Gavin Bashar, UK MD of Tunstall Healthcare, discusses the important role of medical alert systems, activity monitoring and health monitoring to improve care delivery and maintain health and wellbeing for people living with dementia.
In the UK, 850,000 people currently live with dementia but this is set to reach 1.6 million by 2040 due to the ageing population.
It can be challenging to care for someone living with dementia, and this has only been exacerbated further by COVID-19. However, technology is available to support care-giving and ensure that individuals receive the care they need to live a healthy, happy and high quality life.
Technology can facilitate care delivery, even during a global health crisis, and enable people living with dementia to stay in familiar surroundings for as long as possible. They are therefore able to enjoy a better quality life for longer, and invaluable support can be more easily provided by the people caring for them.
As more is understood about dementia in its various forms it is clear that enabling technology has the potential to make a significant and positive difference to the lives of people living with dementia, and the ability of our health and social care systems to support their needs effectively.
When deployed correctly, technology can enable vulnerable people to remain independent, safe and socially involved with friends, family and their community. In addition, people living with dementia can use technology to secure more choices about their care to ensure it is right for them.
However, technology must always be viewed in the context of complementing an individual’s care and support, rather than as a replacement for human interaction as this can leave users feeling isolated and alone.
Medical alert systems and other technology not only provides numerous benefits for people living with dementia, but also for their carers. When telecare is introduced, it can enable carers to improve the relationship with the person they care for, the opportunity to continue activities outside of their caregiving role and peace of mind that the person they care for is safe and comfortable.
To fully realise the benefits of technology in dementia care, it should be introduced as early as possible and be tailored to the specific needs of each individual. Securing the right support early will enable users to continue living in an environment of their choice for as long as possible, with independence and dignity. Furthermore, the range of technology available is constantly growing so early diagnosis is key, so that the right systems can be put in place to offer insight into patterns of behaviour and enable effective care planning.
The role of technology in caregiving
Technology has a key role to play in improving care quality, increasing the capacity of key services and enabling flexibility in the way care is delivered. This will make care for dementia more proactive and predictive, and help to address both current and future challenges. Technology is an enabler, and as our population ages and more people are affected by dementia, it will allow daily monitoring to be delivered more effectively, so that vulnerable people can live independently and be kept out of residential care, for as long as possible.
Alert systems, along with health and activity monitoring, can be tailored to the needs of individuals and automatically monitor risks inside the home, such as falls or fires. Vulnerable people are also able to call for help in case of an emergency, 24 hours a day, from a range of stakeholders. Furthermore, operators can make proactive calls to service users, checking on their wellbeing, offering advice and supporting carers.
Assistive technology enables sophisticated remote monitoring and proactive care planning, ensuring care is provided when it is needed most. Discrete monitoring of activity in the home over time, such as how often the kitchen and bathroom are being used, can detect any deterioration in wellbeing at an early stage and enable interventions which can reduce or delay the need for more complex care. Likewise, remote monitoring of vital signs and symptoms can give an early indication of deteriorating health, and clinicians can view data via an online portal to identify individuals most in need of intervention.
Technology in practice
Organisations across the UK are working to help support people with a wide range of needs using technology as part of services. The Hertfordshire Telecare Service supports almost 4,000 people in Hertfordshire to live more independently, many of whom have dementia.
One patient, who will call Norman to protect his privacy, has vascular dementia, and lives alone, although his daughter lives nearby. Technology is helping him to remain safe and at home, and provide reassurance to his daughter. Unobtrusive telecare sensors in his home will automatically raise an alarm at the 24 hour monitoring centre if they detect floods, fires or carbon monoxide in Norman’s home, and property exit sensors have also been fitted which will notify the centre if an external door is opened. A specially trained operator at the centre can then talk to Norman through the speaker on the Lifeline unit to assess the situation, and make sure Norman is okay. If the operator is unable to get a response, they can contact Norman’s daughter, or the British Red Cross Responder Service so they can check on him.
Norman also has a GPS tracker device, which enables his daughter to locate him should he leave home and be unable to find his way back. Together with the Telecare Service, this has already helped Norman to be found quickly and returned to his home, avoiding him being at risk. It also means that Norman is able to remain in his own home, rather than being admitted to residential care for his own safety.
You can learn more about how Tunstall Healthcare is helping patients with dementia here.
Gavin Bashar, UK MD of Tunstall Healthcare