Elderly lady
Early findings from new research being conducted by the University of Lincoln, Lincolnshire County Council and Serco, indicates that the introduction of assistive technology at home could revolutionise life for vulnerable adults who might otherwise feel excluded or isolated.

The Social Care Technology Innovation for the Citizens of Lincolnshire project, which has been running since June this year, is investigating how affordable home tech could be used to enhance social care service delivery and improve the lives of almost 12,000 adults the council helps support each year.

The University-led project has found access to ‘telecare’ – a monitoring service offering remote support to elderly, disabled and vulnerable people living at home alone – can be successful, but its ease of use is vital, as are systems that come with full support and servicing.

A number of people, the project found, are already actively using Echo and Alexa-enabled devices for tasks like medicine reminders, recording messages to care staff, directly connecting to local authority services, general household appliance control of lights and thermostats, and even food delivery.

Unobtrusive movement sensors can oversee a person’s activity at home and help relatives or community services get a better idea of their activity, or show if they need more assistance or emergency help.

However, the project has found that cameras raise concerns over privacy and are not as effective at detecting, for example, skin colour changes or other specific health issues.

According to researchers it was felt that a careful balance is needed between technological advancements and hands-on care, meaning any devices must be supplemental and should not fully replace a physical carer’s role.

Some carers expressed concern about privacy over personal data and providing devices to people suffering mental impairment, particularly dementia, as there have been some instances where people have been frightened ‘because a machine is talking to them.’

Not everyone can comfortably ‘problem-solve’ technology, the research revealed. A user with impaired cognition may be unable to manage an alarm pendant, meaning care solutions have to offer multiple methods of use. It is also important that each person’s circumstances and needs are carefully assessed.

Dr Salah Al-Majeed, Acting Head of the School of Computer Science at the University of Lincoln commented: “These initial outcomes match the Department for Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) agenda to consider innovative approaches that will increase independence and self-care for people living with complex conditions, while also improving the circumstances of carers.

“Technology offers increasingly potential for new methods of diagnosing, detecting and monitoring warning signs in vulnerable adults, and can also serve to connect friends, families, carers and communities within a wider web of support.

“While the UK’s care system is currently in the midst of a significant overhaul, the requirements of the country’s 14.1 million disabled people, and 5.3 million people aged over 75 have to be catered for. This is particularly the case when it comes to supporting Lincolnshire’s rural community, where many people are living in isolated locations.

“We are completely appreciative of the fact that technology can’t do everything – it can’t put you to bed, clean you or give you a hug, but it can do other things which then allows the most valuable resource – social workers, occupational therapists, carers – to do other things for you that are also hugely important.

“These demands present a significant challenge to councils, but there is a real opportunity to review how technology can help, and we’re excited that Lincolnshire is at the forefront of championing this goal.

“We want to encourage those receiving council support and individuals working in Lincolnshire’s care services to contribute to our ongoing surveys, which ask questions about people’s use, thoughts and opinions on technological support in adult social care.”

Dr Al-Majeed concludes: “We are looking forward to revealing more detail on potential advances in technological adult social care support in a White Paper which will conclude our current project in October.”

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