In a first of its kind collaboration, a collection of digital health companies and one of Australia’s largest healthcare providers are combining resources and building a trailblazing high-tech house for people with intellectual disabilities.

Under construction in Melbourne, the smart home will trial the use of wearables, mobile device apps, voice assistants, sensors, artificial intelligence and more fit-for-purpose innovations for five residents with cognitive issues and secondary conditions such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy and blindness.

Led by HomeStay in partnership with St John of God Health Care, the pioneering construction has been designed to improve the quality of life of those who will move in later this year.

St John of God’s Executive Director of Community Services Kevin Taylor said he is excited by a project that could be a blueprint for the sector.

“Obviously it's an area that hasn't had a lot of focus historically. As technology is improving all the time, now we need to match the technology with the specific needs of people with a disability,” he said.

“I think that we'll see over the next few years a greater focus on how technology can enhance the lives of the individuals that we provide services to.”

The purpose-built house, to be completed later this month, will implement easy to use and affordable innovations allowing residents to be less reliant on carers. St John of God will also be able to reduce restrictive practices, collect key metrics and use data analytics to drive decision making, and provide more one-on-one time between residents and carers each day.

In the case of a resident who doesn't have road sense and is prone to absconding, the smart home will cleverly keep him safe.

“By using technology, we can determine when that particular person is going near the door and the door then can be locked to stop him going out,” Taylor said.

“When he's not around, the other clients can actually go out. It's not restricting them from going in and out. Also, we’ve got the opportunity whereby, because we're having a front gate, that he may well be able to go out the front door of the house into the garden, but he's then stopped from going out onto the road where he will be unsafe.”

The tech, which will be non-evasive and prioritise privacy, will also include motion sensors and detectors on doors to alert caregivers if a resident is in the bathroom for an extended time and might need assistance.

At a resident’s wake up time, Alexa can be set to slowly increase the lighting, roll up the blinds, and turn on calming music, while a mobile tablet can help reduce anxiety by showing them what they're having for dinner, which caregivers are rostered on, what is planned for the day, and even the weather forecast.

“Many of the clients, unless they are woken up by the carer won't get up. The aim is this is providing technology to assist them to do that, independent of the carer,” Taylor said.

Measuring anxiety levels can also allow caregivers to put positive behaviour support plans in place to prevent outbursts.

There are other benefits too.

“We have another individual, for instance, that needs to be reminded to go to the bathroom. If they don't, then they end up with all sorts of urinary tract infections, all sorts of problems. What we're trying to do is to get technology to remind that individual such that then it gives them a little bit more dignity because it’s not one person reminding somebody else and they're actually independent of the actual carer that's there,” Taylor said.

“That in turn means that the carer has more time to look at development programs and other issues rather than just saying I need to remind somebody to go to the loo and that stuff.”

Nicole Jahn, St John of God’s Director of Projects and Technology, said the initiative is genuinely ground-breaking, with the smart home tailored to the residents’ individual needs.

“We have to take it a step further with intellectual disability. Smart home technology is not new in the market, but with cognitive disability we have to make sure that it's really simple for them to understand what a button does,” Jahn said.

“With one of our technology providers, a simple light switch beside the bed, we're able to put a picture of a sun or a moon that can represent opening the blinds and turning the lights on versus the moon of turning the lights off and closing the blinds. It's taking the technology a step further to make it appropriate for their level of disability.”

The tech companies cooperating on the venture are contributing:

  • HomeStay – AI-enabled monitoring system including data hub, mobile device app and safety alert system
  • Samsung – tablets, wearables and virtual reality devices
  • Quantify Technology – smart home lighting, blinds, power outlet devices and the Qumulus cloud
  • Signify – colour therapy lighting and motion sensor technology
  • BCDS Group – secure access control
  • Work M8 – incident response and carer duress platform.

Sherry Swanson, HomeStay’s Chief Innovation Officer and Strategic Business Partner, said one of the priorities of the project was to ensure it complied with the National Disability Insurance Scheme’s Assistive Technology Strategy.

“St John of God has a significant outreach portfolio and with the changes initiated by the NDIS this meant that St John of God would be making changes to their business model and the need to include technology was crucial,” Swanson said.

“However, a health provider’s core business is the service delivery of health services and client health outcomes, not sifting through all of the technology options that are available at an almost overwhelming number and guessing which ones are authentic or just hype.”

The HomeStay team chose to curate the technology options and work with St John of God to build a bricks-and-mortar prototype house for those with needs that can often be considered too complex.  

“The intention is for the blueprint to be repeatable and scalable to larger accommodation settings, and very, very importantly for family homes where parents are the carers for children and adults with disabilities or elderly loved ones,” Swanson said.   

The technology providers taking part in the mutual investment/mutual benefit project developed the pioneering end-to-end ‘Enabled Lifestyle Blueprint’ following consultation with St John of God clinical and non-clinical staff.

“When the house is opened and the technology goes live, this will be a fantastic case study for all those involved. For St John of God it’s a leading example of their really progressive partnering strategy and leadership by action not philosophy, and for HomeStay and our partners it’s an opportunity for everyone to see how powerful our technology is in this setting.”

Deakin University will conduct a pre-move and post-move study to determine the impact of the smart home on the quality of the lives of residents.

For St John of God’s Taylor, the research is vital: “It's no good just putting technology in for the sake of technology.”

The healthcare provider is Australia's third largest private hospital operator, with 23 facilities containing more than 3200 beds. It runs 36 supported-living homes, and provides a range of services to about 1000 people with intellectual disability.

As most of the tech in the new house will be Wi-Fi-enabled, the plan is to incorporate those innovations that prove to be beneficial into new homes and retrofit as much as possible into existing facilities.

But for St John of God, which is investing $875,000 into the new smart home, the importance of the project extends beyond its own operations.

“We're trying to do this so that we can actually then demonstrate affordable technology that other people, other organisations can consider utilising within the NDIS, which ultimately will be a $22 billion funded service across Australia,” Taylor said.

“It has a component of that which relates to housing because it's realised that there is a shortage of housing for people with a disability. Now this goes broader than just intellectual: it goes to any form of disability.”

He said the benefits – in terms of empowerment, independence and dignity – have the potential to touch many lives.

“More importantly, I think that there are still a large number of parents that look after their children with a disability. If we can then start to build something or demonstrate something that makes it such that their son or their daughter can stay at home longer and what they might need to do as the parents age, I think that's got great implications as well for the whole family going forward,” Taylor said.

To find out more about the house and its technology or donate to the project contact:




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