The Internet of Things (IoT) is paving the way for new innovative solutions to help further humanise service provision, deliver business efficiencies and offer a framework to maintain and support human dignity as we age.
The aged care sector is deeply important to many Australians at a personal level and due to an ageing population, the sector itself is expected to grow from 1 percent of GDP through to 1.7 percent of GDP by 2055 . This growth will increase the pressure on service provision in both the home and residential settings. In addition, the sector is not immune from the widespread technology-driven change in our society.
For aged care organisations, this change offers both challenges and opportunities to fundamentally alter the nature of their relationships with internal and external stakeholders. Indeed, technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) is paving the way for new innovative solutions to help further humanise service provision, deliver business efficiencies and offer a framework to maintain and support human dignity as we age.
Age and the cognitive and the associated physical impairments, can compromise some of the core elements which underpin human dignity – independence, freedom and the 'voice' of the individual. These compromises to human dignity have a material impact on the ability of individuals to have a say in key decisions relating to their environment, their residence, their lifestyle and even their own body. This has a direct cost to the individual in both a financial and non-financial sense.
In addition, on a purely macro-economic level, there are significant costs to the community as a whole with respect to the provision of aged care services. In just one example, the economic costs associated with dementia are expected to rise from $14.67 billion in 2017 to $36.85 billion by 2056. With that being said, what if we could mitigate the impact of physical and cognitive impairment? What would that mean for the individual and for society as a whole?
So, how can service providers mitigate the impacts of aged related impairment whilst meeting the increasing demand generated by our ageing population? Three approaches are key; active, passive and environmental.
One answer, is to support their ability to remain in an environment (their home) which has provided a foundation for their lives to date, often over many decades. We are all familiar with the arguments in favour of increasing the longevity of in-home living, so with that as our base understanding, there is a growing range of fascinating point solutions which address aspects of the in-home care challenge. The solutions described below, are just a small subset of what is possible right now:
Given the reluctance of many users to embrace ‘active’ technologies like those described above, it’s also possible to use passive solutions to monitor the activity of residents within a home, such as:
Utility Monitoring. It is possible to apply analytics to the use of home utilities such as electricity, water and gas. Using this technology, some companies have saved numerous lives by alerting authorities to a lack of predicted activity.
Finally, when transitioning from in-home level care to services provided at a facility, precinct, suburb or city level, technology again offers an opportunity to make these environments more secure and liveable for those suffering from physical or cognitive impairment.
Recent years have seen the rollout of solutions to assist people outside their homes:
The scope of solutions coming to market is set to further increase through a combination of factors. Technology continues to rapidly evolve with ever-smaller electronics, reductions in battery sizes and increases in their capacity, and new methods of wireless communications. New vendors are establishing themselves as they see market potential for innovative solutions. And at the same time, people are becoming more receptive and comfortable with assisted living technology solutions, driving increasing demand from personal and facility purchasers.
The innovative application of technologies, such as IoT powered solutions, provides an opportunity to create ecosystems which maintain freedom and can underpin the respect and value for the individual, crucial elements of maintaining human dignity. Moreover, for service providers, a technology approach led by an emphasis on client empowerment, can enable them to meet increasing service demands for transparency from clients, their loved ones and regulatory authorities, whilst assisting in delivering operational efficiencies and driving market differentiation on new business.
Given the current focus on aged care at an industry level, beneficial outcomes like these cannot be ignored and should be on the agenda of every aged care service provider.
Customer-centric, practical and collaborative approaches to innovation are needed to meet the needs of the elderly and their families.