Why the UK should invest more money into Assistive Technology

Dementia Care
May 26, 2022

In early March, Sajid Javid set an ambitious but necessary target for the social care sector.

The Health Secretary said that by 2024, he wanted 80 percent of social care providers to use digital records. Currently, it is estimated that around 40 percent of providers are still using paper-based systems.

It is a move that Quality Compliance Systems, the leading provider of content, guidance and standards for the social care sector – and one that champions person-centred care – wholeheartedly supports. That is not to say there is anything wrong with providers using paper-based systems. They can be highly effective. But, it is also true to say in some circumstances, traditional paper processes can sometimes hinder progress, create silos and ultimately curtail a provider’s ability to deliver great person-centred care. In contrast, on-call managers, who are able to access live digital notes from support staff, are in a much stronger position to give those frontline workers the best advice following an incident.

I think too it is vitally important that the social care sector sees the possibilities that technology can bring through a much wider lens. It is not just the process of digital care and support record keeping that will benefit, technology is an enabler, which if used correctly, can have a transformative effect on person-centred care.

Assistive Technology

Take Assistive Technology for instance. I’m sure most of you reading this piece have heard the phrase, but for anybody unfamiliar with the term ‘Assistive Technology’, I want to make clear what it is and what is isn’t.  When people think of Assistive Technology, they think of tablets, laptops, smart doorbells and smart heating systems. While these are all great examples of Assistive Technology, in that they enable us to be more efficient in our everyday lives, in my opinion, these examples simply don’t do it justice. It is also worth making the point that Assistive Technology does not have to be a state-of-the-art micro-processing system. Devices can be fairly rudimentary. In the words of Skills for Care, what really counts is that an Assistive Technology device enables “an individual to continue to live independently and improve their quality of life”.

Assistive Technology or Personalised Technology?

So, in terms of providing a definition, Skills for Care’s encapsulates all these ideas. It defines Assistive Technology as “any device that enables an individual to perform a task that ordinarily they would be unable to do, or would need additional support to carry out”. Most importantly, Skills for Care makes the point that Assistive Technology should promote “independence, choice, control and enablement”.

But why call it Assistive Technology? The pioneering minds, who have already made significant inroads into developing the technology in the social care sector and supported living services, prefer to call it personalised technology, because it brings independence and control to the right person in the right place at the right time.

So, what does innovative and effective Personalised Technology look like? HFT, a national charity, which supports people with learning disabilities, has placed personalised technology at the very heart of its person-centred culture, which empowers staff and those they support, to recognise that the specific needs and abilities of each person are not fixed, but are constantly changing.

Examples of Personalised Technology

There are many examples of staff and service users using Personalised Technology to good effect, but I am going to focus on just a few.

One fantastic example of technology being used to augment person-centred care, is smart kettles that safely provides just the right amount of boiling water to enjoy a cup of tea. It isn’t just the technology that allows a person to enjoy their favourite beverage without the help of a support worker, that is remarkable. It is the work that occupational therapists put into the technology that you don’t see, that is most astonishing.

They have to break down and capture every tiny micro-step that goes into making a cup of tea, which they feed back to the technologists. Secondly, even with the technology up and running, there is a lot of work to be done. Support workers must work with service users to ensure they remember all of the steps and carry them out in the correct sequence. For those with a severe brain injury, re-learning the steps can be extremely challenging and requires hours of practice and support. However, the sense of achievement felt by service users and staff after reaching the even smallest of milestones is a wonderful feeling.

How Personalised Technology can help those with learning disabilities

Personalised Technology has helped to transform the lives of those with dementia. GPS tracking technology built into a wearable device can enhance lives by returning a degree of independence to those with cognitive conditions and can give their loved one peace of mind.

However, for those with learning disabilities, this Personalised Technology has the potential to arguably have a far greater impact. Why? Because in this instance the technology provides a safe and secure platform for a person with learning disabilities and their support worker to begin a course of travel training.

In the early days of travel training, smart GPS technology is an enabler and does not provide a total solution. The training programme still requires one-to-one training, which is broken down into small steps.

Let’s imagine, for instance, that a support worker wants to help a service user with learning disabilities navigate their way to and from a local shop. Following an initial assessment, the support worker would draw up a person-centred activity plan in partnership with that person. The support worker would firstly show the service user the way to the shop, pointing out notable landmarks along the way. Over several journeys, the support worker is then able to establish which parts of the route the person is comfortable with and which sections they’re struggling to master. The activity plan is then tweaked and focuses more on the trickier parts of the journey. In order to foster independence, as the service user becomes familiar with the route, the support worker firstly shadows them, and then encourages and empowers them to tackle certain sections themselves until they can comfortably find their way to and from their destination.

It is then that the technology really starts to proves its worth. Having learned the route and how to use the technology, it becomes like an invisible safety harness. If the worst were to happen, and a service user with learning disabilities were ever to take a wrong turn, the GPS wearable device enables them to be easily found. Obviously, capacity, consent and data privacy are areas which need to be explored with the service user and/or their loved ones. Once they have been addressed, however, and documented in the care or support plan, the sky is the limit.

This is why demand for Assistive Technology is so high. To illustrate my point, the World Health Organisation says that “one billion people need one or more assistive products”. The fact that only one in ten people have access to it is something that urgently needs to be put right.

This article was first published in The Carer – Issue #100

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