By Sylvia Foley, AJN senior editor
“If people are for instance walking around in the units, well, then they could do all sorts of things . . . ”—study participant
Surveillance technology in residential care facilities for people with dementia or intellectual disabilities has been touted both as a solution to understaffing and as a means to increasing clients’ autonomy. But it’s unclear whether surveillance technology delivers on its promises—and there are fears that its use could attenuate the care relationship. To explore how nurses and support staff actually use this technology, Alexander Niemeijer and colleagues decided to conduct a field study. They report on their findings in this month’s CE–Original Research feature, “The Use of Surveillance Technology in Residential Facilities for People with Dementia or Intellectual Disabilities.” Here’s a brief summary.
Methods: An ethnographic field study was carried out in two residential care facilities: a nursing home for people with dementia and a facility for people with intellectual disabilities. Data were collected through field observations and informal conversations as well as through formal interviews.
Results: Five overarching themes on the use of surveillance technology emerged from the data: continuing to do rounds, alarm fatigue, keeping clients in close proximity, locking the doors, and forgetting to take certain devices off. Despite the presence of surveillance technology, participants still continued their rounds. Alarm fatigue sometimes led participants to turn devices off. Though the technology allowed wandering clients to be tracked more easily, participants often preferred keeping clients nearby, and preferably behind locked doors at night. At times participants forgot to remove less visible devices (such as electronic bracelets) when the original reason for use expired.
Conclusions: A more nuanced view of the benefits and drawbacks of surveillance technology is called for. Study participants tended to incorporate surveillance technology into existing care routines and to do so with some reluctance and reservation. Client safety and physical proximity seemed to be dominant values, suggesting that the fear that surveillance technology will attenuate the care relationship is unfounded. A clear and well-formulated vision for the use of surveillance technology seems imperative to successful implementation.
In closing, the authors recommend that before implementing surveillance technology, an institution’s management—in collaboration with its employees—should determine what the goals are, what conditions must be met, and “what the potential risks and benefits are, both for the institution and for each individual client.” To learn more, read the article, which is free online.