Smart homes help aged care

The boom in ageing around the world, including China where traditional family-based care is common, is underpinning a tech revolution in elder care, say Flinders University health and aged care experts.

Associate Professor Angie Shafei, Dean of Business at Flinders University.

In a new article in Frontiers in Public Health, the authors outline the potential for user-friendly, customised wearable devices, robotic assistants and sensors to enhance the independence and wellbeing of many more elderly people want to ‘grow old gracefully’ in their own home.

“In extensive collaboration throughout the region, we have looked at older adult care and health service management,” says Flinders University Dean of Business, Associate Professor Angie Shafei.

“As the traditional family-base care models become unsustainable, China is pioneering new strategies in health and aged-care management – including to suit the cultural and accessibility needs of dozens of distinct ethnic groups in the country.”

Innovative technologies to older adult care can also virtual support groups and video-conferencing, telehealth and electronic health records and other technologies for mobility and cognitive support such as rehabilitation or service robots.

Flinders University coauthor Dr Madhan Balasubramanian, Senior Lecturer in Health and Aged Care Management, says the key to more rapid uptake of these user-friendly and potentially life-changing technologies is to focus on creating solutions that resonate with older adult preferences – including comprehensive training to ease the transition.

“The potential for innovation is immense, with the need to address significant demographic changes in China, which has more than 260 million people aged 60 and above,” says Dr Balasubramanian, from the College of Business, Government and Law.

Dr Madhan Balasubramanian, Senior Lecturer in Health and Aged Care Management, College of Business, Government and Law at Flinders University,
Associate Professor Jyoti Khadki, from the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

“For smart homes and so-called ‘gerontechnologies’ to truly revolutionise elder care, we need more than just gadgets. We need strong policies, robust infrastructure and research that bridges the digital divide.”

Across the Asia and Pacific regions, about one in seven people are aged 60 years or older, and projections indicate that by 2050, one in four people will fall within this age group.

A report by the Asian Development Bank has reported that the demographic transition to old age will happen even more rapidly – in countries such as the People’s Republic of China, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam – which will have significant implications for health systems, as well as social and economic consequences.

The World Health Organization defines healthy ageing as “developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age”.

While improvements in public health and rapid medical advancements are contributing to increased life expectancy, a rapidly ageing population presents profound challenges and complex consequences to health systems. Older adults often present with multiple chronic conditions, accompanied by an increased demand for healthcare services, which in turn contributes to increase health system costs.

For examples in Australia, the projected health expenditure per person (older adults) is expected to rise from A$3250 in 2028-19 to $3970 in 2031-32 and reach $8700 in 2060–61.

The Flinders University research team, with colleagues including Associate Professor Jyoti Khadka, from the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, is collaborating with researchers in China and other Southeast Asian and Pacific countries as part of the Asia Pacific Aged Care Hub ( APACH).

They are editors, with James Cook University Associate Professor Zhanming Liang, of a collection of 26 research articles covering innovative aged care practices across China’s administrative divisions, which has been downloaded more than 10,000 times in the past two years

The latest Perspective article, ‘Smart homes: Pioneering age-friendly environments in China for enhanced health and quality of life‘ (2024) by Ingy (Angie) Shafei, Jyoti Khadka and Madhan Balasubramanian has been published in Frontiers in Public Health DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2024.1346963

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