It is no secret that technological advances are changing the way we live our lives and especially in the way the elderly will receive care and support as they grow older. Technologies which we never dreamed of are rapidly becoming integrated in our everyday lives, providing opportunities to improve and enhance the way we live. Making the most of these opportunities, especially in the aged and dementia care spheres, rely on understanding these new systems and the real benefits they can provide in making the ageing experience a more positive one.
In 2016, the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (Thomas Barracked Ewing et al) measured the rate and ways Australians are adopting new digital technologies. Parameters such as “Access” (e.g. to the internet, having broadband etc) “Affordability" and “Digital Ability” (i.e. confidence, digital literacy) were measured and uncovered some interesting results for the elderly demographic.
Results showed that people over 65 were the least likely to take up new technologies, mainly down to affordability and digital literacy. Many older users carry a degree of negativity or even fear toward the use of technology, whether they will understand it properly, whether it will be easy to use and whether it will provide the solution they are looking for. However far from being adverse to technology adoption, the over 65s cohort is proving to be increasingly looking to technology to achieve a higher quality of life.
Today’s aged care landscape is facing unprecedented change driven by three key areas - rapidly ageing population, increasing pace of new technologies and reforms in the sector in regard to care delivery. (Barnett, Reynolds, Gordon, Hobbs and Maeder: Developing a Technology Roadmap for the Australian Aged Care Sector, 2017)
The rise of “Assistive” technologies.
Traditionally, aids for the elderly were limited to physical items such as walking sticks and frames, ramps and alarm pendants. Whilst necessary, they are limited in functionality and do not actively contribute to true independence. In recent years, an increasing number of new systems and products have aimed to provide more significant support for the elderly and have been classified as “Assistive Technologies”.
The World Health Organisation defines Assistive Technologies as:
“An umbrella term for any device or system that allows an individual to perform tasks they would otherwise be unable to do or increases the ease and safety with which tasks can be performed.”
These technologies have been classified into six clusters;
- Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) - computers, mobilephones, tablets, internet.
- Robotics - a range of systems to assist operating everyday appliances by addressing mobility and social connections
- Telemedicine - mainly distance medical consultations via internet based systems
- Sensor based technologies - provide alerts for caregivers and staff for critical events. Particular emphasis on falls prevention and supporting independent living.
- Medical management - those applications that aim to improve accuracy in administering medications.
- Video Games - designed to be used as therapy or for entertainment
(Khosravi & Ghapanchi 2016:20)
Benefits provided by “Assistive” technologies.
Drawing on the power of the Internet of Things, MimoCare is a sensor based technology. Given its impact in the aged care sector, it can be further classified as Assistive Technology. Assistive because it monitors the well being of an aged or vulnerable resident
With smart sensors in the home (or retirement unit/room), care providers and staff can be alerted to a critical incident.
A good example is the combination of data from bed and chair sensors. The sensors detect bed occupancy and the use of favourite chair as compared to the person moving around. A trend of reducing movement is a likely indicator of the onset of frailty, a critical and important pointer for the responsible authorities.
The study conducted by Khosravi & Ghapanchi in 2016, emphatically highlighted that sensor technologies have shown to be very effective in reducing the number of falls. That outcome resulting in reduced instances of hospitalisation, as well as delaying entry into long term care.
Telecare systems thus provide a sound platform that supports the ability of the elderly to continue to live independently and stay longer within their communities.
It also enhances the concept of “self-care” with analytic data that will highlight upcoming issues and thus initiate a timely program of exercise and balance.”
Telecare systems support the ability for the elderly to continue to live independently for longer and stay within their communities. Whilst providing reassurance that help will be provided in case of an emergency, it can also drive the concept of “self-care” - the ability to track and identify potential health concerns in real time, triggering action to rectify them before they cause significant damage - such as identifying when daily activity levels need to be increased to delay frailty.
Support for caregivers.
With the majority of older Australians wanting to remain in their own homes and communities, the role of family members in providing non-formal care will increase. ABS surveys of carers indicate that their number one priority is to provide the very best of care to their loved one, whilst being able to fulfil other family obligations. This can often result in additional pressure as carers struggle to balance careers, caring for young families, increased distance and caring responsibilities.
Numerous studies have indicated the importance of assistive technologies in contributing to relieving this pressure, mainly through reducing the amount of time, energy and assistance required to provide good quality care and lessening the anxiety associated in supporting the independence of the person in their care.
Over time, adoption rate of new technologies within the aged care sector will increase as consumers become more accepting of change. In the short term it is imperative to educate and clearly outline the differing types of technology advances so that uses and benefits are better understood and more readily accepted.
Barnett, Reynolds, Gordon, Hobbs and Maeder - "Developing a Technology Roadmap for the Australian Aged Care Sector, 2017"
Khosravi and Ghapanchi - "Investigating the effectiveness of technologies applied to assist seniors: A systematic literature review."
Venkatesh V. Morris MG. Davis GB. Davis FD - “User acceptance of information technology: Toward a unified view.”
Roy Morgan research via AMCA report – “Digital Lives of Older Australians 2106”
Australian Digital Inclusion Index - https://digitalinclusionindex.org.au/