eHealth technologies will see patient records kept and updated entirely digitally, shared across multiple platforms, and constantly available to care staff and medical professionals. They’ll be able to access and update these records via ‘the cloud’.
Telehealth solutions might mean that elderly people can live in the comfort of their own homes for longer, communicating with their carers and doctors via HD video links. Sensors in their homes, or in wearable devices, will keep carers up to date on any conditions or symptoms an elderly person might have so that they can respond when needed but otherwise leave them to live independently.
In the future, more care professionals will be mobile workers, able to access information and communicate with the people they care for remotely as well as in person. Furthermore, care management will use data and analytics better. Smart technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) will help us to understand trends and cater to people’s future care needs.
Technology in aged care
Most of these technologies already exist, it’s just a matter of integrating them. It will be important to ensure that, while the technology helps us operate more efficiently, face-to-face, compassionate care is still at the heart of the services offered at Twilight Aged Care.
With 5G on the way, all the technological devices in a care home, and beyond, will be able to communicate with one another. Technology might be used to handle many non-care related tasks around the home. Thermostats will set heating levels depending on how many people are in a room and what their preferences are, taking into account health conditions. The fridges and cupboards, will be able to restock by placing online orders automatically, and residents and staff will be able to turn lights on and off with voice control. People will teleconference with their doctors on holographic-style HD screens, and medi-chairs will be able to navigate autonomously. Care staff might be wearing augmented reality glasses with instant access to patient records or readouts from wearable health monitors. We could even see robotics helping us with heavy jobs like lifting and moving residents whose mobility is limited.
Helping with dementia
September is Dementia Awareness Month, so it’s fitting that technologies are being revealed that will help people with the disease, and their carers. ePAT Technologies has developed an app that helps assess whether someone with dementia is in pain, even if they can’t express their discomfort. Shooting a short video of the person using a smartphone or tablet’s camera, the app uses facial recognition to detect microexpressions that are indicative of pain. Vocalisations, behaviours and other movements can also be analysed to calculate a pain severity score and the patient can be given help to relieve the pain.
Another app is being developed for people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. The National Ageing Research Institute is testing voice-to-voice translation technology so that elderly people and those with dementia who don’t speak English can make their needs known. They’ll be able to speak into the microphone on a tablet and the carer will be able to understand what they want via a voice translation app.
Apps for the elderly
Many think that seniors are daunted by technology. In fact, older Australians are adapting very well to smartphones and the internet. According to a GranTechies report, 93% of Australian grandparents go online every day. We’ve talked about the future of aged care, but there are dozens of smartphone apps that already make life easier for older citizens.
Voice recognition apps help people who have trouble typing – due to arthritis or MS, for instance – by turning speech into text. For the visually impaired, there are apps that do the reverse, reading out on-screen text. You can even take a smartphone photo of a magazine page or advertisement and have it read back to you.
Chips can be purchased that can be paired with a smartphone and then kept with keys or in a handbag or wallet. If the keys are lost, they can be made to bleep via the phone app, and if the phone is lost it can be made to ring by pressing the fob with the chip in it. Similar devices can be used in cars.
Other apps are available to remind people to do things that are part of their health or medical routines, such as going to the toilet or taking medication. Toilet tracker apps can locate nearby facilities using GPS maps, including ones with disabled access.
Most smartphones have gyroscopes in them, which are used by fall detection apps – the app will alert someone to come and help quickly. Plus there are a range of apps for specific health conditions such as high blood pressure and other heart complaints. Sometimes they work in conjunction with a wearable monitor to track your pulse, blood pressure and other indicators, keeping a record for the doctor to check.
What excites us is that technology for seniors and for the care sector is coming along at so many levels. Yes, it will help us meet the challenges the care sector is going to face in the future, but in the here-and-now technology is already making a difference for elderly Australians.