Digital assessment tool helps ageing well at home

Age-friendly environments in homes and communities play an important role because older people have strong preferences for remaining at home as they age. However, they need to be safe – and digital home environment assessment tools that enable older people to assess their homes and prepare for aging in place may be very beneficial.

“Most Australians would prefer to stay in their homes as they grow older, but with changes to our ability as we age, it’s important that our homes are safe and accessible,” says Professor Kate Laver from Flinders University’s Caring Futures Institute, whose research aims to maximise independence and quality of life in older people and people with disabilities.

Professor Kate Laver

“To help assess this, we designed a research project that was part of Roslyn Aclan’s PhD, which aimed to determine common home hazards for healthy older adults based on the current gold standard, being an occupational therapist’s assessment of Australian homes.

“We then studied the validity of a digital self-assessment tool that was used by older people in their own homes, then compared it against an occupational therapy home assessment.”

A cohort of 61 adults aged 60 years and older living in metropolitan Adelaide were able to self-assess their homes using a digital tool, which helps them to start considering their future housing needs and be used as a guide for possible home modifications.

The digital self-assessment tool’s 89 questions were simultaneously compared with an occupational therapist’s assessment of the same homes, and the published research – A Digital Tool for the Self-Assessment of Homes to Increase Age-Friendliness: Validity Study, by Roslyn Aclan, Stacey George and Kate Laver – showed that the assessments by participants who used the digital tool were closely aligned to professional assessments by occupational therapists, validating the accuracy of the digital self-assessment tool to identify potential hazards.

The occupational therapist home assessments identified bathrooms, toilets and backyards as the most common places needing modifications to support ageing at home.

Overall, older Australians completing the self-assessment of their homes found the digital tool relatively quick and easy to use – although there was a low level of agreement between older Australians and occupational therapists about the ease of getting in and out of chairs in the homes’ living areas.

The great benefit of the digital self-assessment tools is that they can be used cheaply, easily and at any time – long before troubles affect older people in their homes.

“Despite the importance of home assessments, they are often only conducted after an injury or illness, rather than being done pre-emptively to better support ageing at home,” says Professor Laver.

“Using these digital tools will identify common areas where older Australians could consider home modifications – and suggest key features that should be included in age-friendly buildings.”

The opportunity for older Australians to use a digital self-assessment tool will allow them to consider the age-friendliness of their home and provide practical suggestions for modifications they could make to remain at home for longer.

“Innovative tools that can identify problems and generate solutions may improve the age-friendliness of the home environment,” says Professor Laver.

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Quality Aged Care