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  • Study examines how digital devices can be healthy

    Author: Karen Keast

A New Zealand study will investigate pairing fitness devices and home sensors with social media to help keep older people living at home for longer.

The Massey University study will examine using information gathered from a range of digital devices, either worn or located in a person’s home, that can be distributed via social media networks, such as Facebook, in a bid to monitor and manage the health of older people in the community.

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Senior lecturer and health informatics researcher Dr Richard Whiddett and his research team, including Dr Inga Hunter and Professor Hans Guesgen, hope the study will have major health benefits for older people, from supporting their independence and improving their quality of life to avoiding health risks, such as increasing immobility, associated with residential care.

“Current systems of transferring data from smart home sensors tend to rely on a one-to-one relationship, for example blood pressure readings from the older person to the clinic nurse,” Dr Whiddett said.

“Social media networks offer the option of a many-to-many relationship, for example between the older person, their family and friends, and health providers.


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“It not only widens the support network for the older person but also individualises the support system.”

The $150,000 two-year study is one of nine Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) funded grants worth $1.35 million, designed to explore innovative initiatives to manage the nation’s health.

Other studies to be funded include two University of Auckland research projects that will examine using principles of the slow movement to prevent obesity from birth and another focusing on a food systems approach for public health nutrition.

HRC chief executive officer Professor Kath McPherson said the digital device study hopes to show how living at home could be a safe and healthy choice for more older people.

“Although residential care facilities are an important resource for our populations, and they are committed to providing high-quality care, many people want to live in their own homes or communities,” she said.

“With the number of New Zealanders aged over 65 estimated to grow by 84 per cent by 2026, helping older people to stay in their communities for longer will also contribute to ensuring optimal management of the rising costs of health care services.”

The research comes as the Ministry of Health works to define a pathway for the nation’s health care system for the next decade.

After widespread consultation, an updated New Zealand Health Strategy, first published in 2000, and road-map of actions is expected to be released before mid-year. Works are also underway to update the Health of Older People Strategy, published in 2002.


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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords