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Technology can make a difference

Keith SpinkKeith Spink, senior digital developer at the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) looks after his Dad, often remotely, using technology. This may sound challenging, but Keith attests technology has given his father a better quality of life, greater independence and provided him with peace of mind - as he now explains...

I was asked to speak at a recent roundtable event organised by SCIE and the Department of Health. It looked at how technology can support the goals of the Care Act. The subsequent report can be found here.

The following is what I told delegates on the day.

Keith, help, I can’t find the toilet

Keith’s Dad.

Dad’s got vascular dementia. On top of that he’s been visually impaired from birth (the whole family has been) and Dad went totally blind in the 1970’s. But we’ve always operated on the basis that blindness isn’t a barrier in life and, until retirement, Dad was independent. Then Mum died and gradually Dad needed more help.

The help came mainly from me. I’m a geek and web developer and I work full-time. So, how was this going to work? The clue is in the first half of the sentence. I know a bit about technology. And that’s how I help and support Dad.

You see, when I first looked into finding help I wasn’t satisfied with what I found. A care home seemed inappropriate – Dad likes living at home alone. So I organised some one-hour care visits. They have become the backbone of Dad’s care and the reason why he’s able to live at home. The care visits, with regular carers, are fantastic. However, they only cover three hours in a 24-hour period. So I needed to shop around to find a way of supporting Dad the other 21 hours, every day.

An internet audio player from the British Wireless for the Blind Fund is just one of the many devices improving quality of life for Keith's father.
An internet audio player from the British Wireless for the Blind Fund is just one of the many devices improving quality of life for Keith's father.

Now, like many men, I hate shopping in the high street. So I used Google and Amazon. They seemed much more useful than some specialised online web stores. Before I knew it I had installed the following: talking motion sensors and personalised recorded messages that call Dad to the toilet, radio or front door; a cheap timer plug with a mains-powered talking motion sensor; and a personalised recorded message tells Dad to go back to bed if he tries to walk around during the night. I got them all on Amazon. Importantly, I bought different types to see what was the most efficient.

When Dad told me he was getting lost I realised that I could buy cameras that cover the downstairs living area. I bought four and can now keep an eye on him all day from my computer or my phone.

Did this all cost a fortune? Well, it was about £300. Oh, and I got some ‘table edge guard’ tape so that if he bangs his head he won’t get hit by a nasty sharp edge. That costs about £10. So, it’s ‘do-able’.

I’ve also obtained an internet audio player from the British Wireless for the Blind Fund and Dad loves it. I’ve sorted his hearing aids, which has also made him much happier. And he has a talking memory pendant, which, although not perfect technologically, does help him by playing particular messages, based on the day and the time he presses it.

At the moment I’m still looking for solutions to the problem that’s arisen when the front door goes and Dad then struggles to get there on time - before the person walks off. I’m also considering getting a mobile phone-activated central heating control system installed, so that Dad doesn’t have to have the heating or water heater on all night.

I admit I’m a geek but even I had to think logically to find cheap solutions. You can too. My advice? Think ‘outside the box’ and experiment with different things. Using technology might sound daunting, but, once you’ve worked out how to do it, it can have great benefits.

No one is suggesting for a moment that all of this should replace the care and support of real people visiting those at home. I feel strongly that care visits and technology need to work hand in hand. But, and this is so important to me and Dad, what I’ve been able to achieve is to provide him with more independence, dignity and, dare I say it, happiness, than he would have otherwise had.

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11 comments

  1. Comment by Catherine Thornhill posted on

    Wow this is wonderful. My Mum has passed now but this could have been so great for her. I realy think this type of thing could be invaluable in Care Homes too. My Mother had a very bad time in the system. Was not cared for, due mostly to lack of staff. Days were not so bad but nights were Horrific. only 1 or 2 on duty. if every room had a camera and sound, the staff could monitor all rooms from a central location and take action. If there was a device she could wear, so I could communicate with her directly( voice not camera as a camera would violate others privacy) I would feel much more in control of how she was . I carry the Guilt of not being able to care for her when she most needed my support. 2 people covering 50 or more patients during the night is madness and homes will Lie about this as its out of their control . They do their best but if staff are ill or just cant face the night work vulnerable people are at risk. This applies to hospitals too. In one hospital the manager lied to my face telling me that there are always 1 male and 1 female on duty every night as it was a Mixed Sex ward. But I had been there visiting my mother the night before, there were 2 males on duty and mum was very upset that it was a man who had cleaned her up when she had wet the bed. its like everyone says staff don't want to do the job , most are badly paid and badly trained. Many don't speak or understand English which means people like my mum are unable to even tell them what's wrong. I could write a book on the terrible things that go on in so called Retirement/Care Homes. Like all things in life its a different story if you have money, then you can pay for proper care. Of course there are probably some good places in the system and for a while mum did live in one even though it wasn't great it was better than some.

  2. Comment by Neil Stillwell posted on

    As a long term (29 years) health & social care worker, I now find myself in the reverse (disabled) as a result I'm in a position of not really knowing exaactly what to do. On one hand, being completely involved in giving care, to , on the other hand not really liking to ask for help from anyone to the alien landscape I now find myself in, is making my life miserable. It's simple when you see it from the outside to being in at the deep end without being able to swim. The question still remains unanswered. What do I do to change this stuation? Any suggestions of a constructive nature requested. Neil.

    • Replies to Neil Stillwell>

      Comment by Pam Quick posted on

      I can identify with all that you say, having worked in midwifery and further education, I was retired due to ill health, and lost my independence. Regards asking about how to answer, I have a solenoid boot in my front door and it is connected both upstairs and Doreen with a wireless intercom which means I can choose to open the door or decline by speaking to the person on the intercom. If I choose to let them in the Device opens the bolt and the person can enter.

      I have tried many things as a service user, and being able to share exoerience with "professionals" in the care industry helps other to look outside the box rather than expect people to confirm to what is expected to happen. Giving the service user choice and there is no I in a team so the service user is at the centre of discussions where I only have to tell my story once. It is so important to have combined health and social care so that if I move from where I live I should be using the same package and support. I am therefore in charge, independent as best I can be.

      What are your thoughts on losing the control and allowing someone to take up the reins and to be in control? What if it took less finance or used in a way that enabled someone get a better service in a way you had never thought?
      I am proud of the support and guidance that has ensnarled me to choose. Thank you

  3. Comment by Peter Palmer posted on

    Rule of thumb: carefully identify the problems and where you would like to be; the two ends, as it were. That gives you the starting point and the goal. Never lose sight of the goal.
    When looking at the problem be careful. Is it that dad can't get to the front door to answer the bell or that he cannot interact with whoever is there? Same basic problem, different solution required.

  4. Comment by Christine posted on

    This is a really positive example of what can be achieved to improve the life of an older person without all the bureaucracy of getting lots of agencies involved. The developments in technology can be put to great use quite simply to make a massive difference. I care at a distance most of the time ( 65 miles away )for my Mum who is 85 and lives alone. When my sister emigrated to Australia 2 years ago with Mums youngest grandson who was 11 at the time it was a huge blow for Mum. I have had internet installed and she has an Ipad and she only has to know how to answer a facetime call to keep a great connection with my sister and her son. Mum said recently without this opportunity she doesnt know how she would have coped. I also face time her in the evenings so I can see how she is and can often tell if she has had some upset during the day which hopefully I can then help with. I think some of the technology should be available at a more affordable cost for those on lower incomes as it can make a massive difference to the quality of life of an older isolated person. Christine B

  5. Comment by Heidi posted on

    This is a message for Keith or for anyone else experiencing the same problems with answering the door before the caller leaves. There is a door chime with a pager and beacon that says "Please wait" when the bell push is pressed and then says "I'm on my way" when the person presses a button on their pager. This then lets the caller know that someone is in and is on their way to the door. The door chime is called "YouSafe Caller Alert". I have posted the link but I'm not sure if this will be allowed. http://www.yousafe.co.uk/ Heidi

  6. Comment by Jane posted on

    Keith , so impressed, had no idea that simple relatively easily aquired technoogy could make such a difference for your Dad and give peace of mind to loved ones ,my Mother has altzeimers and some of what you ve so creatively introduced would definitly help her , I m not great with technology ,but have a wonderful brother who is so will be sharing your story with him .
    Thank you so much for taking tthe time to put it on line and I m full of admiration for your innovative way to improve your Fathers quality of life -inspired jane

  7. Comment by Jessica posted on

    Keith, the wireless digital doorbell phone may be the answer, the doorbell is linked to a telephone enabling 2 way conversation between the caller and the person - this would allow your dad to identify who is calling before going to the door. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cordless-Landline-Telephone-Doorbell-Intercom/dp/B0091CYKPY/ref=dp_ob_title_hpc (shop around, I'm sure I've seen it cheaper).
    There are many different types of technology available to help keep an eye on loved ones remotely: pir sensors linked to timers which if they don't pick up movement would alert you on your mobile phone; GPS devices which allow those with early onset dementia to continue to go out alone, knowing that their loved ones can locate them if they get lost; Movement monitoring devices such as Just Checking and Intelligent Care, to name but a few.
    A simple google search will soon bring up some solutions or your local Assistive Technology Officer in your council should be able to advise. Your local Council will offer a service called 'telecare' which will provide or advise on technology in and around the home to help support people to live independently or to help support their carers/family. At the very least, an alarm pendant linked to your local monitoring centre could be installed and usually only costs a few pounds a week.
    Hope this helps.

  8. Comment by Andrew Humphreys posted on

    I understand that Talking Eye has a product which allows a door to be opened remotely and also to view a picture or video of the caller and to communicate with them before opening the door.

    http://talkingeye.net/index.htm

    This is not an endorsement of the company as I don't know enough about them for that but I understand that this product is part of their offer.

  9. Comment by Stephen posted on

    As a long term carer of my parents, (and previously, with my late Wife looking after her parents), I have found it can be very difficult to know where to go for help and information.
    Much of what Keith has put in place for his Father has been on my 'Wish list' for a long time so I will look this up later today.
    Knowing what things or services are called makes life so much easier..
    Social Services and MIND are usually very good first contacts and people I have met who often belong to organisations such as the U3A or services welfare funds often have a wealth of practical experience gained from looking after their own relatives.
    Perhaps an online 'Carers Q&A Forum'?

  10. Comment by W Bamhare posted on

    I have been very impressed by the way technology has been used to care for vulnerable people in our society and how people have taken advantage of technology to solve everyday tasks. Technological innovations which are applicable, user friendly and simple will be of much help to lonely individuals who need support round the clock. Safety at home is paramount and gadgets that operate the door are vital to allow genuine visitors. Communication with loved ones is important to reduce loneliness and revive memories. Keep up the good work and apply more technology in care.