Promoting gerontech for 'ageing-in-place' elderly care
This article appeared originally in the Ejinsight on 22 April, 2022.
Authors: Kenny Shui, Assistant Research Director and Head of Economic Development, Arthur Tsang, Assistant Researcher, and Jessica Tan, Assistant Researcher at Our Hong Kong Foundation
As Hong Kong continues to suffer under the fifth wave, the physical and mental health of the elderly is a major concern. Our city’s elderly has undeniably been one of the population groups most affected by Omicron, with many elderly persons having passed away, some committed suicide, and many more find themselves in very dire situations. Nursing homes have been severely affected, as well as the ability for the elderly to meet their family at homes or restaurants, or their friends in parks or other leisure facilities.
In times like these, gerontechnology (gerontech) can play an important role. Its applications are broad, including telemedicine equipment for medical treatment, home-use health monitoring equipment, as well as safety monitoring and emergency assistance systems, or equipment to facilitate daily life and recreational activities. Gerontech does not only provide convenient connections between the elderly and community through remote and online functions, but also allows the elderly and their families to monitor health and living conditions themselves.
However, even if elderly have heard about gerontech, many of them may do not know where or how to buy such products. Coincidentally, the Government has vigorously promoted prevention-oriented primary care in recent years, for which it has already set up two District Health Centres (DHCs), which will eventually be extended to all 18 districts in Hong Kong. The DHCs will serve as key hubs for health promotion, early screening, chronic disease management, and community rehabilitation services, and will gradually become service providers of community-based long term care outside of hospitals. The application of gerontech is in line with the promotion of primary health care – that is, using technology to protect the daily physical and mental health of the elderly and thus prevent health issues. At the same time, the DHCs have a larger floor area and more paramedics compared with other existing community service facilities for the elderly, such as the District Elderly Community Centres and the Day Care Centres/Units for the Elderly, making it the ideal place to promote gerontech.
In fact, existing DHCs are already showcasing some gerontech products and have a directory of related community service agencies and rehabilitation equipment shops. We suggest that the Government go further and set up a “Gerontech Corner” with broader functions for: firstly, organising public education activities to raise the community’s awareness of gerontech; secondly, allowing the elderly to directly purchase or rent the products on display so as to save them the trouble of seeking information from private vendors; thirdly, as gerontech transactions through the DHCs will likely increase, the Gerontech Corner can also serve as a platform for testing products and collecting user feedback, so that product suppliers can optimise their offerings accordingly. In addition to these functions, the DHCs can also facilitate the flow of information among service providers and develop links with other service providers to achieve “medical-social collaboration”. For example, when a large amount of health data is generated by the elderly using health monitoring devices, DHCs can act as an intermediary to consolidate the data for relevant social workers and medical professionals.
The original intention of applying gerontech is to harness technology to improve the living conditions and habits of the elderly in the community and at home, so that elderly people can enjoy “ageing-in-place”. The pandemic has revealed the importance of creating “age-friendly communities”. To this end, DHCs will play an important role to encourage the usage of gerontech to promote the physical and mental health care of elderly living at home.