Research partnership improving the lives of older people
Collaboration to deliver innovative solutions that help people celebrate their later years
The University of Wollongong (UOW) and aged-care service provider Warrigal have formalised a research collaboration that will deliver innovative solutions to enable people to live better, more purposeful lives with meaning as they get older.
The research collaboration agreement puts pen to paper on an informal partnership that goes back close to 20 years, when nursing students undertook research to better understand the lived experience for both residents and staff at Warrigal.
Warrigal CEO Mark Sewell said the needs of an ageing population have made collaboration between universities and the aged-care industry increasingly valuable with the number of Australians aged 65 and over projected to double by 2057 to 8.7 million people, making up 22 per cent of the total population.
“We’ve been serving the community for 50 years now and as the needs of the community change, we need to be at the forefront of technology and innovation to ensure we continue to offer a quality product and service that helps improve the lives of older people.
“The growing need for quality aged-care services based on the philosophy of personal choice and flexibility has seen us working with UOW on a number of initiatives recently, developed around their expertise in areas such as dementia, sustainable building design, information and communications, and assistive technologies.
“To be able to link research, some of which has been ground-breaking, with the lived experience has enabled us to establish new ways of delivering our services as well as bringing new products to the market that are helping improve older peoples’ lives.
“What we’ve discovered over the journey so far with UOW is a true collaborative spirit.”
The needs of an ageing population are also the focus of UOW’s flagship research program Global Challenges, with its Living Well, Longer stream working on pioneering dementia friendly communities, new mobility aids for people aged over 55 and increasing physical activity for older people, among many other projects.
UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), Professor Judy Raper, said being involved with Warrigal was part of the way UOW was endeavouring to engage with industry and the community to make a real impact.
“Projects like this excite researchers because they can see there's an immediate impact on people’s lives. They can be doing fundamental research but at the same time see that it's answering a big problem for the world.”
Professor Raper cited the example of the Global Challenges project Enabilise, which places researchers with older people to design new and improved mobility aids, as a way of rethinking how universities can be embedded in the community for positive results.
“Too often mobility aids are developed in response to advances in technology, resulting in over-complicated designs that overlook basic daily barriers and can be as much of a hindrance as a help.
“The project brought together researchers from nursing, biochemistry, engineering, human geography, and dementia care and put them in the room with older people as well as aged-care providers to understand their needs to come up with solutions that increase their independence.”
Mr Sewell said research and education had a vital role to play in the much-needed cultural shift in the way Australian society thought about older people and how they are cared for.
“We have this wonderful resource of people with knowledge and skills that is being lost and in reality with all the challenges we have in society, such as waste and energy use, we need to preserve and celebrate what older people can contribute. We call it ‘nanna-technology’!
“We believe that older people can have the best stage of their lives and we meet many older people in their 80s and 90s who now live in a much better environment than they've ever lived before,” he said.
“Our vision is that older people will have great lives and they will become greater and better. And if the population think in that way, the whole thing is going to work better.”