Janet has been using a support provider in her home to maintain her independence for the last two years. A television-sized smart screen is built into one of her kitchen cabinets. Each morning the screen displays the date and instructions for the day, such as ‘Please take Monday’s medication.’ She then presses a button named ‘medication’ to receive Monday’s dosage. Each week her caregiver refills Janet’s medication dispenser. When Janet touches the screen each morning, a message is automatically sent to her daughter to let her know that Janet is up for the day.
Her blood pressure monitor and pulse oximeter are remotely connected to her medical doctor and her bathroom is equipped with quality certified shower commode and sturdy shower stool when she and her carer needs it.
While this story is not real, it demonstrates what the future of aged care could be. Technology is often thought to be a tool for younger generations, it could also be used to care for older people who want to stay in their homes for as long as possible.
Lately, there has been much conversation concerning aged care and its future in Australia. As a result of the Living Longer, Living Better (LLLB) reforms, aged care providers have had to re-evaluate how they provide care, particularly in clients’ homes.
As funding becomes available in the next few years, community care services will evolve quickly, and customers will be able to have a say in how, when and where they receive support. Clients will also have more opportunities to share their views about the service they receive, similar to Trip Advisor for hotels.
Many companies have already begun searching for ways to connect to their staff members on the job. These include paperless filing systems, online rosters and improved connectivity. However, providers have not focused on clients being supported at home with innovative technologies.
Benetas, a large aged care provider in Australia, has been exploring these new technologies. It recently partnered with Melbourne University to study how iPads could potentially reduce social isolation with some of the more disengaged clients who receive care at home. The outcomes were extremely positive as those involved engaged with the project, shared photos and sent messages to other group members regularly. Some have continued communicating with their iPads and cpap masks even though the trial is now over. The study will continue with a larger group of older people to find additional benefits.
General health care providers have also started to look into technologies for the elderly. The Department of Health (Victoria) began a program called Nurse-on-call that provides expert health advice immediately. The Choosing a Care Home app created by Bupa helps people find a care facility based on their defined criteria. However, there is much more that could be done.
There are endless possibilities for how technology could improve home life for older people. Technology can improve safety and reduce risk and social isolation. Remote patient monitoring through blood pressure monitors, weight scales and medication management technologies offer support while reducing costs. The problem here is investment.
One of the largest difficulties for aged services providers is the delicate balance between the cost of resources and the delivery of care. The delivery of services will always come first, before investments into technologies to assist those living at home. However, with the LLLB reforms and the shift in focus to in-home care, support providers have the perfect opportunity to partner with technology companies to create solutions to the needs of those at home.
Affordability of new technologies is the biggest hump to creating them. The ‘fee for service’ model that is part of the LLLB reforms will likely help this issue as people will have the choice to pay for certain, more expensive services if they wish. However, for those who cannot afford these options, it is necessary to find other means.