Home is where the tech is

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Welcome to your new smart home. It’s kitted out in the latest technologies that could help to delay or prevent you ever needing to move into residential aged care.

If you’re lucky enough to live until old age, the unavoidable reality is that you’re more likely to experience physical frailty, disability or cognitive impairment. Such declines in health are frequently associated with an eventual move into residential aged care. But times are changing.

Advancements in smart home and health technologies mean you may be able to continue to live in your own home for longer, and delay or even prevent a move into residential aged care.

That’s good news, with research consistently finding that the vast majority of older Australians would prefer to stay in their own homes for as long as possible.

Chair of Restorative Care at Flinders University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Professor Sue Gordon, works directly with community care provider, ACH Group, to apply smart technologies in seniors’ homes.

She says the technology we require to help people continue living at home for longer is available now. It helps people manage chronic illnesses and disease and assists in performing day-to-day tasks around the house. “You can have a system in your house where it will open your blinds for you,” says Gordon, describing voice-activated technologies. “It can put the radio on gently so it doesn’t blare, but gradually comes on, and put your kettle on – but you still might have to make your own cup of tea.”

An internet connection and mobile device (like a smartphone or tablet) can also facilitate a face-to-face conference with your technologically-minded doctor, so you don’t need to leave the house to attend a physical appointment for routine medical issues.

“I’ve also got this watch that I’m wearing on my wrist and that will tell my doctor what my blood pressure is, so he doesn’t actually need to physically take it. He’ll pick that up from his computer. He’ll also know my blood pressure is fine, so he’ll send my script for blood pressure tablets to the pharmacist.”
Inertia sensors, placed strategically around the home, can provide data to loved ones and care providers about when a person usually goes to the toilet, gets out of bed or goes to the fridge to eat. The data helps to establish typical patterns of activity and detect if anything alarming has occurred. “For example, sensors are available now to differentiate between when a person’s lying on the floor rather than actually sitting in a chair.” Gordon predicts that, in the near future, driverless cars could also take you to your appointments and social functions. “The driverless car can also deliver my medication scripts and pick up my tablets.”

While technology has the ability to change the way you age and boost your independence at home, Gordon acknowledges it could intimidate. Despite that, she encourages seniors to give it a go. “Be prepared to think a little more laterally because if you really do want to stay at home, this is the way that things are going to have to go.” In tandem with established support mechanisms including the government’s home care programs and private in-home care arrangements, technology provides a new solution to help older Australians live better for longer.

Government backs digital

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has backed calls for Australia to focus on providing community care to help the government, aged care sector and health providers cope with the pressures of an ageing population.

Providing more supportive environments and technologically-integrated care systems is crucial to allow seniors to continue living the life they want in their own home. “I don’t think we can afford not to have technology better embedded in our health care,” says Gordon.

The Federal Government invested $260,000 to trial a new high-tech movement monitoring system, which will help senior Australians live safely in their own homes for longer.

Communications company Ericom and several residential aged care services will install the system in the homes of 50 senior Australians during 2019. The results will be evaluated by the University of Wollongong. “It enables remote monitoring and tracking of an aged care recipient’s daily routine, to help prevent misadventure or possible deterioration in their wellbeing,” Federal Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, said late last year.

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