What technologies are having an impact in aged care?

By Sean Rooney, CEO, Leading Age Services Australia
Wednesday, 28 July, 2021

What technologies are having an impact in aged care?

Integrated into aged-care services, innovative technologies have the potential to have significant positive impacts on Australians receiving aged-care services and staff working in the sector. Leading Age Services Australia's (LASA) members are integrating technology into their provisions of care, making use of everything from linen and meal robots to facial recognition and fall-prevention innovations.

The final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety pointed to the need for greater innovation and research in the aged-care sector as a way to improve the lives of older people living in residential care, and those receiving care in their own homes. The report called for the establishment of an Aged Care Research and Innovation Fund, with funding to the equivalent of 1.8% of the federal government’s total expenditure on aged care each year.

The government accepted this recommendation ‘in principle’, agreeing on the need for research and innovation in aged care, but said it should be conducted through existing well-established research bodies, in particular the National Health and Medical Research Council, rather than setting up a new body. This included research into aged health and ways to assist aged living.

Much has been written over the past 20 years about technological innovation being a must for the future of aged care, in preparation for when the baby boomer generation starts using aged-care services. The oldest of that post-World War II generation are now just hitting their mid-70s and many would have had, or be having, the experience of dealing with their own parents receiving aged-care services.

Many of LASA’s own members have been looking at what they can do differently in providing age services — be they in the home or in residential aged-care facilities — with a view to integrating both with retirement living.

Areas where technological innovation is coming to the fore include assistive technology for mobility; sensory technology involving interactive digital imagery, which engages individuals, particularly people with dementia; and virtual reality, which can be used to train staff who work with dementia residents.

Technology, such as movement sensors, can assist staff with monitoring residents at arm’s length. Then there is technology that makes everyday tasks easier for staff working in residential age services.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced aged-care service providers to find ways to keep residents engaged with loved ones using mobile tablets to communicate, and with medical and health services using telehealth to minimise human contact.

LASA member Tanunda Lutheran Home — a 120-bed residential aged-care home in the Barossa Valley in South Australia — has been trialling the use of robots for infection control and for meal and linen services.

Home CEO Lee Martin said they will be taking delivery of two robots for food delivery and another for linen pick-up and delivery later this year, with a view to having them online by November. Martin is looking forward to the delivery of a third robot, which will handle infection control in areas of the home that are open to the general public. The robot is equipped with ultraviolet light to assist in disinfection with the least amount of human intervention.

Martin said the food and laundry robots will save staff time in pushing trolleys around the home, in the case of meals, to five kitchenettes ready for distribution. They will also save on wear and tear on the corridor walls. The home has been able to invest in the robots after it successfully applied for a $900,000 grant from the federal government’s Business Improvement Fund.

While one home seeks greater flexibility and convenience for staff, another LASA member is working to improve internal security for residents. In Western Australia, Curtin Heritage Living is constructing a $140 million retirement living centre with built-in technology aimed at keeping residents safe and protecting their privacy.

Curtin Heritage Living CEO David Cox said biometric sensors will be installed in all rooms, which will pick up behaviours. So, if a resident is at risk of falling, the sensors will pick up the initial movement rather than pressure on the floor if a fall occurs.

The facility will also make use of facial-recognition technology that will allow some people into the lifts while others will need to be escorted. The goal is to open up the facility, but also ensure more vulnerable residents are kept safe. It allows those who are able to independently navigate around the complex to do so, while keeping those who are at risk safe.

Rooms are constructed where residents can have an entrance corridor, or even have their bed in a separate room. The home encourages residents to lock their door if they choose, just as they would have when they lived in their own home. The technology allows staff to keep track of resident movements without having to make face-to-face contact.

Similar to the prospect of robots arriving at Tanunda Lutheran Home, Martin said residents at Curtin Heritage Living have been very receptive to the new technology and have been regularly consulted by staff on each stage of construction.

These are just two examples of the types of technology that can be introduced to improve levels of care and also give a greater sense of independence and security to residents. The goal of every technological innovation in aged-care services should be to benefit the residents or recipients of care.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Mediteraneo

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