How will artificial intelligence change the way of aged care?


Artificial intelligence is transforming the world of work. Advances such as deep learning, new sensor technologies, and subsequent data availability, mean that computers can perform a much wider range of tasks than previously thought possible.

While we may be getting used to the idea that automation will render many current occupations obsolete, many of us still struggle with the idea that artificial intelligence can perform more human tasks.  But that’s exactly what’s happening in the world of aged care. With the help of “more human” technology, older people will be able to stay in their homes longer, and lead more independent lives. This will also have repercussions on how aged care facilities are staffed in the future. As the industry incorporates new technology, new jobs will be created and old jobs transformed.

According to the Smithsonian Institute, new technological tools will play a huge role in helping the elderly to take care of themselves. From wearable devices that measure heart rate to remote-controlled robots that pick things up from the floor, older people will be interacting with technology in their homes in a variety of new ways. This trend is expected to start with the baby boomers who are now hitting their seventies, and grow with successive generations.

Of course, there are design factors to take into consideration. Elderly people may have misgivings about incorporating so much technology into their home, and usability and invasiveness are going to be top of mind. Sensors, voice recognition, and wearable devices are relatively non-invasive, and require little interaction with keyboards or other equipment.

In fact, a whole new startup industry has emerged in recent years specialising in developing new technologies to be used in the aged care space. Smartphone apps like Lifewatch V that keep elderly patients in touch with their doctors between visits simply by holding a finger over a sensor, robots that take them through light stretching exercises, and intelligent virtual assistants like getAbby that remind people to take their medications are poised to play a huge role in elderly patient care. This will give them much more autonomy, and increase the length of time people remain at home.

So what’s this going to mean from an aged care facility staffing perspective? Will machines take the place of human aged care workers?

Well…..Yes and No.

Over the next decade more and more manual tasks will be performed by robots, for example, robots that assist people to get out in and out of beds and chairs without third person assistance will improve the independence of many mobility impaired people.  There are currently prototype robots that autonomously take blood. The quality of remote monitoring of people will dramatically improve through implanted sensors etc., reducing the need for visits for these tasks.

However, the increased use of AI in aged care, along with the massive amounts of data that will become available means a new kind of health professional will emerge, one that is able to understand data generated by this new technology, create a tailor-made health plan, and carry out any necessary action. Analysis skills may replace the ability to complete manual tasks like lifting. Also with less emphasis on carrying out manual tasks, care workers of the future may have time to become more engaged with patients on a personal level, improving the mental wellbeing of people under their care.

We are at the dawn of the practical use of artificial intelligence as we become more familiar we will find a myriad of ways to incorporate it into the aged care space. We can only surmise the skills that will be needed. But with so much potential for change, the sector is sure to offer some real opportunities in the future.