A high tech retirement home in suburban Portland, OR received the attention of The Chicago Tribune, National Public Radio, and USA Today. Read what their reporters discovered about Oatfield Estates’ system by Elite Care integrated with Active RFID-IR locating from Versus Technology.
As the USA’s 79 million baby boomers grow older, the nation is about to hit a caregiver crisis, says Andrew Carle, director of the Program in Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. “We’re not going to have enough labor in the coming decades to take care of up to 20 million 85-year-olds in their homes,” but technology “can enhance our productivity and make us better at our jobs.”
Facilities such as Oatfield Estates, which opened in 2000, “represent a future of assisted living. Technology can work in combination with human touch to improve quality of life for seniors,” Carle says.
Nestled in the wooded Portland suburb of Milwaukie, Oatfield is the first development opened by Elite Care, owned and founded by husband-and-wife team Bill Reed, 58, and Lydia Lundberg, 54.
Though using technology to help care for older people may sound cold and machinelike, they thought it would help humanize care.
Lester “Ray” Croft, who has had a leg amputated and uses a wheelchair, holds up his [Versus] badge and says, “This is a lifesaver. The other day I was in the rose garden, and I got stuck twice,” he says, explaining how the wheels of his chair sometimes get hung up in the dirt.1
For instance, while many facilities for people with Alzheimer’s have locked doors, Oatfield uses sensors to determine when people wander off the 6-acre campus, so doors don’t have to be locked.
The technology also can help track the health of residents less intrusively than humans do. Sensors track how social a resident is, how often he goes out, how much time he spends alone, how much weight he has gained or lost, or how restless he is. Families and staff can use that information to notice possible problems, such as a resident spending more time sleeping or getting up at night more often.
On first impression, a visitor probably would not even think about technology.
There are no visible wires; the telltale signs that this might be a high-tech facility are largely unobtrusive. But the technology is there. One just has to know where to look: a closet door where wires connect with servers; a basement where generators and gray metal utility boxes are mounted on the walls; a bell that chimes from a computer in the kitchen, prompting the cook to walk over to the screen to see who needs help. [The data is collected via the Versus sensory network which utilizes active radio frequency identification (RFID) combined with infrared signals to locate, in real-time, badges that are associated with individuals.]
Residents and staff wear small black infrared badges [by Versus Technology] that send invisible signals to sensors scattered around the property. The sensors can pinpoint the location of the badge wearer. Employees can access the information on a computer network through a password-protected website; family members have password-protected access to their loved ones’ information.
Barry Jacobson, whose father, Jack, lives at Oatfield, has a small icon labeled “Pop” on his desktop computer at work in Portland. Throughout the day, he clicks on it and sees what his father has been up to: who he dined with at lunch, what his vital signs are, where he is, how quickly nurses responded to any call for help he made, which social activities he participated in. “It has been so reassuring to be able to check in anytime,” Jacobson said. “There is no longer the anxiety that the next phone call is going to be from someone there saying something’s wrong with dad.”2
Maybe Oatfield Estates is nice because the owners, Lundberg and Reed, built a place where they would want to live. They call it a “summer camp for old people.”
But Lundberg says the thing that really makes this place work is the monitoring technology.
“People don’t argue with data. They believe it,” she explains. “Because data doesn’t have an agenda. Data’s not trying to make someone look better or worse.”
Lundberg can use the data to tell whether an aide takes too long to respond when a resident pushes a call bell or whether a resident is losing too much weight.
Once an aide was accused of goofing off. But the data showed he was the staffer who spent the most time with residents.
Most of all, co-owner Bill Reed says the data gives residents a freedom that they wouldn’t have in other long-term care facilities.
“They would probably be in locked facilities,” says Reed. “They would be the ones who’d be at the doors trying to get out or escaping.”
About two-thirds of the people living here have some dementia or Alzheimer’s. At Oatfield Estates, they live in the same group homes — on the same floor — as everyone else. They’re free to roam, inside and out.
Reed says because people are monitored at this assisted facility, there’s no need to build fences here.
“These are big, strong, fairly full-of-energy people,” Reed says.
“So they’d try to escape away from the facilities. So you’d build fences for them. Then they’d be hard to contend. So you’d give them drugs to slow down their anxiety or their anger.”
Melissa Richmond was hired as the landscaper at this facility. But part of her job — and the part she enjoys most — is to get the residents to help her with the gardening. Some were farmers before coming here. Others, like Dorothy Kimmel, had their own gardens.
“Dorothy, do you think it’s too early to plant tomatoes?” Richmond asks.
“Well, I can’t even think of what month it is,” Kimmel replies.
Another resident, an elderly man with a shovel, digs holes in the ground. Then Kimmel — in a pink sweater — takes the young plants out of small plastic pots. She pulls the bottom leaves off each plant, as Richmond showed her, then leans down and places each plant in a newly dug hole.
A few days later, hundreds of miles away in an office cubicle in Tucson, Ariz., Kimmel’s daughter, Marcia Riedel, sits at her computer at the end of her work day.
She types in her user ID and password, and with just a few clicks of her computer, she reads reports about what her mother does each day.
“Planting tomatoes,” Riedel reads. “If I can click on ‘planting tomatoes,’ it gives me more information. It says they started at 3:30 and ended at five o’clock. It was outside in the main garden. And it tells who the employees there were.”
It’s hard to be a caregiver from far away. Before, when Riedel called her mother on the phone, Kimmel couldn’t always remember what she had done that day. Now Riedel phones and checks on the computer a few times a week.
The owners of Oatfield Estates say that’s the point: to use data to bring families closer together.3
1 Excerpted from USA Today “Assisted Living Facility gets Technology Assist” July 6, 2006 by Janet Kornblum.
2 Excerpted from The Chicago Tribune “Keeping Track of Dad” April 9, 2006 by Kirsten Scharnberg.
3 Excerpted from text of National Public Radio Morning Edition broadcast “Home for Seniors Trades Privacy for Security” June 1, 2006 by Joseph Shapiro.
ECT develops fully-integrated solutions for facility and home-based data collection, analysis, and decision-support. ECT solutions combine sophisticated, non-invasive technology and a unique approach towards care-giving to support independence and inter-connectedness.