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Smart beds key to new model of digitized elderly care in east China city

By Zhu Yongling, Li Yuanyuan| CGTN| Updated: July 12, 2021 L M S

Zhao Aihua, 69, lives in Wangdian Town, Xiuzhou District, Jiaxing City in east China's Zhejiang Province. Every night, she goes to bed at 10 p.m. Sensors in her bed send her blood pressure, heart rates, respiratory rates and other data to an app on her daughter's phone.

If the data turns abnormal, an alert will be sent to Zhao's daughter and a smart eldercare system of Jiaxing Wangdian People's Hospital. Doctors there will then decide at once whether first-aid service is needed, including sending an ambulance to Zhao's home.

Zhao doesn't need to worry unduly about her health as her vital signs are monitored and analyzed by the Smart Eldercare & Medical Treatment System, where doctors link up with smart home devices.

The digitalization of elderly care has been accorded great importance by the provincial government and was included in Zhejiang's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for the development of its elderly care service. Xiuzhou is one of the pilot areas for Zhejiang's service reforms.

As of mid-2021, Xiuzhou has 92,518 residents aged 60 and above, accounting for more than 25 percent of its registered population. In 2020, the district government, in association with a local company called Keeson Technology, installed 251 smart beds across the district, 11 in Jiaxing Wangdian People's Hospital and 240 in residents' homes.

Tang Guohai, chairman of Keeson Technology, believes that monitoring sleep data is very essential, since the elderly with chronic diseases have a high morbidity rate during sleep.

"The bed sensors can record the entire sleep process, equivalent to taking an electrocardiogram every 10 seconds. So lying in bed for eight hours is equivalent to having an electrocardiogram for 2,880 times," said Tang.

In order to help the elderly adapt to smart beds, the company adopts the strategy of "renovating" the old beds by installing sensors.

"Many elderly users report maladaptation to new beds, which affects their sleep and is not conducive to their health. To optimize their experience, it's better to renovate the old beds rather than replace them with new ones," said Li Ning, manager of Zhejiang Jiake Smart Eldercare Service.

The system of smart home health devices includes not only smart beds but also many other devices: the bed's matching app strengthens long-distance family care, while other devices such as toilet alarm bells and smart bracelets complete a health monitoring system. The biggest feature of this system is to provide "imperceptible" healthcare for the elderly, lowering the threshold of using advanced equipment and thus helping the elderly cope with emergencies.

Qiao Xuxia, an assistant physician in the Smart Eldercare Center of Jiaxing Wangdian People's Hospital, remembers a medical incident in which the smart home devices offered great help.

In March 2020, the Smart Eldercare Center received an alarm from an elderly man living alone. After the call to the old man was not answered, a doctor rushed to his home and found that his blood sugar was shooting up. Under such urgent circumstances, the elderly man pressed the alarm button in the toilet. Had the doctor not arrived in time, the man might have suffered a cerebral ischemic stroke.

Still, smart care devices have limitations. Elderly people with heart pacemakers are not allowed to keep electrical devices for long, and for long-term bedridden patients, the soft mattresses of the smart beds may also cause pressure sores.

According to Qiao, "Some elderly people have psychological burdens to use the smart devices. They think those high-tech devices will cost a lot." Thus, the Smart Eldercare Center characterized by big data and smart devices established a psychological consultation room for senior citizens. In this case, the sleep monitoring function provided by smart home systems can only be seen as an extension of the public medical system.

"This system is not yet independent from medical professionals because only doctors can make accurate diagnoses," Qiao said."As the first responders for the elderly, immediate family are crucial to the normal functioning of the entire system. Doctors are also important because of the professional advice they provide," said Tu Weidong, director of Jiaxing Wangdian People's Hospital.

The Smart Eldercare & Medical Treatment System is not an isolated digital program but an eldercare service management system, in which medical professionals and technology cooperate. In the future, the system will also include the delivery of medication and regular home visits by community workers to mobilize as many resources as possible to provide the senior citizens with professional care services.

(Zhu Yongling and Li Yuanyuan are post graduate students at Communication University of China. The article reflects the authors' views and not necessarily those of CGTN.)