Meet Professor Susan Gordon, our newest Flagship Research and Education Director (FRED)  covering Residential and Assisted Aged Care, who will supervise our research theme on digitally supported and coordinated aged care management.

Professor Gordon is Strategic Professor – Chair of Restorative Care at Flinders University. Trained as a physiotherapist, she’s been an academic for over a decade and has extensive experience in using technology tools to improve outcomes in aged care.

“Sue’s deep understanding of the ways that digital technologies can benefit aged care and her ability to foster successful connections with the aged care sector are a huge asset to the Digital Health CRC,” says interim CEO Michael Costello.

“She also has plenty of street cred in aged care. Her research into prefrailty and frailty is internationally-renowned, she has developed apps for people with ageing challenges including dementia and has worked on both the Aged Care Technology Roadmap and the Aged Care Royal Commission Technology Workshop.”

Sue worked for more than 20 years as a physiotherapist in the public and private sectors, covering metropolitan, rural and remote locations, before joining James Cook University, Townsville as an academic, leading the physiotherapy accreditation process for 10 years.

In 2015 she was appointed to her current position, as Chair of Restorative Care in Ageing at Flinders University, a role co-funded by Aged Care and Housing Group (ACH).

“My clinical experience has added value to my research, because it’s given me a better ability to see a challenge both from a research viewpoint – thinking about how to measure and evaluate something – but also to think about how the research will add value to a patient and to a clinician,” she says.

Based in Adelaide, Sue’s week is divided between three locations. One is at Flinders University, where she also collaborates with the Flinders Digital Health Research Centre.

She also spends part of her week in the ACH head office, and has a third office at an ACH aged care facility.

“Being on-site gives me really good insight into the day-to-day issues and the planning and organisation around aged care,” she says.

“The arrangement has highlighted to me just how important it is to build those relationships between industry, research and education,” she says. “That’s what CRCs are all about.”

Developing technology

Sue worked with Flinders Digital Health Research Centre to lead the development of a mobile tablet personalised for older people who had memory loss associated with early stage dementia.

In the Flinders Assistant for Memory Enhancement (FAME) project, she worked on a trial with more than 150 people, collaborating with Dementia Australia, community aged care providers, software engineers and consumers.

“It is so important, if you’re going to produce technology for a group, that you work with them to make sure that it’s what they want,” she says, adding that technology developers sometimes make assumptions about what’s right for someone else, and that’s a mistake.

“Then you keep checking with them, making sure it’s easy to use; even down to the small details, you’ve got to get the colours right, get the font right,” she says.

“When someone has been diagnosed with early stage dementia, it’s a difficult time and can be very scary, so people were very eager to have something to help them manage.”

The tablet includes a diary, a place to record contacts and numbers, weather updates, and some brain training activities, and it’s now being tested in different residential settings.

As a chief investigator with the ARC Digital Enhanced Living Hub (DELH), she also led the design and production of an app that allows older people, clinicians and residential aged care workers to perform evidence-based health assessments for pre-frailty and frailty.

“My previous research had shown what are contributing factors to prefrailty and frailty, stumbling and falling, in 40 to 75-year-old people,” she says.

The app is about to be trialled in the community, she says. It is designed to be used by community dwelling adults, health professionals and assessors working in the field to do assessments, share information, and feed into an individual dashboard of health status and interventions, as well as longitudinal data sets for further research to understand ageing trajectories in health.

“There is some universality around what’s needed in the digital world for health, which also applies to aged care,” she says. “Things like interoperability, data sharing, – those are big pieces that work across sectors to allow much more to be done.”

She says that digital health will increasingly enable people to live in their own homes, out of residential care, with better support, for much longer.

“We’re losing a massive opportunity when we don’t address issues like pre frailty, or early stage dementia, or we wait till people fall over before we do something – and I think digital technology can enable us to address these things in a more timely way,” she says.

“Ideally, technology will enable people to stay at home with health challenges including dementia, in a safe way that allows them to still have quality of life, and continue to enjoy the things they value.”

– by Fran Molloy