Our resident technology expert Che Smith digs deep as he looks at how the building of a sensory network in his grandad’s home helped the family manage his support when he started to suffer with Dementia.
A few months ago, my grandad died. Now that’s not the normal start to a technology article but bear with me! My Grandad was a keen cricketer and he would have said that dying in his 90s was a good innings. Unfortunately, after a wonderful life full of business and sporting successes, he lived his last decade afflicted with dementia. He took care of my grandma until she sadly died and then slipped into the mind twisting disease himself for the last few years of his life.
If I speak honestly, dementia is a devastating disease, and not just for the person that has it. Throughout his final years, my grandad no longer recognised his own family, but we didn’t want to put him into a care facility. We wanted to be able to keep him within his own home for as long as possible. But he lived in a large house that some might say was more of an obstacle course for a frail man in his 80s who sometimes found it challenging to remain vertical.
His comfort became the most important thing, and that’s when I began to think of a techie solution to my grandad’s social care needs. Whilst I was installing the system my grandad was nervous and thought I was putting the system in to prove that he needed to go into a home, where it was for the exact opposite reason and we wanted him to stay in his family home as long as possible.
Within 15 minutes he was unaware that the sensors where there. Installing the system was easy, the app is simple and easy to read. The system gave us that additional peace of mind that he had some protection when the family were not physically with him.
A combination of door, cupboard and movement sensors connecting back to a gateway device via the home broadband/Wi-Fi, all linking to an app that then reports on any activity that moves outside of his day to day pattern. That app then fed back to my own smartphone, so I would know whether he’d followed his usual daily pattern which looked something like this:
- Trigger one, bedroom sensor when he gets up
- Trigger two, bathroom sensor
- Trigger three, tea cupboard
- Trigger four, fridge
- Trigger five, movement sensor in his living area.
If any of the triggers were missed, we would receive an alarm on an app rising in severity based on the number of triggers missed. External door sensors would also help monitor any unplanned visitors or night time escapes. It would even tell us how many times he visited the bathroom which could alert us that there might be additional health-related issues that we might need to help with.
With lots of talk about modernising the NHS now it has reached 70 I think the time is right for new technologies to be part of the solution our healthcare system faces.
The addition of a wearable device to help track him when he did leave the house and proximity readers that monitored the health care workers’ time in and time out each day were also available so that we knew he was getting the interaction that he needed when the family were not around.
Before the system was installed my grandad relied purely on family and one evening he had a fall and suffered a small cut on his foot. He lay on the kitchen floor all night and lost a lot of blood. We found him the next morning and he was admitted to hospital where a routine check-up then discharge turned into a 4-week bed blocking stay in an environment that was unfamiliar and unsettling to him as he was cared for by different nurses and doctors on a daily basis.
His discharge was only agreed once a full Adult Social Care plan was put in place from the council, so he could be assessed. This entailed 2 to 4 visits per day for up to 4 weeks then 2 visits per day following that. These visits were often carried out by different care workers which again was unsettling but at least he was home.
This does at least show that there is a duty of care attitude that prevails, however, it screams a lack of efficiency. How different it would have been if the care package could have included a sensory network and one visit per day by the same care worker. Savings for the NHS/Local Council, peace of mind for the family and some consistency for my grandad.
With the system in place we could monitor how much activity he was getting, how many visitors were dropping in, how many times he went to the toilet, what time of day he was having his meals and what time of day he was opening his medicine cabinet.
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As time went on and his dementia advanced even the technology was not enough and he needed more specialist care, but I can say that without the technology he would have had to have gone into a home some years earlier. At the time I had to call in favours from friends of mine who worked within the tech sector as the solutions I was looking for weren’t commercially available (though this has since changed). As a society, we should be using solutions like this in our homes as soon as we reach a vulnerable age, maybe before there is a problem. Monitoring trends and patterns of behavior early would help predict the future care plans required.
It’s not all doom and gloom. A few forward-thinking housing trusts and local authorities (for example London Borough of Haringey’s partnership with Your Alcove) have started to explore and trial sensory networks to support their long-term illness communities but it’s far too few. Care Homes, Local Authority care packages, GP care plans and Housing schemes should all include supportive technology.
I have always been an advocate of finding ways to use both digital means and technology to fix some of society’s major challenges. With lots of talk about modernising the NHS now it has reached 70, I think the time is right for new technologies to be part of the solution our healthcare system faces.
Technology can sometimes be held back by bureaucracy and regulation, and I sometimes think that taking a small risk that might have a big pay-off cannot be a bad thing, especially considering the current demands on our NHS. That means the big technology giants and public-sector organisations working pragmatically and intelligently to drive forward the change that is necessary.