We have been using digital technology to help older people stay independent. Like many councils it has a range of telecare services, but it has also tried to bring technology into the mainstream by encouraging people to consider every-day devices they can buy on the high street.
 

The challenge

 
Growing pressures on budgets and the ageing population has prompted Staffordshire to look at new ways to deliver services to its older population.
 
According to latest figures, there are 171,000 people aged over 65 – 56,000 more than there was 20 years ago. One in seven of them is frail and in need of support.
 
The council has responded by promoting assistive technology services.
 
Through its local providers, it offers people a range of alarms, sensors and aids that can be hooked up to a monitoring service.
 
These are promoted on a dedicated website – Staffordshire Connects – which helps identify what equipment and technology individuals will benefit from.
 

But focussing on these only achieves so much, says Jim Ellam, the council’s assistive technology project lead.

“The risk is that people see assistive technology as an acknowledgement of failure and old age. It is not viewed positively and people do not embrace it as much as they should given the benefits. So we have tried to look at ways to take assistive technology to the mainstream.”

 

The solution

 
Alongside the traditional telecare technologies, Staffordshire has also started to promote simple high street items like fast-boil kettles, touch lamps and rechargeable torches that double up as emergency night lights. The potential of smart phones as assistive technology has also been explored, for example using the reminder function to nudge people into taking their medicines.
 

Mr Ellam says:

“Many of the simple solutions people value the most are readily available on the high street and through internet sites but it’s not necessarily the first thing people or their families think of when they have to manage a sudden deterioration in someone’s health.
“Using this type of technology is a far quicker way to help someone to stay independent longer or making sure that someone can come out of hospital safely.”
To promote the technology that is available the council and its partners have taken a “little box of tricks” around the community and into hospitals to promote what can be done.
 

The website also includes easy-to-understand demonstration videos and postcode searches to help people identify where they can get help.

 

The impact

As Staffordshire has sought to take digital technology to the masses, it has not been possible to quantify just how many people are using it as it is purchased from the high street and online.

 

But Alan White, Deputy Leader and Cabinet member for Health, Care and Wellbeing, believes the new approach is having a real positive effect on people’s lives.

 
“We recognise that independence matters to all of us and it can be a frightening experience when illness and frailty reduce our ability to do the things we have taken for granted like getting washed, dressed, and pursuing our hobbies inside and outside the home.”
“Our new approach is helping people understand the range of gadgets, gizmos and emerging technologies that can help us all overcome the barriers to independent living and carry on living our lives independently. Rather than focus on a “clever” gadget, our approach is to understand what the person wants to achieve and then help them to find the solution.”
One of the people who has benefited is Mavis. She felt anxious about living alone after her husband died but invested in a community lifeline unit, which gives her peace of mind at home. Her family also bought her a new smart phone with GPS and an SOS button so if she needs any help when out and about her family can be contacted at a push of a button and get a text message with her location.
 

Councillor White added:

“Through our approach we are now helping people think positively about using gadgets and smart technology in all aspects of their lives to help them remain independent and in control, and to support and reassure carers. In turn this will reduce dependency on health and care services and prevent people paying out for care allowing them to spend their money instead on living their lives to the full.”


Lessons learned

 

Mr Ellam says Staffordshire has worked hard to get people thinking differently about assistive technology.

 
“It is important to think about how you promote assistive technology. Too often it is viewed negatively so we have focussed on the outcomes. What it helps people achieve and why it should not just be a last resort. It is much better if everybody starts to think about what technology can do and how it can help keep them living independently as they age.”

An example of how the council has done this can be seen in the Christmas campaigns that have been run in recent years built around the theme of ‘buying something useful for granny’.

 
“Instead of the usual slippers or chocolates we have urged people to consider what technology can do. Take the rechargeable torches. They are only about £15. They are plugged in at night and work on a sensor so if the individual needs to get up they throw enough light out for the person to see where they need to go.”


How is the new approach
being sustained?

 

Technology is changing all the time, which means the council is constantly looking to update what it promotes.
 
A big focus at the moment is making use of smart phones, given their popularity, even among older age groups.
 
“The apps that are being developed and the way they can be used offers so much potential in terms of keeping people well. There is much more that can and will be done,”
adds Mr Ellam.
 
An example of this is the Jointly Carers app, which is now offered free to carers in Staffordshire. John is just one of the people who has started using it.
 
He lives alone and his family who live across the UK help manage his day-to-day care activities and finances. They are in contact with a good support network of local neighbours who help out but they were struggling to easily and confidentially share details of what was needed and who could do it. They met the Carers Hub at a local carers awareness event and have now started using Jointly Carers app, an easy-to-use diary and messaging system which is free to carers in Staffordshire. The app helps share information, tasks and activities securely via their smart phone and tablets making life easier for all.