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Eye-tracking tech helps aged-care assessment

Researchers from Flinders University have used eye‑tracking technology on older Australians to investigate their cognitive ability to assess their quality of life preferences in aged care.

This information, the researchers claim, will help to guide health and aged care policy and practice in determining where resources should be targeted to maximise quality of life benefits for older people.

Outpatients at Adelaide memory clinics, including those with and without mild cognitive impairment, were asked to read the same materials, involving written choices about their preferences for alternative states of quality of life.

According to the researchers, these were designed to mirror the types of official forms issued to aged-care patients when assessing quality of care and quality of life outcomes.

“Misunderstanding such materials could potentially lock out people with dementia, mild cognitive impairment or poor memory from making best-informed decisions about their care,” they said.

Eye-tracking technology was used to map how each person focused as they read, which can represent good and poor cognition.

“The eye tracking technology identified the relationships between cognitive capacity, task complexity and the extent of the tendency for participants to simplify the choice situation by overlooking or ignoring one or more of the attributes presented,” they said.

Lead researcher Kaiying Wang said the exploratory study provided important insights into the information processes adopted by older people with varying levels of cognitive function.

“It also helped our team to identify those who needed more help in formulating their decisions,” Wang said.

The team at Flinders said current estimates indicate that up to 20% of people in developed countries aged 65 and over have mild cognitive impairment, with these percentages predicted to rise markedly by 2050.

“This greatly compromises their ability to communicate efficiently – particularly when it comes to filing official forms,” they said.

Professor Julie Ratcliffe, from Flinders University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, said the new eye tracking technology will help to find new ways to drive the inclusivity of older people with cognitive impairment and dementia in quality of life assessments.

“It is very important that older people’s preferences about quality of care and quality of life are used to inform economic evaluation of policy and practice in health and aged care,” she said.

The Flinders University research was published in Applied Health Economics and Health Policy.