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Technology - Transforming and Humanising Aged Care Services

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Posted by: Merlin Kong
Category: Blog

Piers Hogarth-Scott & Roshani Manouchehri

Technology – Transforming and Humanising Aged Care Services

The aged care sector is deeply important to many Australians at a personal level, with an ageing population increasing our awareness of a sector expected to grow from 1% of GDP through to 1.7% of GDP by 2055. With this growth, comes increasing pressure on the provision of services in both home and residential care settings.

In addition, the aged care sector is not immune from the current widespread technology driven change in our society and for aged care organisations, this change offers both challenges and opportunities to fundamentally alter the nature of their relationships with internal and external stakeholders.

Indeed, technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) is paving the way for new innovative solutions for humanising aged care service provision, delivering business efficiencies and offering a framework for maintaining and supporting human dignity as we age.

The value of human dignity and the impact of its loss

Age and the cognitive and physical impairments which are associated with it, can compromise some of the core elements which underpin human dignity – independence, freedom and the “voice” of the individual.

These compromises to human dignity have a material impact on the ability of individuals to have a say in key decisions relating to their environment, their residence, their lifestyle and even their own body.

This has a direct cost to the individual in both a financial and non-financial sense.

In addition, on a purely macro-economic level, there are significant costs to the community as a whole with respect to the provision of aged care services. In just one example, the economic costs associated with dementia are expected to rise from $14.67B in 2017 to $36.85B by 2056 . With that being said, what if we could mitigate the impact of physical and cognitive impairment? What would that mean for the individual and for society as a whole?

The art of the possible

So, how can service providers mitigate the impacts of aged related impairment whilst meeting the increasing demand generated by our ageing population? One answer, is to support their ability to remain in an environment (their home) which has provided a foundation for their lives to date, often over many decades. We are all familiar with the arguments in favour of increasing the longevity of in-home living, so with that as our base understanding, there is a growing range of fascinating point solutions which address aspects of the in-home care challenge. The solutions described below, are just a small subset of what is possible right now:

  • Chronic Condition Monitoring. Wearable devices can proactively monitor chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes as well as providing metrics on blood pressure, glucose, BMI, heart rate, pulse and heart condition. In the near future, Smart toilets that scan waste will be an additional reality, allowing alerts to be sent to care givers relating to changing or concerning nutrition or other biometric levels.
  • Medicine Dispensers. Smart dispensers exist which remind the user to take their medicine, track its usage, send alerts, orders refills and help with managing medicine intake for acute and chronic conditions. Adjacent to this technology are the smart pill bottles and smart pills themselves which allow for non-invasive screening and monitoring of actual medicine intake.
  • Voice-activated devices (such as Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa) are providing new possibilities for controlling and monitoring daily living items around the home, such as lighting, home temperature and bathrooms, and with inbuilt artificial intelligence functions they can help increasingly frail individuals with everyday activities such as grocery shopping, paying bills and staying in touch with friends and family.
  • Wearable devices. Wearables such as smart watches, pendants and insole monitors can track movement, as well as alert loved ones in cases of unusual activity such as falls.
  • Home sensors. Floor sensors and infrared sensors can be fitted to homes to alert on activity and falls; or unusual or concerning movements.

Given the reluctance of many users to embrace “active” technologies like those described above, it’s also possible to use passive solutions to monitor the activity of residents within a home, such as:

  • Utility Monitoring. It is possible to apply analytics to the use of home utilities such as electricity, water and gas. Using this technology, some companies have saved numerous lives by alerting authorities to a lack of predicted activity.

Finally, when transitioning from in-home level care to services provided at a facility, precinct, suburb or city level, technology again offers an opportunity to make these environments more secure and liveable for those suffering from physical or cognitive impairment. Recent years have seen the rollout of solutions to assist people outside their homes:

  • Smart Street Lighting. Smarter street lights exist to help people navigate in the event of fires and other emergencies – guiding people with tailored lighting to evacuation points. Sensors on the lights can adjust dynamically when needed for people to see their surroundings more effectively.
  • Smart Street Crossings. Street crossings are getting smarter, with some crossings now fitted with sensors to adapt the time available in response to the needs of the individual crossing the road. Prototypes of even more intelligent crossings exist that can alert distracted or impaired individuals along with others nearby, when they detect this might be necessary due to traffic or other factors.

The scope of solutions coming to market is set to further increase through a combination of factors. Technology continues to rapidly evolve with ever-smaller electronics, reductions in battery sizes and increases in their capacity, and new methods of wireless communications. New vendors are establishing themselves as they see market potential for innovative solutions. And at the same time, people are becoming more receptive and comfortable with assisted living technology solutions, driving increasing demand from personal and facility purchasers.

Conclusion

The innovative application of technologies, such as IoT powered solutions, provides an opportunity to create ecosystems which maintain freedom and can underpin the respect and value for the individual, crucial elements of maintaining human dignity. Moreover, for service providers, a technology approach led by an emphasis on client empowerment, can enable them to meet increasing service demands for transparency from clients, their loved ones and regulatory authorities, whilst assisting in delivering operational efficiencies and driving market differentiation on new business. Given the current focus on aged care at an industry level, beneficial outcomes like these cannot be ignored and should be on the agenda of every aged care service provider.

Piers Hogarth-Scott
National Practice Leader, Internet of Things, KPMG

Roshani Manouchehri
Associate Director, Health, Ageing & Human Services, KPMG


[1] ACFA – Fifth report on the Funding and Financing of the aged care sector July 2017.
[2] Economic costs of dementia in Australia 2016-2056 report.