Can assistive technology solve Lincolnshire’s care needs?

7-Apr-2022

University researchers find environmental sensors play a key role in supporting vulnerable people in their own homes

New research from the University of Lincoln has found that sensors – including cameras, temperature and movement monitors – are ideal for safely observing vulnerable people in their homes and supporting face-to-face care appointments.

The findings form part of a wider research paper examining how modern and cost-effective technology can be used to improve independent living for vulnerable adults, such as the elderly, less abled, and those recovering from illness or returning home after hospital treatment.

The Social Care Technology Innovation for the Citizens of Lincolnshire project has involved seven months of work between the University of Lincoln; public services provider, Serco; and Lincolnshire County Council, which have jointly examined how ‘assistive technology’ (AT) could help adults with health and social care needs live more independently and safely within their own homes, for longer, reducing pressure on care homes and hospitals.

The starting point was to consider how AT – ranging from smartphones, tablets, and apps, through to digital assistants, wearable technology like smart watches, cameras and remote sensors – could help people complete day-to-day tasks like cooking, bathing, and leisure and social activities, while also monitoring and supporting other individual health needs.

These demands are becoming increasingly crucial for the 8,905 adults in Lincolnshire who require long-term assistance with their mental health, learning disabilities, and physical or social requirements, and who are supported each year by Lincolnshire County Council.

Lincolnshire is the fourth-most-dispersed county and for adults with autism, learning difficulties, and mental health issues, staying connected and battling isolation are among the biggest challenges

This scenario is further being played out across the UK, where the national care system is currently in the midst of a significant overhaul to meet the requirements of 14.1 million less-abled people and 5.3 million people aged over 75.

The project outcomes were presented at a recent event held at the University of Lincoln, which brought together over 45 academics, health and social care providers, Serco representatives, and other technology experts, to discuss the headline findings which indicated that:

  • Understanding how care technologies work and are interacted with needs to be carefully considered, particular for elderly people
  • Everyday, low-cost technology able to network and interface with the internet is an ideal choice to help people, rather than expensive, bespoke/specialist devices
  • Sensors, including cameras, temperature, and movement monitors, are ideal for keeping vulnerable people safe in their homes, and can also support care staff in their work
  • While privacy concerns are valid, there is much research supporting the preservation of privacy within home monitoring systems
  • AI and robotics systems can serve a wide variety of patient needs, including guidance and route planning, medication reminders, providing company through socially-assistive robotics, and physical help with patient transport, lifting, and feeding
  • Societal and ethical challenges surrounding Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) are a potential obstacle, and some patients are uncomfortable with the idea of a live-in robot assistant

Dr Salah Al-Majeed, deputy head of the School of Computer Science at the University of Lincoln, said: “Technology offers increasing potential for new methods of diagnosing, detecting, and monitoring warning signs in vulnerable adults, and can also serve to connect friends, families, carers, and communities within a wider web of support.

“At the same time, mainstream tech can’t do everything – it can’t, yet, put you to bed, clean or hug you, but modern, prevalent devices including remote-sensing, wearable-tech, machine learning and AI can free up time to allow social workers, occupational therapists, and professional carers to apply their valuable skills, experience and knowledge.

“Our work has identified multiple ways in which home care technology could be improved to better suit care recipients.

Technology offers increasing potential for new methods of diagnosing, detecting, and monitoring warning signs in vulnerable adults, and can also serve to connect friends, families, carers, and communities within a wider web of support

“Looking to the future the next stages of this project will be to develop ‘IDEAL’ – an Integrated Device Ecosystem for Assisted Living – which will act as a centralised hub for inter-device communication in homes.

“At the moment there are plenty of internet-linked devices that can act as AT, but getting technology from different manufacturers to connect and cooperate is very difficult.

“IDEAL will increase care-recipient independence and decrease carer workloads by allowing people to be cared for in the comfort of their own homes for longer.

“And, in collaboration with select partners, The University of Lincoln will also lead on the creation of a UK Centre of Excellence for Health & Social Care Innovation.

“Based at the university, and working in partnership with Lincolnshire County Council, Serco, and other supporters, this initiative will establish long-term research and development projects to tackle a multitude of current and future challenges within the care sector, bringing together expertise and providing well-framed outcomes for local and national communities.”

At the moment there are plenty of internet-linked devices that can act as AT, but getting technology from different manufacturers to connect and cooperate is very difficult

Glen Garrod, executive director of adult care and community wellbeing at Lincolnshire County Council, added: “To be successful in the future will require new ways of thinking and the use of devices, often already in the home, which can be used to help people be more independent, resilient, and remain connected into the local community.

“There should also be benefits for frontline practitioners in health and social care in helping to better manage pressures of work.

“Lincolnshire is the fourth-most-dispersed county and for adults with autism, learning difficulties, and mental health issues, staying connected and battling isolation are among the biggest challenges.

“The University of Lincoln’s plan for a Centre of Excellence should begin as a three-to-five-year proposal. We’ve got to think ‘big’ and long-term for the potential of digital and robotic assistance and, if the evidence is there, we will help fund and support this initiative.”

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