The care and support provided by family members to their loved ones is unlimited. They commit vast amounts of time offering companionship and providing help to perform personal and domestic tasks. It may begin as fulfilling a temporary need, but then continue for month, years or decades. The value of the support that they provide exceeds the combined budgets of the NHS and local authority adult social care services in the UK. Austerity may demand that this level of support is increased and the burden shared by many more family members. However, demographic changes and the dispersion of younger people across the country (and the world) means that the existing shortage of family (or informal) carers will rapidly become worse. By 2030 there may be well over 2 million older people in the UK who have no close family member living close enough to them to help them with their daily needs.
The strain on family carers can be immense and is supported by a recent Carers UK survey (see examples below). Carers need respite to support their well-being and to enable them to follow their own hobbies and activities that can enable them to enjoy a good Quality of Life. This is likely to empower them to provide care and support for longer. In some cases, family members are unable to leave their loved one alone at home, even for short period of time, for example, to visit the shops or to go to the cinema or theatre for fear of an accident occurring at home. Some types of respite can be provided by technology.
New Models of Technology
Basic telecare systems can provide digital respite by using smart sensors and simple alarm triggers to notify the carer if and when an emergency occurs. This encourages the use of mobile phone technologies that can identify the source of the problem and provides an automatic alert without having to involve third parties such as a 24 hour monitoring centre.
However, technology can be used to offer a far more diverse range of applications than basic alarm monitoring and response. Not all family carers live with their loved ones. Many will live a long way away but will share concerns about welfare, safety, security and well-being even if they are unable to respond quickly to an accident or visit them every day to help them with domestic or personal tasks. The explosion in Internet access speeds and the availability of relatively low-cost access devices such as smartphones and tablets with their intuitive touch-screen interfaces bring such technology within the reach of everyone.
iCUHTec, working with T-Cubed Ltd. have identified 5 models of technology enabled support as shown below. This includes scenarios where the carer lives with the cared for person at all times (Plesiocare) and where a different group of technologies may be relevant. It also includes situations where family carers live a long distance from their loved one but need to be made aware of any issues as soon as possible.
New software applications, or “apps” have demystified their use, and are helping to bridge the digital divide that had previously prevented many people (especially those aged over 65) from taking advantage of the opportunities available through the use of technology.
Assistive Technology Advice for Carers
Assistive Technologies (AT) are those devices and systems that help someone to do everyday tasks more easily or more safely. They can be as simple as a walking stick to help with walking or as complex as a robotic feeding aid. Quality of Life and independence can both be significantly improved through their use – but there remain many challenges both in finding the most appropriate technologies to satisfy their needs, or address the issues that can be obstacles to them achieving their life goals and ambitions. We work closely with T-Cubed to support the development of the Vivo Guide, an independent website (see below) that offer decision-support tools.
In the same way as CUHTec supported the promotion of AT to support family carers, iCUHTec wishes to be particularly associated with family carers at all levels, and support the Carers Trust charity with their commercial enterprises such as WHATcare Solutions Ltd. It will describe new initiatives and devices that have particular relevance to carers and, through agenda items at Regional Telecare Forum events, discuss good practice and emerging trends.
The iCUHTec Article of the Month for July 2016 is “Digital Caring” – Supporting the Family Carer through Smart Assistive Technologies, WISER Homes, the Internet of Things, and Apps for Smartphones and Tablet Devices. This article gives readers examples of how carers may be empowered by technology to overcome some of the threats to their independence and well-being.