For many Australians – older people, those with special needs, and those living with chronic conditions – assistive technology (AT) plays an invaluable part, helping them go about their everyday lives and carry out the quotidian tasks most of us take for granted.
ATs help those with long-term needs by either allowing the patient to perform a task they would otherwise be unable to do, or increasing the safety and ease with which the task can be carried out. They can include simple devices which can assist with turning door handles or even opening a jar of food, to more complex technologies like home automation and environmental control systems – all aimed at giving the patient independence and encouraging greater autonomy.
Choosing the most appropriate assistive technology can be an overwhelming and daunting process. There are many questions which need to be answered in order to qualify a particular technology for a particular patient. What are their current and future goals? What current abilities do they have? How would an AT best complement what they hope to be able to accomplish?
Recognising the need to both educate and encourage the community to adopt ATs, the Queensland Smart Home Initiative (QSHI) was a project set up by a consortium of corporate and community organisations, universities and government bodies in 2010 – including Tunstall Healthcare, a leading provider of telecare and telehealth solutions.
Warren Duce, Telehealthcare Consultant at Tunstall and Tony Baird, Business Development Officer at LifeTec recently spoke with MedicalSearch about QSHI and the AT 'virtual experience' that can be had at the associated Brisbane Smart Home facility at LifeTec, Newmarket, a state-of-the-art home demonstrator accessible to both industry and the general public.
MedicalSearch: What is the Smart Home setup?
Warren Duce: The Smart Home provides a virtual experience; it's a showcase of how new digital technologies work collaboratively in the home.
It allows patients and their families the opportunity to touch, play and see the different types and models of assistive technologies in action; rather than just hearing the concept explained over the phone or viewing the product from a photograph.
The Brisbane Smart Home demonstrator at LifeTec continues to help advance the adoption of intelligent assistive technologies, encourage and support independent living and provide greater access to care.
MS: How did Tunstall Healthcare become involved as a project partner?
WD: Tunstall was approached during the initial planning stages of the QSHI to contribute as a project partner. We lent industry experience, and a range of assistive telecare technologies for display as part of the initiative.
MS: What are some of the latest types of telecare equipment from Tunstall on display within the home?
WD: Tunstall has had both telecare and telehealth equipment on display for live demonstration within the Brisbane Smart Home facility since its launch in 2010.
As part of the LifeTec renovation in September 2013, a myclinic telehealth hub was added for demonstration, complete with a range of telehealth peripherals to demonstrate vital sign management in the home.
Tunstall's flagship personal medical alarm, the ConnectMe, is also now available to view, including a number of integrated care and environmental trigger sensors such as the Tunstall bed sensor, floor mat and iVi fall pendant.
MS: What are the main benefits of each type of technology to those with disabilities?
WD: Assistive technologies play a key role in enabling those with a disability to live independently and safely, and enjoy a better quality of life.
ATs support people and their carers living with such conditions as paraplegia, quadriplegia, cerebral palsy, motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, amputated limbs, Down syndrome and acquired brain injury. (Read case studies about how ATs have helped people with disabilities.)
MS: The Smart Home was recently upgraded and re-launched in September 2013 thanks to Brisbane City Council's Access and Inclusion Community Partnership Program. What has this funding enabled for the Smart Home?
Tony Baird: Funding for the project was received from the Brisbane City Council Access and Inclusion program and included updates to digital technologies such as home automation, live connected telehealth and an improved open-plan layout.
MS: What does the future hold for telecare technologies?
WD: At Tunstall we're listening to the needs of our customers. 'Mobile' is a hot concept in the telecare industry at the moment and we have recently released a range of mobile and GSM telecare assistive technologies for use at home and on the go to reflect that need.