The values of elder care operators are visible in everyday actions, not in speeches. The utilisation of new technology in nursing also requires serious ethical consideration.

As a postdoctoral researcher in psychology, Docent Mari Huhtala’s view on elder care is based on the research of ethics in organisations. The workplace ethics research originated from research in the field of healthcare. In elder care as well as in healthcare, employees struggle with the conflict of morality and work requirements. Recent discussion has proved that if the organisers of care only aim at maximising profits, ethics – which is an integral part of the profession – is marginalised.

According to Huhtala, organisations should pay attention to ethical issues at all levels – including the top management.

“Managers should not only know their own values but also be capable of applying them in practice, often under the pressure of complex demands,” Huhtala explains. “Visions and values listed on companies’ websites are not necessarily implemented in daily activities. However, values are clearly reflected in the actions of supervisors and managers. When you have power to allocate resources and make decisions on recruitment, such decisions reveal the true basis of values to employees.”

“Resources should be adequate so that individual nurses are able to follow moral values in their work. The expectations, requirements and workloads should be clear and controllable. The management has the duty to offer individual employees the opportunity to perform their work in a responsible and ethical manner.”

Conflict of care and efficiency

The conflict of care and efficiency is a persistent problem in elderly care. At the Centre of Excellence in Research on Ageing and Care led by the University of Jyväskylä, the research group of Academy Research Fellow Sakari Taipale focuses on new technologies related to ageing and elder care. The group examines both older individuals’ use of technology as well as the technological applications used in elder care.

Technology is often considered to solve many problems and ease the lack of resources in the field. Nevertheless, current technological aids cannot fulfil the most important demand of care work: contact and genuine interaction with people. According to Taipale, technology can really be helpful in different forms of elder care but the addition of technological applications should be considered carefully.

In home care, technology can, at its best, help employees to optimise their working time. A home visit is not always needed if you can take care of the matter through a remote connection. In such cases the nurses will have more time for genuine interaction with customers. Or will they?

“Companies have a great temptation to use the freed resources for increasing the number of customers,” Taipale says.

Even though the use of technology in home care may bring some freedom to both the person needing care and the nurse, ageing inevitably changes the ways to use technology. The need for help increases and the possibility to use devices may be limited because of weakened sight, hearing or trembling hands.

Slowly and unintentionally, older persons shift from technology users to targets of technology use.

He explains that in institutional care the role of technology is not really to intensify processes but to increase the safety of customers or working methods and to lighten heavy workloads. How long then is the use of technology governed by the older individual when there are, for example, monitoring devices and fall detection sensors in use? How long can a person autonomously decide and express what types of technologies they find intrusive?

“In the end, the relatives or the nursing staff have the moral responsibility for the choices,” Taipale concludes.

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