Last month’s Budget announcement revealed some exciting plans for the UK. The world’s first national advisory body for artificial intelligence (AI) is to be created, we’re set to begin testing driverless cars without a safety operator, and £30 million will be invested in digital training courses for construction workers using AI. A key theme here is the acknowledgement that technology is going to be a big driver for the future. One thing that left a lot to be desired, however, was the funding – or lack of – for the UK’s dwindling care system.
The turmoil facing the social care system is not news. Charity for the elderly, Age UK, recently revealed that the number of older people in England who don’t get the social care they need soared to a new high of 1.2 million in 2016, up by 48 per cent since 2010. Cuts to local government funding, paired with an aging population, is putting increasing pressure on NHS staff. Further to this, it is leaving families stressed as they try to keep their elderly relatives in their own homes and out of hospital beds.
The government has tried to combat the issue with the introduction of the social care precept: an increase in council tax to pay for care services. But some families that can’t afford the necessary care are increasingly taking the wellbeing of their elderly relatives into their own hands. This can mean that friends and family see the health of these relatives inevitably deteriorate, with no option but to admit them to overworked and understaffed hospitals.
But there are ways to overcome this issue, without excesses in funding to plug gaps in care services. Technology already exists that allows families to monitor the health of elderly relatives in the home. These can be in the form of virtual examinations, remote patient check-ups, or simply a personal device that monitors an elderly person’s everyday movements. Devices such as these can send a message to a friend or family member if that relative strays away from their usual routine. If they get out of bed every day at 7am, but then one day are up at 5am, friends and family immediately receive an alert that something could be wrong.
Some specialist providers even offer devices equipped with an assistance button. An elderly person living at home alone with one of these devices could slip and fall, and be unable to reach a landline. A personal device with an assistance button means they can press the button and immediately be put in contact with a list of numbers until someone responds.
If something should happen whilst they are out of the home and the assistance button is activated, a notification can be sent to a friend or family member with the user’s exact location, so they can be found straight away. Other services already available can monitor for lost network connection, low battery or inactivity; the sort of thing that could signal something has happened. These types of services can significantly reduce the risk of hospitalisation, and save families thousands of pounds and stress in the process.
In the connected world we live in, where we already have smart homes which use sensors to control our heating, lighting and entertainment systems, it is only a matter of time before technology steps up to take on the care crisis. It doesn’t have to be a big solution that will fix all of our problems, or even a huge investment. Individuals can start incorporating care technology into the lives of seniors now, before an issue arises. And with technology investment in the UK increasing, it’s only a matter of time before technology care solutions are rolled out nationwide.
The shortfall in adult social care funding is predicted to be £5,000,000,000 by 2024/5. Mere money and staff (both of which are in increasingly short supply) ca fix the problem. But technology might be able to. Look out for our upcoming article on tech in social care by Helen Dempster of Karantis360.
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