The challenge: Delivering healthcare to an ageing population

As we grow older, our health becomes more fragile, can decline quickly and the risk of falls and related injuries increases.

Certain day-to-day activities can become difficult, and certain appliances and furniture around the home can pose a safety risk.

With an ageing population and Australia’s health expenditure in excess of A$110 billion annually, improved and cost-effective ways to reduce these risks and manage age-related health issues are needed.

Thanks to broadband connectivity, such as that being provided by Australia’s new national broadband infrastructure, there is an opportunity to create smarter and safer homes for Australia’s elderly and help them live at home for longer.

This will improve the quality of life of elderly people and meet the needs of carers and the health system.

Our response: Sensing activity in the home

Through the Australian e-Health Research Centre, we have developed a low-cost, non-invasive sensor, monitoring and support system for use in either individual homes or a supported-living community.

The system will have sensors able to:

  • sense the physical environment, such as heat in the kitchen and bathroom that could cause burns or scalds
  • sense movement inside and outside the house, enabling any decline in movement patterns to be recognised to help identify slips and falls
  • assist with social inclusion and psychological well-being by connecting with video-conferencing systems enabling people to talk to family and friends
  • collect disease-specific health information, using biomedical devices that transmit data to a remote server for examination and follow-up by healthcare providers.

Healthcare workers, older residents and their families took part in a trial of the technology in New South Wales. With the help of an aged care facility and a local general practitioner, sensor networks were installed in 20 broadband-connected residences.

The participants helped design a service to serve the needs of older residents, their families and healthcare staff.

The results: Improving quality of life

This new system could enhance the quality of life of older people and those who care for and support them.

Elderly people may be able to live in their home for much longer, as a better system will be in place to monitor their health and care.

The project will result in:

  • a decision support system for clinicians and healthcare workers that provides alerts and triage for the care of older people living in their own homes
  • a communication and support system for families and carers as well as for older residents.
  • real-world testing of systems in a broadband-connected house.

The initial Smarter Safer Homes trial was funded through a New South Wales Government initiative. We are now undertaking a number of trials and seeking more partners in order to provide different services to the aged and disability community.

For more details on project activities for Smarter Safer Homes see the SSH White Paper.