Why Memory Care Needs Smarter Tech Solutions
Updated 2.12.21 from a post originally published 2.4.20
But dementia, Alzheimer’s, and the umbrella of cognitive impairment conditions are vastly underdiagnosed. And even as symptoms progress, diagnosed or not, too many older adults don’t receive the memory care they need – whether they live independently or in assisted living communities.
Supporting people with memory loss hinges upon early detection, personalized care, and easing the burden on loved ones. But a host of pain points in clinical documentation, treatment, and care administration get in the way of those pillars of diagnosis and management.
The good news: technology advances can help. Here’s how electronic health records (EHR), electronic medication administration records (eMAR), and family engagement technology are transforming memory care – and why they’re becoming an essential part of treatment.
EHR Data is a Tool for Early Detection of Memory Loss
Diagnosing dementia, Alzheimer’s, or general cognitive impairment in older adults is difficult. These are a few common reasons why:
- Early symptoms are often subtle.
- Symptoms such as confusion or disorientation can be easily mistaken for circumstantial behavior.
- Even if symptoms are documented and flagged for further review, if those notes exist on paper, they might stay siloed in a file cabinet.
For example, say an older adult exhibiting early signs of dementia visits the hospital after a fall. Even if their primary care doctor has made a manual note of those signs, that charted information can’t be easily accessed by the hospital.
Plus, if the patient is confused and disoriented during their hospital stay, that might be overlooked because their baseline cognitive status is unknown – or because hospital stays can be confusing and disorienting. They’ll be discharged after treatment for the fall, but the mounting memory loss remains undiagnosed.
Electronic health records (EHRs) connect the dots in a person’s healthcare network. Rather than paperwork that remains siloed in each care provider’s office, EHR data can be easily transferred between medical institutions. If our patient’s doctor had access to an EHR profile, they might have identified the memory-loss symptoms and recommended follow-up with a memory specialist.
But even while EHR boosts symptom visibility, EHR insights are only as good as the quality of clinical documentation they pull from. Currently, the system for tracking cognitive changes isn’t strong enough. According to one study of EHR documentation in cognitive impairment, clinicians often enter vague descriptions lacking keywords rather than diagnostic terminology, which hinders definitive diagnosis.
Critically, EHR data has the potential to become a more widespread diagnostic tool for care providers as documentation practices improve. As researchers identify a more standardized and effective framework of cognitive impairment terminology, clinicians can begin to mine a patient’s EHR data to catch symptoms sooner and more accurately.
Transitioning to Senior Living: EHR and eMAR Equip Staff to Deliver Better Care
The benefits of EHRs for older adults aren’t limited to clinical settings. EHR technology also equips caregivers in senior living communities to deliver better, more tailored care for residents living with memory loss.
Memory loss can progress quickly. Changes can be hard to track, especially if they’re being recorded by hand – and symptoms are hard to describe.
That’s where EHRs come in. EHR adoption in senior living has been slower than what it was in hospitals, but it’s becoming more prevalent. EHR data streamlines communication and documentation through a portal that nurses and CNAs can access to record and reference a resident’s profile. As a resident’s symptoms evolve, EHRs can capture those changes so that staff can update care plans accordingly.
Memory care involves a highly subjective relationship between a caregiver and a resident. EHRs provide a full portrait of a resident’s mental and physical health so that CNAs can get to know residents’ individual preferences and behaviors – and give them more personalized care.
Another key challenge in memory care is managing a resident’s other health issues. Sixty percent of older adults have two or more chronic conditions, and memory loss make it difficult to keep up with medication and treatment plans.
Electronic medical administration records (eMARs), which integrate with EHR data, digitize a resident’s medication activity. They make it easy for CNAs to…
- Track medication administration.
- Monitor missed doses.
- Automate pharmacy requests for refills and new prescriptions.
Senior Living Family Engagement Tech Gives Loved Ones Peace of Mind
The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated family members’ fears about their loved ones’ health and safety when living away from home.
Caring for family members living with dementia or Alzheimer’s is already a daunting undertaking – and an immense emotional investment. On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine the transition to a senior living community if that means being in the dark about how a loved one is doing in between visits, or when visits are not allowed.
Family engagement technology invites loved ones to communicate as frequently as they want. With a family engagement app like the one Caremerge offers, staff can send photos and messages to residents’ family members, and family members can see a loved one’s activities and community events in real time.
For residents with memory loss, communication with family members back home can be misleading and frustrating. With a portal that allows staff to communicate directly with family members, there’s no confusion over a resident’s status – CNAs who know them well can provide a better picture of how they’re doing via compliant messaging.
Memory Care Technology Strengthens Human Connection
Whether it’s for a physician, a CNA, or a loved one, technology creates transparency for everyone involved in the care of an older adult with memory loss. EHRs, eMARs, and family engagement technology are three solutions that streamline the clinical side of memory care so that there’s more room for the personal side.
If you’re interested in how our EHR, eMAR, or family engagement solutions are improving memory care in senior living communities specifically,