How can technology help reduce the pressures on our care services and help people with a learning disability live more independently? This article looks at the recent evolution of digital solutions and technology enabled care services.
There are 1.5 million people with a learning disability currently living in the UK, and ensuring they are offered proactive, person-centred care is crucial to ensure they can live both safely and more independently.
Technology such as telecare, assistive technology and telehealth can make a difference to people with all kinds of learning disabilities, whether their difficulties are relatively mild or more profound, and whether they are living in formal care settings or more independently in the community.
From managing risks such as fires or falling, to aiding communication and helping to deliver greater privacy or dignity, technology can enable people to have more control over the way they live.
As well as enhancing more traditional care solutions by managing risks at home, technology can also enable people to be connected with their wider community, friends and family. They also have more opportunities to enjoy the wellbeing derived from activities such as going to the shops, social events, work and meeting friends and family.
Technology has the potential to make a significant and positive difference to the lives of people with learning disabilities, and also to the ability of our health, housing and social care systems to offer support that’s right for them.
Empowering people to live independently
Community alarms and telecare have been available in the UK for several decades, but their full potential has yet to be recognised. Systems can support people living with disabilities in a range of different settings, and enable carers to offer support when it’s needed most. For example; enuresis, epilepsy, bed occupancy and door sensors can all be used to reduce the need for 24-hour one to one care, supporting a least restrictive approach and enabling people with learning disabilities to sleep undisturbed.
Technology can also improve the quality of care and support outside of the home, for example, the use of GPS devices which can provide reassurance so that if difficulties are encountered when out and about, help can be found easily. This enables people to feel confident when leaving home alone, and do more of the things they love with the people that matter to them.
Living independently in practice
Kathryn has a learning disability and lives in her own flat with support from a local carer and support provider. During a recent review, she expressed a wish to be more independent. Her care manager supported this and examined possible options to help Kathryn achieve her goals whilst remaining safe.
Kathryn now uses a range of equipment including telecare with a wearable pendant that means she can get help at the touch of a button, 24 hours a day when she’s at home. The telecare connects her to a monitoring centre where specially trained operators can help her with any problems, contacting other services as required. She also has a heat detector in her kitchen and two flood detectors that provide audible alerts if triggered and notify the monitoring centre.
Kathryn uses a mobile GPS device with an SOS button, meaning she can go out independently to meet friends, knowing she will quickly receive help if there is a problem.
The evolution of technology enabled care services
As technology advances, it supports the delivery of services that are not just reactive but proactive and even preventative. Intelligent use of data means trends can be identified that indicate a possible deterioration in health or increased likelihood of an event such as a fall.
Digital innovation opens up a new world of possibilities for the provision of ’non-traditional’ support at home. Remote patient monitoring means clinicians can focus on those that truly need their support, whilst monitoring those that support themselves. They can therefore intervene when necessary, and before more complex interventions, such as hospital admission, may be required. This increases capacity in the health system, and reduces the stress of travel for patients and carers.
Advances in technology open up new horizons in independent living. From technology that can manage wellbeing and health, to controlling a person’s environment, the potential of cutting-edge technologies to support predictive, preventative and personalised care is huge.
As technology becomes more embedded into our services, we will reap the benefits of more personalised care, faster service provision, greater capacity to meet demand, and more efficiency.
Creating a more connected and intelligent world that supports a person-centred approach to the delivery of targeted, proactive and integrated care services is essential to caring for placing citizens and their families at the heart of decision making.
Angus Honeysett, head of market access at Tunstall Healthcare