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As artificial intelligence solutions grow both more sophisticated and prominent, they increasingly are not only taking root in people’s daily lives but growing in influence in how industries operate.

Senior living is no exception. In fact, AI is taking on a more impactful part in an array of roles for senior living operations—from staffing and financial management to fall prevention and clinical care.

But artificial intelligence isn’t about replacing human intelligence—it’s about enhancing it. Kelly Keefe, vice president of Community Solutions Strategy at MatrixCare, says AI gives a boost to critical thinking of its users, allowing them to “see things before they might otherwise see them.”

Arena CEO Michael Rosenbaum tells of how Walmart uses machine learning and predictive analytics to determine the selection of items to stock in their stores, analyzing such data as weather and social media to guide it.

“It is this analysis of unstructured data, from multiple sources, in real time, that is perhaps the most unique benefit of AI,” Rosenbaum says.

“Whereas no artificial intelligence can truly compare to the best of our human intelligence, the ability for AI to find patterns and ‘signal’ very quickly from massive amounts of data is the incontrovertible advantage of AI over human capabilities.

“It’s not that we are not capable of analyzing it. It is just that we are limited by time and energy and focus in ways that machine learning techniques are not.”

Reading the vital signs

As Heather Annolino, senior director of Healthcare Practice at Ventiv, put it, “Artificial intelligence empowers health care organizations to obtain and examine data and generate actionable insight quickly and concisely. By quickly uncovering insights and connections, facilities can efficiently enact new or updated protocols without biases—based on fact.”

Keefe says better access to data leads to better AI-aided results—and senior living operators and others have better access to data than ever before.

“It’s so much easier now for us to collect information from external devices—for example, vital sign monitoring like temperature, pulse, respiration, blood pressure—and also wearable devices such as Fitbits and Apple watches,” Keefe says.

“We’re now able to bring in information from those types of devices and really make a much more robust decision-making aid for our users – one that helps not just to alleviate the burden on the caregiver but helps that caregiver provide much better care.”

Annolino says using AI to analyze hypotheses to show unknown trends can improve efficiency and lead to improvements in addressing health risks.

“Many communities are still using manual methods (paper, spreadsheets) to handle incidents, data entry, analysis, reporting, and other risk tasks,” Annolino says.

“This does not allow for clear answers to complex health questions, due to lack of insight, uncollected information, and siloed data. With the ability to see and understand all the data and information related to an event, communities can better understand its effect.”

Falls prevention connection

One of the most compelling uses of AI in senior living today is the pursuit of preventing resident falls, a persistent and critical challenge for all providers.

How does that work? Tom Paprocki, managing director, Direct Supply Innovation and Technology Center, explains.

AI “generally functions by recognizing patterns and then either suggesting optimal solutions for a human to implement or by actually implementing those solutions itself,” he says.

“For example, most modern cars have a multitude of sensors and other technologies that identify potential risks and then alert the driver to react,” Paprocki says. “That is very different from a fully self-driving car, where the AI not only identifies potential risks but actually reacts to those risks by autonomously operating the vehicle.”

Paprocki says AI solutions are still closer to the former part of the analogy than the latter—but change is coming.

“AI is being rapidly applied to identifying risks and suggesting optimal responses, but not to actually interceding in any independent physical way,” Paprocki says.

“For example, whether we’re talking wearable technologies, sensors, ultra-wideband radar, or machine vision, we’re getting closer to a point where we can monitor and track changes in balance and gait which are indicative of the likelihood of a fall.

“As was the case with the car, you still need human involvement to actually intercede and, say, deliver the appropriate physical therapy to make that fall less likely. But this is how technology like AI can be so remarkably impactful, because it can make all human activity more measurably effective.”

Direct Supply is partnering with SafelyYou, a memory care-focused health care technology company, to help reduce resident falls. SafelyYou’s AI clients have shown an average of 40 percent and 70 percent fewer emergency room visits, says SafelyYou’s CEO George Netscher.

Looking at the numbers

Direct Supply is partnering with SafelyYou, a memory care-focused health care technology company, to help reduce resident falls in senior living communities. SafelyYou provides real-time fall detection by using AI-enabled technology to record video of resident falls.

When an incident happens, it notifies care staff immediately so the video can be reviewed, and the appropriate action can take place. Privacy and liability are protected through cameras that only activate when a fall is detected.

SafelyYou’s clients have shown an average of 40 percent and 70 percent fewer emergency room visits, says George Netscher, CEO. One community saw a 93 percent reduction in ER visits for dementia-related resident falls.

As a blog post from Health Dimensions Group points out, AI services can allow older adults to take an active and interactive role in their own health and well-being, such as by using voice tech to program updated medication reminders: “This personalization has the potential to keep seniors informed and engaged, improve connections and communications, and enhance their daily lives.”

Netscher says he thinks of AI in two categories: taking over tasks that can be done by humans and augmenting humans or giving superhuman abilities in some way.

“What’s exciting about where we are today with respect to fall prevention is that we’re really hitting both for the first time,” Netscher says.

“We’re not just sending alarms or telling staff that an individual has fallen, we’re giving staff superhuman abilities to staff for the first time. We’re enabling staff to identify exactly how falls are happening and what steps can be taken to improve care for each individual resident.”

“Iron Man suit for caregivers”

Paprocki says a successful AI solution requires data, time for a system to learn and evolve, and a clear way to make its expertise actionable. SafelyYou has been effective because it has utilized all three, he says.

As with other technological tools, the human component of AI is still important. However, Paprocki says fall prevention also is an area particularly suited for AI-based support because senior care “is so incredibly reliant on people, and we simply don’t have enough of them.”

“We live in a time when staffing has never been harder in our industry,” Paprocki says. “Even if we had triple or quadruple the number of caregivers, we still couldn’t predict, observe, immediately react to, or know how to prevent all falls. And that’s where technology like AI can be literally lifesaving, because it can function like an Iron Man suit for our frontline caregivers.”

Improving operations

Senior living providers are also turning to AI to improve the efficiency of their operations. Rosenbaum says natural language processing, which is also known as NLP, is one type of AI that can help senior living operators.

NLP supports Arena’s voice-to-text and text analysis technologies and “opens up a world of possibilities for health care and senior care,” he says.

“For example, electronic health/medical records are intended to improve patient/resident care but are often burdens on top of already-full workloads for our caregivers—NLP can support the easy recording of medical/health related conversation and reporting,” Rosenbaum says.

“Combined with machine learning and predictive analytics—the key AI functions within Arena’s realm of expertise—medical records can become highly organized and recommendations and insights for care can be surfaced.”

Arena uses NLP, predictive analytics techniques, and a variety of machine learning processes to help senior living operators match staff members to specific roles, such as working in particular parts of a building or certain shifts.

The solution can point to “where they are most likely to produce the care and quality outcomes that the provider deems most important,” Rosenbaum says.

“Arena continually collects and analyzes data from the world and combines it with data from providers, job applicants and new hires and then uses AI tools to identify patterns related to the outcomes achieved by hires, following them anywhere from months to years, depending on the client.”

Keeping up with changes

When circumstances change, patterns change, Rosenbaum says, and Arena then makes matches in real time to the roles and locations for workers that will be best for those circumstances.

Similarly, Keefe says AI solutions such as MatrixCare’s can help identify otherwise hidden problems individual caregivers might be having and prompt crucial interventions.

For instance, AI can be used to analyze the language that a caregiver enters into their documentation that could indicate they are experiencing burnout or struggling to cope with a resident’s behaviors, before it gets to a point where they’re badly stressed or overwhelmed.

“We are looking at ways that we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence to spot those things long before anybody could ever otherwise see them coming,” Keefe says.

“That way we can help a provider maybe do some interventions with the caregiver to help them overcome whatever challenges they’re facing or maybe better pair residents with caregivers to make a more compatible match.”

Misconceptions and obstacles

Paprocki says some misconceptions about AI still persist, partly because of its often-dystopian depiction in movies and TV shows. That can make for good entertainment, but it tends to overshadow “the amazing possibilities for AI to have a deeply positive impact on our world.” And it is clear people are growing more comfortable with the technology and its possibilities.

“There are already awesome examples of AI playing out right now spanning environmental preservation to discovering the medicines of the future to improving access to education,” Paprocki says.

“But getting past the misconceptions of anything new takes time, accumulated familiarity, and appreciable benefits.”

Netscher says he believes AI’s short-term capabilities are often overestimated and its long-term capabilities are underestimated.

“I see lots of misconceptions about what AI is really capable of,” Netscher says. “We’re really building software today that can identify complex patterns and not building anything that looks or feels like common sense.

“I do think those misconceptions are going away as folks just interact with more and more AI on a daily basis. From things like Amazon Alexa to the spam filter for your inbox, you start to get a sense for how these kinds of systems make decisions and get more comfortable with them. It’s fundamentally just hard to trust something when you don’t know exactly what it’s capable of.”

Paprocki says obstacles still exist to limit AI’s impact on senior living, particularly limited data, insufficient Wi-Fi infrastructure and disparate technology systems within buildings and across operators’ communities.

Platforms and privacy

“The thorniest and most persistent problem will be the lack of a common platform to ingest, make sense of, and make use of all of the data and insights we collectively generate,” Paprocki says.

“Put simply, unless we find a way to make these insights easily understood and clearly actionable, AI will always be limited in its impact.”

Keefe says senior living providers can have a natural resistance to using AI tools founded on concerns tied to privacy, and she says it is essential for them to ask questions of software providers to ensure that privacy is not being overlooked.

In addition, operators and software providers should ensure that their tools do not act as accidental restraints on residents, making them feel so monitored and watched that they become reluctant to move and behave the way they would like to live.

She says many providers have shared their belief over the years that residents are either not tech savvy or are uncomfortable with tech tools.

“During the last nine months or so with the pandemic, we’ve seen that actually the opposite is true,” Keefe says. “Residents have been very willing to adopt some of these technologies. I think the pandemic has opened eyes to the fact that seniors really are willing to utilize these tools.”

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