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Transforming aged care: new technologies you need to know about

Robots and mind-controlled medical devices promise to revolutionise aged care service delivery while food preparation technology will allow service providers to work more efficiently and provide better services to clients, according to a technology futurist.

Robotics will revolutionise aged care services in a number of ways, said Shara Evans, CEO of Market Clarity, futurist and keynote speaker at the recent Leading Age Services National Congress.

Shara Evans

Shara Evans

They include robot companions like Paro the harp seal – and much more sophisticated companion bots of the future – to combat social isolation, beds that transform into wheelchairs, exoskeletons that help people walk again, and vacuum cleaners to lighten workers’ loads, she said.

“There’s also a lot of work going on in the area of mind-controlled medical devices ranging from wheelchairs to prosthetics and even early work on robot surrogates,” Ms Evans told Technology Review.

“These technologies have the potential to make a huge difference to older citizens and people with disabilities.”

Food revolution

In terms of innovations to assist service providers to work more efficiently and provide more interesting services to clients, Ms Evans said there were several interesting developments in the area of food preparation.

One of those is the TellSpec Food Sensor, which is a handheld food scanner that connects to a smartphone to inform about allergens, chemicals, nutrients, calories, and the ingredients present in any food item.

“It uses spectrometer technology to look at the chemical makeup of food, including pollutants. In an aged care or home care setting it could be used to monitor and plan patient nutrition,” Ms Evans said.

As more devices become internet-enabled, smart fridges will notify users on the kinds of food available to prepare a meal or offer recipes from the internet that use the ingredients on hand, she said.

“[For example,] new food preparation devices such as Foodini from Natural Machines that use 3D printing techniques with real food to easily create beautiful, healthy meals.”

Wearables

Among other devices coming soon that Australian aged care providers needed to know about is the BodyGuardian Remote Monitoring System, which is designed for patients with non-lethal arrhythmias, Ms Evans said.

“It’s a wearable body sensor that allows physicians, carers or family members to monitor cardiac patient’s physiological data from anywhere at anytime.”

Another slated for general consumer market release in mid-2016 is the UnaliWear’s Kanega Watch, which is a voice-controlled device that can be set up to call emergency contacts and/or dispatch emergency services if it detects that the wearer is in trouble, Ms Evans said.

“It uses a number of factors such as fall detection and long periods of immobility during the day combined with a lack of response from the wearer when if it asks if you need help. It can remind you when you need to take medication, and help the wearer find their way home.”

Sci-fi inspired

Also scheduled for release next year is the Scanadu Scout. This device may already be familiar to science fiction fans as the device was inspired by the Star Trek tricorder, said Ms Evans.

“It has a sleek form factor that takes readings for heart rate, core body temperature, blood oxygenation, blood pressure and respiratory rate data. You simply hold the Scout to a patient’s temple for 30 seconds to get readings, which are sent via Bluetooth to a smartphone app. No more waking patients every few hours to get health readings,” she said.

Photos: Peak Multimedia

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