With the aged care royal commission hearing heartbreaking public testimonies of the experiences of older people, the urgent adoption of technologies that can solve some of these problems seems critical.
In every other facet of our lives, technologies are embedded, but in aged care in Australia there is a drastically analogue approach.
Technology has transformed the banking, airline, hotel, taxi, phone, photography and music industries, and now aged care needs to be disrupted.
As the number of those requiring aged care continues to grow dramatically in Australia, introducing solutions to meet the demand is crucial to prevent people from being shifted from their homes and placed into facilities prematurely. It is also vital in order to improve the quality of care.
The delay is certainly in defiance of global example and the evidence of clear benefits to older people, their loved ones, aged care providers and funding by governments.
In the Ageing 2.0’s 2017 report, A Snapshot of Global Innovation in Ageing and Senior Care, which explored global innovation in senior care to inform the United States’ strategic approach, digital health technologies were identified as key to meeting skyrocketing needs.
“With the world’s populations ageing at unprecedented rates, technology changing rapidly, and funding resources growing more strained, there is an increasing need for policy makers, providers, and entrepreneurs to search the world for the best ideas and insights that can transform the ageing experience,” the report said.
The study found new technologies were increasingly contributing to the health and quality of life of older adults, including through the use of wearables, smart homes, voice interface, robots and autonomous vehicles.
According to the World Economic Forum, advances in computing and digital technologies have positioned the world at the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which “will promote health and wealth among older adults through the use of sophisticated technologies”. Cognitive analytics, robotics, artificial intelligence, telehealth and IoT devices – such as connected pill bottles and digital tablets – are among the technical developments that will advance “social connectivity and emotional health, cognitive ability and physical functioning”, the WEF said.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation’s global strategy and action plan on ageing and health in 2017 called for countries to take steps to meet the “unprecedented” demographic transition underway, including through the harnessing of technological innovations to provide the best long-term care, ensure well-being and allow older people to “age in a place that is right for them”.
“This can be achieved through care that is integrated across many professions and settings, as well as condition- and care-specific services (dementia and palliative care, for example). Using innovative assistive health technologies or drawing on existing technologies in innovative ways for coordination, support and monitoring may be particularly important,” the WHO said.
The evidence of the effectiveness of in-home care technologies is showcasing the importance of innovation, with a telemonitoring trial by Australia’s CSIRO identifying a 36 per cent decrease in hospital admission and a 42 per cent reduction in length of hospital stay.
CSIRO lead researcher Dr Rajiv Jayasena said over 500,000 Australians aged over 65 could benefit from in-home technologies.
“Our research showed the return on investment of a telemonitoring initiative on a national scale would be in the order of five to one by reducing demand on hospital inpatient and outpatient services, reduced visits to GPs, reduced visits from community nurses and an overall reduced demand on increasingly scarce clinical resources,” Dr Jayasena said.
With organisations of such calibre calling for the use of aged care technologies, there can be no ambiguity.
In other countries digital health innovations are being introduced to help older people, some of them at scale.
In the UK, the largest energy provider announced in December that it is planning to put motion sensors into the homes of elderly, ill and disabled people as part of a service being rolled out in partnership with Carers UK.
Singapore’s Smart Nation program has seen that country roll out telehealth rehabilitation, sensors and robotic carer assistants, shifting aged care from hospital to home.
While in hyper-ageing Japan, where more than 26 per cent of the population is 65 years old or over, cutting edge technologies are being integrated to cope with the urgent crisis, including sensors in shoes, smart clothing with integrated biosensors, robots and remote monitoring systems that track temperature, humidity, movement and sound in the homes of elderly people living alone.
Yet Australia’s aged care sector lags behind.
But the royal commission could help to change Australia’s analogue approach and shift aged care into the 21st century with a recommendation that the federal government and care providers prioritise the integration of technologies.
After all, lives can be saved, people can remain in their homes for longer, injuries can be prevented and dignity can be maintained.
These technologies are available. The future is now.