Elderly Dementia Patients can Speak with Eye-Tracking Technology

Elderly Dementia Patients can Speak with Eye-Tracking Technology
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More than half of Australians residing in residential aged care facilities have dementia, and aged care agencies around the world are bracing for a surge in the number of individuals aged 65 and above over the next 30 years. For the first time, experts at South Australia’s Flinders University’s Caring Futures Institute are using innovative eye-tracking technology to ensure that the voices of all older people are heard in order to drive positive and effective change in response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s call to re-evaluate the quality of aged care in Australia.

The Flinders University research group has been instrumental in achieving significant progress in the aged care sector by developing two new validated quality assessment tools, the Quality of Life-Aged Care Consumers (QOL-ACC) and the Quality of Care Experience-Aged Care Consumers (QCE-ACC), which are now available and widely used throughout the sector.

According to Matthew Flinders senior research fellow Dr. Rachel Milte of a new article published in Quality of Life Research, titled “Feasibility of self-reported health related quality of life assessment with older people living with dementia,” eye-tracking technology with older people living with dementia in residential aged care facilities will improve online assessment tools to enable wider collection of self-reported quality of care and quality of life information from older people themselves.

“Older adults living with a diagnosis of dementia in residential care can find it challenging to respond to traditional text based questionnaires to rate the quality of life and quality of care they receive.

“By using eye-tracking technology we can collect crucial information about how older people with dementia read and respond to questionnaires, helping to understand how we can better design and adapt these for their needs.”

In the study, researchers invited 41 people with cognitive impairment ranging from ‘no’ to’mild or moderate’ to complete a short quality-of-life survey while sitting at a computer equipped with eye-tracking technology.

The technology records where participants’ eye gaze is focused while completing the questionnaire, the text they read and don’t read, and the areas of the questionnaire they spend the most time looking at in real time.

“This information helps us to design questionnaires which are easier for older people to complete, as well as understand whether they are reading all the key information to give high quality data for use in assessing quality of care in residential aged care homes.”

This study effort is presently being expanded by Dr. Milte and her colleague Dr. Jyoti Khadka. “The next project will focus on increasing self-completion of questionnaires and reducing the need to rely on proxy assessments by family members or close friends,” Dr. Khadka explains.

“To have an aged care system which truly meets the expectations of all Australians, we need to understand the quality of care of all older people from their own perspectives. This includes people with dementia,” he says.

“We know from research in the disability sector and aphasia (language disorder) research that people with communication difficulties can self-report their own quality of life, if instruments are tailored to their needs and abilities,” he says.

The study will bring together data from various research areas, such as accessible communication, aged care research, and health economics, for the first time to create quality assessment tools that support the inclusion of self-reported quality of life and quality of care data from people living with dementia.

These user-friendly communication tools will be used in conjunction with traditional text-based questionnaires to provide a comprehensive picture of the quality of care received by older individuals in residential aged care.

“Ultimately, the new tools will provide¬†accurate information¬†to policy makers and practitioners about which innovations in care should be funded to improve the quality of life and well-being of all older Australians,” concludes Dr. Milte.

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