Australian aged care organisations are facing a two-pronged challenge. On one hand, the demand for high-quality facilities has never been higher, demonstrated by the increasing number of providers qualifying for the “Extra Service" category of care. On the other hand, aged care organisations are preparing to accommodate a highly anticipated rapid rise in resident numbers, with the projected number of Australians over the age of 65 projected to more than double by 2057.
As many other industries have discovered, well-designed technological solutions can answer the call for both efficiency and rapid expansion, whilst keeping quality at the forefront. This article reflects on how the Australian aged care sector has begun to overcome these pressures by using intelligent technology and smart design.
Implementing Technology Solutions from other Sectors
Like many industries before it, the aged care sector stands to take advantage of current and emerging technologies to meet the challenges it faces. Healthcare technologies, logistics solutions, food service innovations and environmental controls are each becoming increasingly advanced, with exciting applications for aged care facilities.
For example, food service technology can help to provide quality, custom restaurant meals and in-room food delivery in an efficient manner, whilst environmental controls and energy efficiency benefit from "smart buildings" being designed to enable automation and networking.
Innovative Technologies in Aged Care
Some of the leading-edge products now available to aged care facilities include assistive technology devices (AT) which use small computers to expand the traditional help of canes and walkers, augmented hearing devices, vision and balance. Virtual reality (VR) uses goggles for entertainment during procedures, and can provide brain re-training and visual stimuli.
Translation technologies are helping to provide treatment for residents in their primary language, which is especially important for dementia patients who may have lost memories of languages learned later in life. Considering 1 in 3 older Australians were born in a non-English speaking country, innovations like these will become even more important to aged care providers as time goes on, and as our immigrant population increases.
Access Control and Passive Tracking
Fingerprint readers and other biometric (body-based) systems grant and record access to time clocks, medical records, rooms, equipment and medicine on an individual basis. Clothing, sticker or bracelet-based RFID chips are inexpensive and can be read by proximity scanners to track residents and equipment, or scanned by a mobile device to enable a quick lookup of required information.
Bluetooth low energy (BLE) can be used to communicate with devices nearby, and secure Wi-Fi based communication keeps track of medical equipment as well as allowing it to transfer data and imaging.
Lasers and Robots provide a Personal Touch
While they may sound advanced, current innovations can often help with the simple things. At a retirement living facility in Sydney, technology is being used to help with Sundowner Syndrome, a late-day mood challenge faced by some dementia patients. A robotic seal visits, entertains, and engages those who might otherwise feel overloaded by the day's activities.
Another recently introduced technology are lasers, which quietly note a resident’s in-room movement, as well as help track bathroom visits and returns. It calls for assistance if the resident either doesn’t return from the bathroom soon or is unable to make visits at all.
Empowerment for Residents, Staff and Management
Wireless communication technologies are being used to empower everyone in the care community to communicate, make requests and find information promptly. Incidents of lost charts, trips to stations between room visits, and the disconnection between office staff and floor personnel are noticeably being reduced or eliminated due to well-designed technology.
For the highest effectiveness of all of these advances, user experience (UX) issues are receiving a great deal of attention, to ensure new technologies are researched and implemented successfully, whilst meeting the needs of their intended users.
A major beneficiary of these changes is the concern of isolation. Residents can stay engaged through communication devices and simple videoconferencing solutions 24/7. With workers feeling more motivated in their jobs, and residents feeling more empowered and secure in their homes, the advantages offered by these technological solutions are endless.
Network and Building Design are Essential
Networking ties equipment, staff access and systems together for a smooth, reliable data flow. Many of the new technologies with applications in the aged care sector provide real-time data; and an effective network design can transfer important information to medical personnel for faster response times.
Having compatible building designs which enable radio-frequency data transmission to pass through walls and provide seamless coverage, is highly beneficial. Similarly, in coming years, bandwidth requirements and the volume of data transferred are likely to increase, so it is important networks are designed to accommodate this future need. Video conferencing including telemedicine connections with doctors, ultrasound and other imaging devices, and other data-intensive applications require pervasive high-speed connections, whilst copper and fibre network cables need plenum access to reduce current and future wiring costs.
Becoming more prominent, is the need for advanced network designs which provide a holistic and comprehensive view of security, allowing the best protection against potential “hacking” dangers and accidental access throughout the system.
Although technology will never replace the dedication and service of trusted care and health professionals, it does have a number of advantages in supporting residents’ needs and providing even better and more efficient care from aged care providers.
The examples discussed above are just some of the essential considerations which should be explored when determining the construction needs of Australia’s future aged care facilities.
To learn more about how technology and innovative design are shaping the future of Australia’s aged care facilities, download our Whitepaper, ‘Innovations in Aged Care’ today.