Breaking the Barrier Between the Old and the New
Technology and the elderly: Traditionally they have kept their distance. Yet, as technological innovations continue to make the world smaller and our lives easier, the immense potential benefit they can provide to the lives of senior citizens is becoming increasingly evident.
It has taken a while for aged care facilities to make this area a part of their policy. Most were unaware of the advantages or unsure how to go about implementing them. Add to this the instinctive aversion many elderly folk may have to technology, and it becomes clear why it’s taken this long to begin influencing their lives for the better.
The gradual introduction of technology has made things better for the elderly and the staff at the hospitals and facilities that care for them, as well as the patient’s family and friends who can feel reassured by the high quality of care provided. This is evident as it aids physical and mental health, reduces workloads and makes services simpler and more cost-efficient.
Technology Enables Safer, Simpler and More Active Lives
Cardiac issues that were once fatal can now be detected and alleviated through pacemakers, adding year to one’s life, and inventions, like the hearing aid, have enhanced the lives of people with disabilities. These innovations are of obvious benefit to many, including the elderly, but there are methods of assisting aged care that may not be as immediately evident.
Social isolation, cognitive decline, incontinence and mobility issues, and the danger of falls are some of the primary issues facing the elderly (University of Southern Queensland). Here are some of the ways technology can assist in dealing with these issues:
- Creating a safer environment: Biometric devices introduced in aged care facilities can allow staff to determine if residents with mobility issues have left their beds during the night. Sensors can detect extreme changes in temperature that may pose a health risk, or sound an alert if gas or a stove has been left on – a frequent occurrence for those suffering from cognitive decline.
- Automation: Applying automation can make navigating an environment and carrying out tasks much easier, e.g., in the form of automatic doors and light-switches. Time-keeping and scheduling devices can aid memory and prevent disorientation.
- Robotics: Can assist both medical staff and the elderly in tasks, which reduces work load and allows the elderly to be less dependent on other people. This promotes a feeling of independence that can have mental health benefits.
- Communication: Smartphones, social media and internet chat rooms: all of these allow the elderly to communicate easily with friends and family. Together with the wealth of information provided by the World Wide Web, this allows them to remain connected to the world mentally and emotionally, even if they can no longer be as physically active as they would like. Games and other forms of entertainment can now be readily accessed help to keep their minds active, which amongst other benefits, has been shown to alleviate the effects of dementia (Wikipedia).
Finding the Balance
In Australia, it’s hoped that the proposed AACC (Australian Aged Care Convention) will lead to better aged care throughout the country, as the institution will be able to advise the government and recommend reforms. Increased focus on implementing technology in aged care facilities will be at the forefront of their priorities (The Australian).
In Japan, which has the biggest proportion of people over the age of 65 years old, a plan has been implemented to incorporate technology into aged care. Primary areas of focus include: manufacturing and importing high-tech technology, such as advanced wheelchairs, investing in robotics (an industry in which Japan excels), and developing barrier-free technology, such as eating utensils for the disabled (University of Wollongong).
With the increased emphasis on technology come ethical issues that have to be taken into account. For example, one proposed system is to have machines continuously monitor the behaviour of elderly residents. These machines are capable of identifying residents’ daily routines and alerting staff if the routine changes (Aged Care Insite).
While this may aid the early detection and treatment of health issues (such as a urinary tract infection, if the system picks up more frequent visits to the bathroom during the night), such persistent monitoring constitutes an inappropriate invasion of privacy. There’s also the issue of including patients suffering from dementia issues in such systems, since they may lack the optimal decision-making ability to provide consent. As with anything, a balance must be found to ensure technology is utilized to make life safer for the elderly without making them feel like subjects of a police state.
Many senior citizens may feel intimidated by the complexity of technology, yet it can simplify their lives. Many may do all they can to avoid what they consider to be the “tools of the young” but, in time, the possibilities presented by a brave new technological age can help to make their own lives longer and fuller.
This guest post was written by Matthew Flax on behalf of Now Learning, which promotes a range of higher education opportunities in healthcare, including nursing degrees and aged care courses.