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Through the Leeds Dementia Pathfinder, technology such as iPads and Alexa devices were brought to support groups and Memory Cafes, as well as loaned to carers to use at home, which has shown to bring “huge benefits” to the health and wellbeing of people with dementia and their carers.

Almost 800 people engaged with the pathfinder over 12 months, including people with dementia, carers, staff, volunteers and stakeholders.

According to NHS Digital, the technology had an incredibly positive impact – one carer said it had “changed her and her dad’s life” after she used it for medication, exercise and appointment reminders.

Another said that using an iPad had helped him to feel less isolated as it had enabled him to continue with his hobbies as well as spend more quality time with his wife, playing games and listening to music together.

Overall, carers reported practical benefits, such as enabling them to manage medication or get health information. They also said it improved their wellbeing by providing them with online support, as well as an opportunity to relax, socialise and have fun, NHS Digital underlines.

The pathfinder was part of the NHS’ Widening Digital Participation Programme, delivered by NHS Digital, which aimed to make digital health services and information accessible to everyone – particularly the most excluded people in society.

In addition to loaning out technology, the Leeds Dementia Pathfinder – which was run by 100% Digital Leeds alongside several community partners – provided training and resources.

100% Digital Leeds is a citywide digital inclusion programme led by Leeds City Council with partners across public, private and third sectors. Working together, 100% Digital Leeds aims to ensure everyone in the city has everything they need to make the most of the online world.

Lessons learned from the Leeds Dementia Pathfinder, as well as the equipment, were used to continue to provide vital support when the UK went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic in March – just as the pathfinder finished.

Devices were loaned to settings such as care homes, hospital wards, support groups, Carers Leeds and Neighbourhood Network Schemes across the city. This enabled staff to support residents, patients and isolated older people to stay connected with friends and family using video calling.

Val Hewison, Chief Executive of Carers Leeds, said: “The Leeds Dementia Pathfinder had a really positive impact on carers’ lives. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and lockdown, it was more crucial than ever to keep in contact with carers of people with dementia. We used our experience and knowledge gained through the Leeds Dementia Pathfinder work to do this.

“We found creative approaches to digital technology to help carers who are socially isolated and by so doing, we improved that ever important connectivity with families and communities.

“Our work with 100% Digital Leeds means we are confident in encouraging and supporting carers of people with dementia to improve their quality of life, empowering and building on the wealth of strengths of carers that already exist. None of this would have been possible without the success of the Leeds Dementia Pathfinder project.”

NHS Digital’s three-year Widening Digital Participation programme (WDP) aims to help thousands of people across the UK to boost their digital health skills. The programme is focusing on those who are socially excluded and so are most likely to suffer from health inequalities.

The pathfinders are partnerships between local organisations including Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), local authorities and community groups in areas of high deprivation and digital exclusion. The evidence and insights gathered through these pilot projects have been developed into practical ‘How to Guides’ that can be shared with digital teams in the NHS and across Government to ensure all digital health services and tools are inclusive and accessible to everyone – particularly the most excluded.

Ian Phoenix, Director of Citizen Health Technology at NHS Digital, concluded: “It is fantastic to hear that this pathfinder made such a huge difference to the lives of people with dementia and their carers, not only during the project but during the period afterwards when support was provided remotely using digital technology.

“The main aim of the Widening Digital Participation programme was to develop innovative ways to improve health and wellbeing which could then be rolled out more widely – and this is a great example of that. The Leeds Dementia Pathfinder shows what a critical role digital technology can play in tackling health inequalities.”

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