Technology in aged care services

The use of technology in aged care is a hot topic. In many ways, the aged care sector has been slow to harness the benefits that technology can bring to the lives of older people. This article outlines some of the technological innovations that can improve life for the elderly and how aged care service providers can use technology to deliver innovative, reliable and quality care services.

How aged care providers can support older people with technology

Aged care providers have a part to play in supporting sector-wide improvements for older people.

New technologies for communication, health, comfort and safety can help aged care residents and older adults in the community to maintain their health and wellbeing and achieve a high quality of life. Technologies can help providers meet and exceed aged care quality standards and enhance client engagement and connection.

Technology can help people remain healthy, active and independent. All Australians should be able to access technology that improves and enhances their lives. However, it is estimated that more than 3 million Australians are excluded from digital activity due to disadvantage, disability, a lack of access or low technical competency.

Technology in aged care service provision

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety produced a report that included information about how to best deliver aged care services in a sustainable way, including through the use of technology.

The Transforming Aged Care report produced by RMIT identified four ways in which digital transformation has faced significant challenges in aged care provision. The key challenges are:

  1. a lack of investment in aged care industry-specific tools for aged care users

  2. limited profits available within the aged care sector, which is a highly competitive market with a myriad of aged care service providers

  3. the fact that aging Australians are not typically likely to advocate for a need for change, growth or reform, given many may not have the capacity to push for these changes. This situation arises for a host of reasons including overall health, medical complications, memory loss, cognition difficulties or financial disadvantage.

  4. that while the number of older people using the internet in nursing homes and residential care facilities is increasing, less than half of aged care providers have a digital strategic plan in place to outline how residents will be supported to use the internet and other new technologies in the aged care sector

Technologies to keep older Australians connected

Many older people living in their own homes or in aged care facilities live far away from friends and family. Older Australian residents can use technology to remain connected. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all become increasingly familiar with using video calling and conferencing.

Being confident in using tools like Zoom, Skype, Google Meet and Facebook Messenger, all of which work on computers as well as mobile devices, can help the elderly stay in touch with and connected to their families and other important people in their lives.

Technologies to help older Australians learn

Learning new skills and carrying out activities that require mental challenges and stimulation is associated with good health and longevity. Learning to use new technologies can help brain function and capacity.

Many technologies can be used as a learning tool to enhance skills and digital confidence. Online technologies can also offer rich and engaging learning experiences to people within the aged care system.

Older people also often enjoy participating in online forums and chat groups related to topics they are interested in. Meeting other people with shared interests and maintaining contact with peers helps the elderly to feel connected and reduces isolation. Options for online social and learning activities include:

  • exercise classes

  • tutorials or demonstrations

  • health discussions or presentations

  • live-streaming concerts, performances or talks

  • guided meditations

Technologies to help older Australians communicate

Assistive technologies can help older people with physical limitations, people who can’t speak or people who have severe cognitive impairment. Communicating with friends, family and care staff is critical for older adults. Communication challenges can lead to frustration and distress. People with age-related hearing loss, vision loss, limited mobility or speech difficulties are particularly prone to communication challenges.

  • people with low vision may lose the ability to read written and printed messages, as well as find it more difficult to lip read or interpret another person’s facial expressions or body language

  • people with hearing loss may not be able to hear some or all of what is spoken to them in the form of conversation, advice or direction

  • people with limited mobility can’t use their bodies to help convey meaning through body language and gestures

  • people with speech difficulties can’t participate in conversation or share their thoughts and feelings verbally

There are many tools and devices on the market that can help older adults to communicate. For example, speech-to-text applications enable a person to speak the words they wish to have converted to text to send a message or email.

Technologies to help older Australians maintain health and wellbeing

Telehealth services can be a wonderful resource for older people who need to access medical advice, assessment or prescriptions. Telehealth services connect the caller to their GP or specialist, reducing the need for a resident to leave the aged care homes for appointments.

There are also many opportunities for technology in aged care to improve medication control and management. Taking the wrong medicine or an incorrect dosage can lead to illness or hospitalisation. Technologies to manage medication and ensure patients receive their correct dose will help keep people in aged care facilities healthy and well. Medication management solutions can help carers reduce the risk of errors as well.

Technologies to help older Australians feel in control

Automated technologies at home can be used to help older people be reminded of particular actions or activities that need to be carried out. It could be something as simple as setting a reminder on a device or even using an alarm clock to go off when it is time for medication to be taken. Other apps can provide useful scheduling information, such as reminders when the bins need to go out.

Using alerts and automated notifications can help an older person feel in control of their lives by not needing to rely on others to remind them what needs to be done and when.

Other new technology can help people carry out manual tasks that they find difficult, such as getting up to turn lights on or off, or changing settings on air conditioning control units. Smart sensors automatically adjust the temperature or light, creating a comfortable environment to suit the predetermined needs of the person.

Technologies to help older Australians feel safe

The technology used in personal alarm services and devices is also improving. There are many different personal and monitored alarm service providers out there, and each works slightly differently. Many people select wearable alarm technology to send an alert to loved ones or carers in instances of a fall, injury, illness or weakness.

Some alarm systems connect a person straight to family members or the nominated aged care providers, while others connect to an emergency call centre or other emergency service. Many devices also have falls detection and will go into alert should a wearer collapse or fall. Because they operate 24-7, safety tools like these reduce the risk for people living in single rooms in aged care homes.

Using technology in My Aged Care

My Aged Care is a federal government initiative to support older people. Under the scheme, eligible people living at home or in aged care settings like residential aged care facilities can receive support.

My Aged Care has a funding category called Aids to stay independent. These supports are set under the Help at Home category and can include solutions such as:

  • walking aids like crutches, walkers, walking frames, walking sticks

  • mechanical devices for lifting a person in and out of bed

  • bed rails

  • aids like slide sheets, sheepskins or special pillows

  • pressure-relieving mattresses

Technology solutions for the aged care sector

Managing the aged care workforce also needs to be considered. When aged care workers are visiting a number of aged care clients who live in their own homes, they need systems that support effective rostering and scheduling.

A robust work scheduling, allocation and rostering system helps ensure that workers know where they need to be and are given enough time to travel to visit their clients.

Aged care providers should be investing in these tools to improve industry standards across the board and ensure solutions to the challenges of work in the sector can be found.

Data management practices for nursing homes

Technology has an important part to play in nursing homes and aged care facilities. Staff must keep accurate records within multiple systems to ensure compliance and quality standards. Data needs to be easily accessible when required, but also kept securely and confidentially. Nursing homes have a lot of data in their systems related to:

  • resident information and personal details

  • clinical reports and evidence

  • medication management

  • social and community networks

  • financial and banking records

  • staff time sheets and records

With all of this information, integrating technology is required as a solution to bring together data from across the various systems.

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