Digital technology to help older people stay independent
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.”
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.”
The website also includes easy-to-understand demonstration videos and postcode searches to help people identify where they can get help.
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.”
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.”
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?
“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,”