shortly afterwards the pandemic broke out and the couple stopped seeing each other for months until, once the perimeter closures between councils, “we made a roadmap for Servando” so that he could go to his partner’s residence. It was the last time they saw each otherAlthough they tried to arrange the transfer of Servando, he died before being able to visit Josefa again.

The pandemic unleashed countless situations like this, not only between couples, but also prevented friends from seeing each other and family members from hugging. In the residences, this isolation became even more acute, leaving the elderly unable to communicate with their loved ones. Although the elderly are accompanied practically 24 hours a day, they have friends and, in the case of others, such as Servando, even a partner, residences can be very cold and lonely places if you can’t talk to your children or play with your grandchildren.

But you learn from everything, and although to realize that you had to improve the communication of the residences with the outside A pandemic was necessary, now in the center of A Estrada there is a room with a large screen and a camera so that the elderly can talk with whoever they want through video calls. In addition, Alfredo Silva points out that the idea is to carry a device that allows this communication model to each of the rooms.

The majority of older people do not have mobile phones or WhatsApp either, but with this system they can easily send photos and videos to their families: each resident has a folder with their name in which they can attach files that will reach their relatives. “This also leaves families calmer,” explains Alfredo Silva, because they know what activities users do and can establish direct lines of communication with them.

Motion sensors

Monitored motion sensors have also been installed in all doors and corridors. They are designed mainly for the night, and detect when the elderly go to the bathroom, how many times, or if they leave their rooms. For example, if one of them is in the toilet for too long, a notice will be sent to the manager to check if everything is in order. In addition, “if we know that someone goes too much to the bathroom, it may be indications of some pathology,” says the nurse, and thus they can anticipate more serious consequences.

For the elderly, one of the most useful instruments is the push button that everyone has next to the bed: with the push of a button, they can speak directly to the nurses or assistants and request what they need. While showing how the new devices work, Pilar, one of the residents, thinks that these novelties, for her, “are all good.” Anyway, “I have not used them yet” because we have needed them, he clarifies.

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