In the next decade, people of all ages will expect access to affordable broadband internet for whatever purpose, including Aged Care telehealth and other technologies that will provide the elderly with a sense of independence, quality of life and well-being. This is where assistive technologies come in.
The Australian Government Productivity Commission describes assistive technologies as those that can “contribute to productivity growth by reducing the burden on formal and informal caregivers”. They are devices, systems or designs that allow both carers and clients to perform tasks that they would otherwise be unable to do, or increase the ease and safety with which these tasks may be done. Assistive technologies, National Seniors Australia noted, must be affordable and suitable to the needs of the elderly in order to “increase uptake, allowing people to remain productive and live independently later in life”.
Assistive technologies are extremely helpful to seniors with low vision, chronic health conditions and neurological diseases, such as dementia. They may also provide relief to those caregivers who often take on physically and even emotionally demanding roles. Here are some examples of assistive technologies in Aged Care:
Telehealth: Aims to help people manage their long-term conditions in their own homes and can be very useful for rural communities or to gain specialist medical opinions.
Telecare: Community alarms, sensors and movement detectors and the use of video conferencing to allow visual and auditory communication with carers.
Videos, games and smart technology: Interactive rehabilitation programs for people who have had a stroke and touch-screen monitors for people with dementia to access reminiscence materials or entertainment features.
Environmental and person-centred design: A focus on the whole environment is considered a way of helping the older person to live independently or to reduce the burden of care on their family/caregivers.
These and more kinds of assistive technologies help improve the quality of life, social participation, mobility, safety and security and identity of seniors. They can also help reduce public expenditure on health and Aged Care.
While assistive technologies will help increase the quality of Aged Care in Australia, their benefits will be dependent on access to high quality internet connectivity and services, either/both at home and in Aged Care facilities. Public education and consistent policies for subsidised technologies should also be provided in order to accommodate different user capacities.