• GUEST BLOG: Let’s talk about Smart Home Social Care

    As the population ages, the demand for high quality carers rises. By 2026 it’s predicted that the UK will need around 420,000 more carers, but with the current vacancy rate high and the amount of those showing interest in the care sector diminishing, it’s important that technology is utilised in order to help fill the gaps and provide the best social care possible.

    Some countries are already embracing technologies in their infancy such as smart home devices and robotics in order to enhance their care levels. Japan, for example, has made care bots prominent in its Shin-tomi nursing home and has committed to funding the development of more devices.

    The UK has been slower to adopt technology into its healthcare system but changes are starting to be made. For example, in 2017 Southend-on-Sea was the first council to employ a humanoid robot to assist older people with certain tasks. Is this just the start? Could the future see each elderly or vulnerable individual accompanied by humanoids? It’s clear we’re not there yet, but in the meantime what else could be done?

    Helen Dempster, Chief Visionary Officer, Karantis360, discusses how human and bot could soon work together to improve domiciliary care.

    More than a Bandaid

    Rather than being seen as a bandaid for stretched resources, digital solutions should lead the way to a better type of care. This year the Social Care Digital Innovation Movement has allocated ten authorities to receive up to £30,000 to design a digital solution to address a specific issue within their service, and eight will be receiving up to a further £90,000 to support implementation. This level of commitment to digital progress shows just how seriously the industry is taking the potential impact of digital solutions.

    The use of smart home technology is rising and with this comes wider levels of acceptance. The changing attitudes towards devices such as the Amazon Alexa are enabling these technologies to be used in all different sorts of ways. One council even recently started to use Alexa as a way of reducing the levels of isolation felt by its elderly constituents. As people start to live more regularly with these devices and consider technology more friend than foe, they are becoming more accepting of adopting other devices. This is not to say that cared for and carers alike want to be subjected to constant CCTV or biometric scanners, but unobtrusive technologies are more welcomed.

    IoT sensors can unassumingly monitor movement, humidity, and temperature across a home enabling a care organisation to rapidly gain a picture of each individual’s day to day routine – information that is then key to flagging changes which could reveal a problem. These AI based tools arm carers with better information and enable them to intervene at the right time and create a care programme that best suits the needs of the individual. This information also provides a platform for the end to end digitisation of healthcare, co-ordinating the ecosystem of local authorities, healthcare providers, NHS Trusts, GPs, registered nurses and care homes, inspiring a more proactive and interlinked approach to care.

    To Bot or Not to Bot?

    So what about robotics? Although it may feel a world away, humanoid robots are making real inroads within social care in other countries. When it comes to the UK however there’s been hesitancy. In part, this is due to budget restrictions, with the initial costs appearing eye-watering. On the other side of the problem is the perception of droids. The numerous sci-fi depictions of robots gone rogue, the uncertainty as to whether human jobs would be at risk, and the worry that the elderly would be afraid of the devices, all stack against introducing humanoids into the care system. In Tokyo’s Shin-tomi nursing home, 20 different models of robots are used to help care for residents, but how could they best be used unsupervised and in an individual’s home?

    These devices aren’t meant to be intrusive, they are meant to be inclusive. They can give prompts to the individual, help them complete tasks with step by step instructions, play games with them and even connect them via video calls with their families. This video connection could also be used as a real-time feed should a warning alert be triggered. In this case, care providers monitoring for any issues could then use the two-way communication feed through the droid to ask the individual to confirm if everything is as it should be. If a response doesn’t come through, the provider would then be allowed to remotely check the camera feed in order to assess the initial situation and enable them to respond faster to any issues. 

    Presently droids can’t be seen as 24/7 care monitoring systems, they need time to charge and there are also still issues with them navigating some of the daily aspects in life, such as stairs. It’s also reasonable that individuals may want time alone, for example, when going to sleep. This is why a combined approach of droids and sensors would be the most beneficial strategy for all parties.

    When combined with IoT sensors they can also give a constant and fuller picture of the physical health of the client. Together these technologies can better monitor the physical movements of a person to help diagnose conditions earlier, from smaller problems such as urinary tract infections to identifying early signs of dementia. Alerts via these devices can then help carers and family members to ask the right questions and get to the heart of any problem faster.

    The Smaller Details 

    Bots still have a way to go before they become widely adopted as a domiciliary care tool, but the technological solutions needed to start improving levels of care today may prove to be simpler than some think. Ultimately what any solution should aim to do is allow carers to focus on their clients and improve the wellbeing of the individual.

    There are solutions available that can have an immediate effect. By leveraging IoT sensors to provide a real-time view of a client’s behaviour, carers will be more empowered to deliver more personalised care programmes and to react faster to any warning signs. In order to save time on reporting these visits, carers could also implement an easy-to-use app, reducing the time spent on admin and allowing them to provide more detailed reports via voice recognition. This report could then be automatically shared with the local authorities, the care agency and with the individual’s family members, resulting in a more transparent and trusting relationship between all parties. Combine these functional technologies with ordinary consumer smart home devices like Hive, Alexa and so on, and the impact could be revolutionary for individual’s and their families.

    Digital solutions should be coming to the forefront of domiciliary care, but it needs to be remembered that it’s those behind the systems that are the most important. Carers will never be replaced by any bot or device, but the smart home approach to social care could help them to better answer the ever increasing cries for help. 

    Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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