Can sensors, robots help older adults stay at home longer?
Populations across the world, including Australia, are growing older.
In Australia, the number of people aged 65 and over increased by 17% to 4.4 million over the five years to 2022. More than 1.3 million people were using aged care services in the country in 2019–2020, and there is an increasing preference for people to stay in their homes.
Now, a project led by the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures in collaboration with the NSW Smart Sensing Network and the University of Newcastle’s FASTLab seeks to understand older Australians’ attitudes to using sensors and robots in their home.
Staying at home longer
Using sensors and robots in the home could be the key to keeping Australia’s rapidly aging population at home longer.
This technology could also pose a solution to a recommendation of the 2021 Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which identified a lack of adequate resources to meet the growing demand for aged care facilities and hospitals.
The project, involving NSW universities, healthcare providers and local health districts, will also survey older Australians’ carers, families and healthcare professionals.
“Using sensor-driven technology in the home can help support Australia’s rapidly aging population and alleviate the burden on hospitals and aged care resources,” Professor Jason Prior from the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures said.
“However, we don’t know what the everyday aging person thinks about using this technology. That’s why we are conducting this market research: to give us the insight we need.”
Using data to improve outcomes
Fall-related injury is said to be single largest cause of hospital presentations, with the number of people over the age of 65 who fall increasing, according to the Clinical Excellence Commission.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) data suggests that falls are the leading cause of hospitalised injuries and injury deaths among older Australians, making up 77% of all injury hospitalisations and 71% of injury deaths in this age group.
Governments quickly need a plan to support the country’s rapidly aging population and sensors can help, said the NSSN MedTech Theme Leader Catherine Oates Smith.
“Sensors can collect data on lifestyle and biometric data, such as activity data and blood pressure readings, and then trigger preventative and urgent alerts. The information picked up by the sensors can be sent to family, carers and telehealth operators so that action can be taken to support the aging person in their home, instead of them having to go to the hospital or an aged care facility. In the aged care sector, a vital sign alerting system could significantly reduce the number of falls for aging people, especially at night, and reduce the burden on carers to do check-ups in person.”
The Healthy@Home initiative
The project is part of the University of Newcastle-led Healthy@Home (H@H) initiative, which is testing the idea that technology can help older people retain a positive sense of identity and independence in their own homes and significantly increase their quality of life, without putting strain on an already-stretched home-care workforce.
“H@H aims to offer next-generation sensor technology in aged care, at minimal cost to health organisations and local health districts, which will enhance aging people’s quality of life as they are safely supported in their homes,” FASTLab Founder and Director Professor Paul Egglestone said. “We want to use the data collected from the project surveys to help inform industry and government about how to roll out these devices so that our aging population can stay at home longer and reduce demand on acute healthcare services.”
Building trust through collaborative research
Independent Health Consumer Leader and Digital Health Expert Advisor Harry Iles-Mann said the surveys are an important step in building trust in sensor technology through collaborative research so that older Australians can stay at home longer.
"We know that older Australians are embracing the role that digital solutions and technology can play improving health and wellbeing,” Iles-Mann said.
“In trying to innovate, building trust through partnerships and meaningful engagement with the community is not only an essential step in informing impactful design according to health consumer values — it is fulfilling the right of all Australians to contribute to and actively shape the ways decisions are made about and support their care.
”Reasons why people may reject technology could include problems with the design of the technology, ease of use, concerns over the collection of personal information and potential of data breaches and hacks, the researchers said.
A real-world trial
The project involves a consortium of 10 Australian innovation companies, five NSW universities and three NSW Local Health Districts. It has received $168,000 of funding through the SPHERE Seed Funding Grant Scheme and in-kind industry support of $221,990.
It’s hoped the project outcomes will help guide existing initiatives across academia, industry, and NSW and federal governments, and lead to a real-world trial of technology in aging people’s homes.
Other project partners include Tyree Foundation Institute of Health Engineering, UNSW, Central Coast Research Institute, Central Coast Local Health District, InteliCare Holdings Limited, South Eastern Sydney Local Health District, South Western Sydney Local Health District, Tunstall Healthcare, HammondCare, United For Care, NSW Meals on Wheels, Greater Cities Commission, Medical Technology Association of Australia, Aged Care Industry Information Technology Council, Hills Corporate, Vlepis Pty Ltd and D&M Research Pty Ltd.
More than 40 years ago I invented the world's first multi-dose medication management...
HSC Technology Group and partners Whiddon, Anchor Excellence and CSIRO will run a feasibility...
Older Australians have a strong preference to stay in their own home should they ever need care,...