Photo: A care provider helps a resident use an iPad
What do tablets, robots and gamification have in common? Lillian Hung, Clinical Nurse Specialist at VCH, is using all three to improve care for seniors living with dementia.
Hung researches how environment, physical design and social aspects impact the care experiences of seniors. The use of technology in seniors' care is particularly important. Hung believes it has brought a renewed interest in improving care for the elderly — particularly during the pandemic.
“I think we have so much existing technology and so much opportunity and potential to optimize the technology we have," says Hung. “We have to use it thoughtfully and we have to be careful, but there's just so much to be learned in this area."
While some of Hung's research projects have been put on pause during the pandemic, her recent work has included the Happy to Eat Project, which looked to improve dining experiences for seniors in long-term care settings, and using games to train for staff in dementia care. Her most recent publication investigated the effects of the pandemic on elderly patients with dementia and how touchscreen tablets could be used to foster a sense of connection.
The gamified training Hung's team built around dementia care has received considerable attention, resulting in thousands of people completing the course work. She also regularly fields inquiries from medical school students who want to know more about using digital tools for quality improvement.
The iPad project, which uses tablets to connect with seniors during the pandemic is one of the digital initiatives that had a profound impact on seniors during the pandemic. While tablets have been used to connect residents in long-term care with family members, it has been challenging for those with dementia to have virtual visits with their loved ones.
“Over 80 per cent of the folks in long-term care have some level of dementia," says Hung. “Some families say that their loved ones don't seem to respond to FaceTime or that they don't understand. So with our recent iPad project, we used pre-recorded family videos to reassure patients and residents and allow them to play the video again and again."
The videos are especially helpful for patients with late-stage dementia who may not remember when family calls, or why they are currently in the hospital or care home. “They may not understand that it's a recording right away, but they come to learn about it," Hung explains. “People with dementia can learn. Some people don't even talk but they can come to understand the messages."
Hung has dedicated her career to improving care for some of our most vulnerable populations and attributes much of her success to a person-centred approach to research. “My passion grew from my observations and watching how nurses were able to deliver amazing care in challenging units and risky situations," she says. “There are a lot of challenges in this work, but what really interested me was the good care and the approaches that staff took to build relationships."
While her passion and dedication to this work have led to many improvements in the ways that we care for seniors, including technological advances, she is quick to explain the important role that patients, families and caregivers play — and why patient engagement should be a part of research and improvement work.
“People and families living with these diseases have so much knowledge to offer. We need to be asking questions about what really matters to patients and what kind of outcomes would really make a difference to them."