How Aged Care Technology Is Helping the Aged to Live Better
The demographic shift towards an ageing global population as general population numbers continue to grow has led to a corresponding rise in age-related health conditions, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, sarcopenia, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and dysphagia [1,2].
Additionally, there is a compounding demand for general eldercare in an already resource-strapped industry. The recent royal commission identified, among other issues, poor technological uptake and outdated operating mechanisms as major concerns in aged care. While some innovations may require significant funding, not all smart working solutions have to be high-tech .
By leveraging innovative tools and devices, older adults can live more independently for longer, maintain their health and wellbeing, and stay connected with their loved ones . The technology with use cases in aged care previously looked like wearable devices that monitor a person’s health or other assistive tools such as mobility aids, hearing aids or vision aids, but simple, lower-cost innovations are also a safety net for ageing Australians, including those with dysphagia.
How Embracing Technology Aged Care Residents with Dysphagia
AI and machine learning algorithms are at the forefront of smart home technology and wearable health monitors, which can help residents improve their independence .
Smart spoons and forks can detect tremors and help stabilise movement, making it easier for individuals with motor skill impairment to eat without spilling food or liquids. Smart cups can monitor fluid intake, remind individuals to drink enough water throughout the day, and alert caregivers if an individual is not eating or drinking enough. Cheaper still, re-imagined designs for common household implements can support older Australians with various health conditions.
Voice-activated smart speakers, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant, can also be programmed to remind individuals to take their medication or eat their meals on time, as well as provide recipes and nutrition information tailored to specific dietary requirements, including those related to dysphagia. This is beneficial for residents with visual impairments, low digital literacy, or challenges in their fine mobility skills.
The new generation of smartwatches such as the Fitbit or Apple Watch are proving to be as accurate as they are unobtrusive and can also be used to track eating and drinking habits and alert caregivers to potential health concerns related to dysphagia, such as dehydration or weight loss . By monitoring these metrics, caregivers can intervene early and provide appropriate care and support.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has also enabled residents and people with disabilities to access a range of smart devices and services that can make their lives easier and more convenient. IoT devices or programs such as If This Then That (IFTTT) can communicate with each other and with other devices that may already be owned by a resident or an aged care facility, through the internet, enabling them to perform complex tasks. For example, every time a resident’s Fitbit syncs on a new day, the previous day’s stats will be added to a new row in a Google Drive spreadsheet for the staff to view.
Are Healthcare Providers in Australia Embracing These Technologies?
These technologies are being utilised for various purposes, such as monitoring abnormal events, providing help with daily living, conducting teleconsultations, managing health information, and improving communication between healthcare providers and patients, but big spending isn’t always necessary. Simple changes such as investing in modified drinking vessels like the Dysphagia Cup and shelf-stable foods like SCREAMIES can keep costs down while still making leaps towards more efficient, modern care environments for aged Australians.
Fifty-five percent of these cutting-edge technologies have been judged suitable for nursing homes, while the remainder demonstrate technical feasibility with further potential to be explored. The level of technology readiness is still low, but evidence in favour of its usage is growing . Change is happening, but not fast enough.
Adopting technology in residential aged care has considerable potential to enhance the well-being of residents and individuals with conditions such as dysphagia.
Advanced smart home technology and wearable health monitors incorporating AI and machine learning algorithms can promote greater independence and intuitive health monitoring for staff. Voice-activated smart speakers and IoT devices can further streamline daily living for individuals with mobility or visual impairments. Innovations in nutritional delivery methods are not only of great assistance to individuals living with dysphagia but are often also cost-effective to implement.
Incorporating technology into aged care homes can lead to better quality of life for residents, facilitate more effective service management, and better accommodate the unique needs of residents, staff, and external stakeholders. While the uptake of these technologies has been enthusiastic, it is not fast enough, despite the royal commission concluding that “past financial barriers to reliable technology now increasingly surmountable”.
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Older Australians, Demographic profile. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/older-people/older-australians/contents/demographic-profile
 Stavropoulos, T. G., Papastergiou, A., Mpaltadoros, L., Nikolopoulos, S., & Kompatsiaris, I. (2020). IoT Wearable Sensors and Devices in Elderly Care: A Literature Review. Sensors, 20(10), 2826. https://doi.org/10.3390/s20102826
 Doyle, N., & Stuart, F. (2021, March 16). Harnessing data for increased quality and safety of aged care. KPMG. https://kpmg.com/au/en/home/insights/2021/03/aged-care-royal-commission-data-technology.html
 Gould, G. (2020, May 6). National Survey examines Aged and Community Care Providers’ innovative use of technology. Aged Care Industry Information Technology Council. http://www.aciitc.com.au/national-survey-examines-aged-and-community-care-providers-innovative-use-of-technology/
 Majumder, S., Aghayi, Emad., Noferesti, M., Memarzadeh-Tehran, H., Mondal, T., Pang, Z., & Deen, M. (2017). Smart Homes for Elderly Healthcare—Recent Advances and Research Challenges. Sensors, 17(11), 2496. https://doi.org/10.3390/s17112496
 Liu, L., Stroulia, E., Nikolaidis, I., Miguel-Cruz, A., & Rios Rincon, A. (2016). Smart homes and home health monitoring technologies for older adults: A systematic review. International Journal of Medical Informatics, 91, 44–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2016.04.007