Today’s older generation would remember manual typewriters and public phone boxes. Some might even recall when television first entered people’s homes.
The technology explosion in recent decades may seem overwhelming to many. But it promises countless benefits for older adults.
Not only can it enhance social engagement and leisure time, technology could help retain independence and provide peace of mind for family members.
Wearable devices are used by fitness enthusiasts to monitor heart rate and energy expenditure. They can also track blood pressure and blood sugar levels to enable health monitoring and preventive medicine for older adults.
Cloud-based software enables this information to be collected and sent to doctors, making it easier for them to collate health data and deliver care remotely.
New software for the devices also includes mobile connectivity for ease of contacting family any time and GPS tracking to check older relatives’ location.
Other researchers from Monash University have been working on a non-invasive home monitoring apparatus that can gather data on normal movement patterns and send alerts when someone has been uncharacteristically inactive for a long period of time.
The devices are designed to be plugged into power points throughout the house, so they bypass the need for cameras to maintain privacy.
These technologies offer benefits for aged care as well. Providing professionals with comprehensive health data can free them up to deliver preventive and more personalised care.
The monitoring systems could reduce staff burden and improve patient safety.
“Currently, we rely on passing staff members to discover patients or residents after they have experienced an incident,” says Steven Faux from St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.
“The value of the sensors is that the movements can be detected without affecting a patient’s privacy.”
Telehealth and accessibility
Telehealth is defined by the International Organisation for Standardisation as “the use of telecommunication techniques for the purpose of providing telemedicine, medical education, and health education over a distance”.
This has obvious advantages for farmers and other rural dwellers in Australia’s outback, whose technology perks already include internet banking, shopping e-commerce.
Telehealth offers further benefits in health care, including diagnosis, treatment and preventive medicine, and overcoming challenges of distance and relocating health professionals.
Medical consultations using video conferencing, data, images and information can be transmitted without the need for physical travel or relocation.
Grafton Base Hospital in northern NSW is successfully using Telehealth to improve care in surrounding Residential Aged Care Facilities and reduce hospital admissions.
The cost savings are obvious, but there are several hurdles to overcome. This includes perception and acceptance of the technology and potential privacy issues.
Other obstacles include computer illiteracy, training and support, initial setup costs, and legal challenges related to managing the rapid growth of health data, health information transfer and remote consultations.