Researchers look for digital answers to home care needs

FINDING digital answers to how older Australians can live safer and longer lives in their homes is never more important than now.

Deakin University's Digital Enhanced Living Hub is taking on the momentous task of finding how to utilise technology to address the needs in home caring for older Australians and those people living with a disability.

It is being funded through a $3 million grant from the Australian Research Council.

The team have already started working on solutions such as using smartphone technology to support the mental health of elderly people, avatar learning tools to improve care for people with dementia, and mental health solutions for younger generations.

What the researchers find for each generational problem can well have a direct benefit across all generations.

Its project partners - Uniting AgeWell, Dementia Australia, BlackDog Institute, ACH Group, goAct, Neo Products, Uniting (NSW and ACT), C-Born and iCetana - have particular needs hub director Professor Kon Mouzakis explained. Those needs are forming the basis of the research and development being done by the collaborative hub.

"The Uniting AgeWell people's biggest criteria is fall detection," Prof Mouzakis said.

"Can we somehow have a mechanism in place to detect a fall is going to happen and has happened because falls happen for those that are living by themselves and they can't get the help they need or a fall has happened in a residential care facility and sometimes it can be seven to 10 minutes before someone comes through and checks up on that individual. If they have a fall because of a stroke, it is paramount they are found as quickly as possible."

Another issue they are looking at is dementia and how to improve the skills of carers to manage the unique care requirements.

"There are a number of areas, a number of different projects that we are looking at," Prof Mouzakis added. "The themes will change as our partners come with other problems. This is our first year of a five-year program."

One project already being actioned is working with getting seniors connected through Google Home.

"We have just done a survey to work out how many older people, who are living by themselves, have an internet connection," Prof Mouzakis said. "It showed that less than one per cent have a connection. We are now putting a dongle on the Google Home so we can connect them.

"If we are putting them into homes where the priority is to make sure if the power goes off there is some connectivity, we can run a small uninterrupted power supply that will keep the power going for that particular device."

A common problem for elderly people is urinary tract infections which can lead to hospitalisation. "We can reduce the number of people who need to go to hospital by having a couple of sensors that trigger at night to say, for example, 'Kon got of bed the last three nights at 2am'," Prof Mouzakis said. "When a carer comes in we can highlight to them that they can have a conversation with Kon about him getting out of bed. From there a simple litmus test will show if Kon has a UTI and treatment can be applied."

"We are trying to help them. We are not trying to do anything invasive. Instead, we are trying to pick up abnormalities so we can provide the assistance they need" he added.

The hub team plan to publish outcomes from the current projects by early next year.

Prof Mouzakis said older Australians that have issues they want addressed can contact one of the project partners to submit their suggestions.