4 Reasons Facilities Should Use Wearable Safety Devices (Not Alarms)

Do you operate or work in a nursing home that uses a lot of alarms? If so, you’re aware of the stress these technologies can cause.

Unfortunately, using alarms is non-negotiable. Without them, the number of falls in your facility would shoot through the roof. Many of your residents would be in continuous danger. Wouldn’t they?

Believe it or not, a growing number of nursing homes are saying goodbye to chair, bed, and floor alarms. And the results have been surprisingly positive.

Are the sounds of alarms disturbing the sleep of people in your facility? Do some of your residents live in fear of setting them off? And how often are staff members pulled away from their work to respond to alarms that shouldn’t have sounded?

In many cases, wearable safety devices are the solution. Keep in mind that these devices have evolved in recent years. We’re no longer talking about simple emergency call buttons designed primarily for at-home use.

Here are five reasons nursing home operators should consider ditching alarms in favour of advanced wearable safety devices.

1) They Can Decrease the Stress Levels of Your Staff

You’re probably aware of the many stressors nurses and personal support workers have to deal with. Noisy alarms is one of them.

The anxiety caused by beeping alarms in nursing homes and hospitals can be intense. In some cases, professional caregivers become desperate to escape any sound that reminds them of an alarm.

Burnt-out employees don’t provide the best care. For this reason, a hospital in Minneapolis changed the default settings on some of its monitoring equipment. At Abbott Northwestern hospital, alarms were set to go off only in truly urgent situations. After this shift, nurses reported feeling less stressed.

In nursing homes, the safety challenges are different. Residents are often more physically frail than younger patients in hospitals, and dementia isn’t uncommon. Falls are a constant concern.

The right wearable safety devices can provide the security residents need – without tormenting caregivers.

Let’s face it: being bombarded by jarring noises when someone shifts in bed is stressful. And running to respond to false alarms can cause serious exhaustion.

Wearable devices go wherever at-risk residents go – and they’re designed specifically to distinguish falls from harmless events. Instead of sounding loud alarms, many of these devices send alerts to the mobile phones and tablets of on-duty nurses.

The communication components built into many wearables make it possible for caregivers to connect with residents in real time. As a result, it’s easy to determine if a false alarm has taken place.

2) They Can Help Your Residents Be More Independent

It’s well known that a fear of falling can cause older adults to become sedentary. And recent studies have shown that these fears can actually increase the likelihood that a fall will occur.

Technology designed to summon help when falls occur should make those at risk feel safer. It should increase independence and encourage activity. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.

Alarms in chairs, beds, and floor mats can be very sensitive – and loud. This combination causes many older adults to restrict their movements. Instead of instilling nursing home residents with confidence, some sensors can cause embarrassment.

But alerting technology doesn’t have to work this way.

For one thing, when a resident shifts her body weight, it’s not always cause for concern. So why put her through the stress of trying to stay still? Consider whether using alarms that react to light movements is really a good idea.

And what about volume? The loud noise of an alarm is exactly what many inactive residents are trying to avoid.

By detecting actual falls and notifying caregivers more discreetly than sensors connected to bedside alarms, wearable safety devices can encourage older adults to get out of bed.

Some residents may not be capable of eating, walking, or getting dressed without help. But these activities should never be avoided out of embarrassment.

3) They Contribute to a More Congenial Environment

If you’re involved in operating a nursing home, you’ve probably encountered a lot of negative perceptions. Many people believe nursing homes are depressing. They may see facilities like yours as oppressive and restrictive.

Of course, you know better. You strive to create more than just a place where you residents can receive care. You do everything in your power to give them a home.

But what does that mean, exactly? Most of us would agree that a home should be a peaceful place – a place to feel safe.

Unfortunately, frequent, abrasive noises do nothing to contribute to a home-like atmosphere. They can create a sense of anxiety, unease, and even panic. They can interrupt moments that would otherwise be enjoyable for residents, or wake them up in the middle of the night.

Conflict between residents – especially roommates – can also make the nursing home experience unpleasant.

Perhaps you’ve dealt with a scenario like this one. A resident frequently sets off her bed, chair, or floor alarm with accidental shifting or movement. The sounds regularly disrupt her roommate, causing annoyance.

A harmonious roommate experience can help a resident feel like part of a vibrant community. Arguments and disagreements can do just the opposite.

Wearable safety devices can cut down on false alarms by correctly detecting falls. Thanks to this improvement, roommates don’t have to be continuously disturbed.

4) Your Staff’s Priorities May Change – For the Better

It’s bound to happen. Even an attentive staff may well become overly reliant on alarms. When there are a million things to do, it makes sense to let technology do some of the work.

Unfortunately, this attitude can lead to serious problems. Facilities that encourage the widespread use of alarms may be sending the wrong message to staff.

Responding to falls is critical. But staff should also strive to investigate and address resident motivations for engaging in risk. For example: the physical behaviour of some dementia sufferers can change due to silent urinary tract infections.

Though it’s easier said than done, it’s important for caregivers to remember: being proactive is preferable to reactiveness.

Alarm fatigue is another serious issue. The stress of dealing with frequent false alarms can cause nurses to ignore these noises altogether – including those that signify real emergencies.

We believe that wearable safety devices can be part of a more thorough approach.

Advanced devices provide caregivers with more information than a blaring alarm ever could. Some are equipped with two-way communication capabilities, which means staff can connect to a resident after a potential fall – immediately. As a result, nurses can better prioritize.

When the noise of false alarms dies down, nurses can better respond to the fall notifications they receive.

Nursing leaders at Abbott Northwestern Hospital found that, when alarm frequency decreased, staff actually responded quicker to those alarms that remained.

It’s simple. Increase the likelihood that alerts are signifying actual falls. Reverse the alarm fatigue that can, in many cases, desensitize nurses. And help nurses and other caregivers understand where their attention is best focused.

Wearable Safety Devices: an Alternative to Alarms?

To some, the title of this post may seem controversial. Can wearable safety devices really replace alarms in nursing homes? The answer will depend on the facility – and its residents.

In some cases, alarms may be necessary to ensure the safety of some residents. That said, there are clear benefits to creating a calming environment. And reducing the use of overly-disruptive technology can help.

More and more, those who operate facilities are choosing to assess the unique safety needs of their residents. After this type of evaluation, you just might find that cutting out – or cutting down on – alarms is in the best interest of everyone in involved.

Feature image courtesy of Brian Bullock

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