The proportion of elderly people in our society is growing at an unprecedented rate and with life expectancy also increasing, more and more people are likely to also be affected. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are currently about 800,000 people in the UK with dementia. Alarmingly, it is predicted that by 2021, the number of people with dementia in the UK will have increased to around 1 million. As the number of dementia sufferers rises, an adequately skilled and trained workforce will be required to ensure that complex, dynamic care and support services are delivered, thus placing further pressure on social care providers.
One of the key responses to this emerging challenge has been the development of assistive technologies, designed to support people with dementia to live independently and safely for longer, as well as reducing the pressure on their carers.
Assistive technology is a broad term used to describe any item, object, device or system that enables a person to perform a task that they would otherwise be unable to do, or increase the ease and safety by which certain tasks can be performed.
Put simply, assistive technology is any aid that can assist the most frail and vulnerable members of our society to live safely and live well at home or in a care home environment.
Assistive technology can also be employed to assist with a person’s daily needs. These gadgets may include temperature sensors for automatic climate control, lamp and light activation, automated ovens, dishwashers and washing machines, automatic window and curtain controls, floor cleaning robots, garden sensors for automated watering, and electronic showers, taps and toilets.
Point-of-care technologies also enable remote monitoring of a person’s daily health condition such as blood sugar, blood pressure and heart rate. This data can be automatically transmitted to the appropriate health professional, who can monitor vital signs and make appropriate decisions about necessary interventions.
Assistive technology that simplifies communication enables carers to be on-hand and assist when necessary, instead of providing round-the-clock, one-on-one supervision. As an example, video conferencing is now being used to facilitate communication with health professionals and service providers, which is particularly important where an elderly person may reside at a significant distance from the health clinic. In this context, assistive technology has the potential to relieve the pressure on carers and support their efforts in delivering care in a way that supports the independence of the resident or service user.
But online communication can also help to address social isolation, which the World Health Organisation has identified as the single biggest ‘killer’ of older people and improve their health and wellbeing.
An example of this includes enabling older people to communicate with friends and relatives or participate in major family events via networked computers with internet capabilities. Access to internet applications, and online browsing, research, learning and games can also help broaden a person’s interests.