Technology innovations transforming the aged care experience
Rather than alienate and render us useless, technology through an array of software, gadgets and robotics is increasingly helping us to live better and healthier lives - keeping us connected to our communities, on top of our responsibilities, and living in our homes far longer than ever before.
The tide of distrust towards the machine has finally turned; instead we are welcoming them into our homes and public places in increasing numbers, and rightly so, as we recognise the benefits of our own ingenuity.
In this case, technology is a clear and trusted friend; helping us to monitor our health, stimulate our brains, aid our mobility, clean up our mess, organise our information, enhance our enjoyment and a whole raft of other essential tasks that are making our lives a whole lot easier and helping us to overcome the certain limitations that come with age.
The following three technology innovations shine a bright light on this new trend towards user-centric design and purpose to enhance the lives of the elderly.
1. Robotic aids
Thanks to Hollywood, the word 'robot' still evokes apocalyptic images of metal incarnations dropped from the sky to take over the world. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. Robotics lie far more in the practical and mundane; think an automatic Hoover that cleans your house, and because of this their impact is more far-reaching and practical.
There are health robots that help nurses and carers administer medications and assist with lifting, walking and sleeping. Robear is an example of this; a Japanese-developed robot bear (and yes it looks cute) that helps nurses and carers lift patients out of bed and stand up.
There are domestic robots, such as the care-providing robot FRIEND, that support elderly people with daily activities, such as serving meals, and helping them reintegrate into the outside world. Or robots to keep you agile, such as the Honda Walking Assist Device that replicates human movement to help people walk longer distances.
Then there are security robots that monitor movements outside, patrol the grounds, and shoot video of any suspicious activities. And outdoor robots, such as robotic lawnmowers that will cut your grass without you needing to assist.
There are even robots designed to be your friend. Paro, shaped like a baby harp seal, is a popular robot used in aged care accommodation to keep residents company and reduce their anxiety and depression.
And then there is the advent of soft robotics, and this future is exciting. Soft robotics can be moulded to the body to do things like aid movement and monitor health.
Superflex is one of these. A soft exoskeleton suit, when worn it feels like normal clothing but when powered-up gives a boost that will help you move around. It contains artificial mechanical muscles, personalised to your gait and cadence, that when charged take the load off your real body and help you move with more fluidity and ease - which could possibly keep you fast-walking your whole life!
2. Smart homes
With an ageing population, smart home technologies are stepping in to help us stay at home longer and maintain the habits and routines that we hold dear.
Smart homes are kitted out with a combination of automated devices, from emergency assistance systems, to security features, light sensors, fall prevention devices, timers, and alerts, to help elderly people feel safer and more assisted in their daily routines.
The Matilda project is an example of just how 'smart' homes are becoming. Developed by the University of Florida, it's a smart house that provides medical care to a life-sized mannequin called Matilda. Using a combination of gadgets it can do things like track an individual's location in the house, detect water on the floor, cook dinner automatically, view who's at the door and let them in using a mobile phone, all through a centralised computer network.
Other smart devices include medication dispensing devices that ensure medications are taken at appropriate times. Spoon feeding robots to help you eat dinner. Reminder systems that prompt you to remember doctor's appointments, turning off the stove, locking doors, etc. And monitoring systems that family members can access remotely to see how you're doing.
It's all very clever and we love it!
3. Virtual retirement villages
One step further from the smart home, virtual villages are online platforms that support people to live independently by connecting them to an entire online network of support and services. A centralised system where doctors, carers, volunteers and health professionals are quick to find and easy to access.
The system's central focus is to allow seniors to 'age in place'. Virtual village require a membership,which funds a wealth of services similar to what a retirement village would offer.
From social activities and outings, to health care services and home assistance, virtual villages link you up to a whole community of support services and like-minded seniors. Great for seniors, it also benefits aged care providers, giving them another platform to expand their community-based outreach services and connect with seniors.
Common in the US, the first virtual village in Australia was recently launched in Sydney. Called the Waverton Hub, it offers members access to social activities, learning, fitness activities, and help with physical tasks such as cleaning and going to appointments. So far, it has been a resounding success, and the concept is sure to catch on and have the potential to become a key player in our national aged care system.
In all, the experience of ageing today has never been better. Humans are finally catching up to the reality that they can work seamlessly with technology to create incredible experiences and profound social change.