How care homes are using tech to ward off loneliness for the elderly
As the older part of the population get ready to isolate for months on end, technology can play a key role in keeping them connected
They were the images that touched the heart of a nation at a time when it needed it the most.
Over the weekend, carers at Bentley Manor Care Home in Crewe created uplifting clips and photos of elderly residents sending virtual well wishes to their family of friends amid the coronavirus lockdown.
“[The images] went mad on Facebook,” says Home manager Andrea Fjodor, 52. “Everyone kept commenting ‘please keep putting the pictures on!’ because they love the messages.
“We just wanted to keep up with communication because without it, it would have a detrimental effect on our residents, and to send out messages to tell their families we’re ok.”
Bentley Manor is just one of many care homes using technology to help its elderly residents stay connected with the outside world.
Donald Macaskill is the chief executive of care sector representative group Scottish Care. He says that some care homes have been using technology for some time to keep people in touch but that its necessity now was more paramount than ever before.
“We’re hearing of family members coming in with iPads and tablets once they’re cleaned and appropriately checked. There are people giving spare tablets into different care homes across the country.”
Such is the generosity of people across the country that a centralised tablet bank system is being considered in order to manage the donations and equally benefit the care community.
He explains that calls are made to loved ones predominantly using tablets and through apps like FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom.
“Given the age of the individuals we’re talking about it’s mainly the tablet. Phones aren’t really useful because of visual impairments,” he says.
“It always amazed me that we have this presumption that older individuals can’t cope with technology. But I’ve met very few who, once are supported and understand how to use it, don’t find it a benefit and asset to them.”
Loneliness is often cited as a hidden “killer” among older people. With stunted mobility and being typically less connected through the internet like the rest of us, social interactions can be more taxing.
Isolation and loneliness are already considered to be an epidemic among the elderly in the UK. Estimations from Age Uk suggest that around two million people in England live alone, and that more than half of them go without speaking to a friend, neighbor, or family member for a month.
As Health Secretary Matt Hancock has flagged, people over the age of 70 will be asked to self-isolate themselves from society for up to four months to protect against the virus.
But with that enormous ask comes a big chance for technology to address a social issue that has plagued society for generations. Can it bridge the gap between loved ones, distant relatives, old friends?
The looming isolation has forced families into planning sessions around how they’re going to care for their loved ones during this unprecedented period. New plans have been hatched and new responsibilities formed as the country’s most vulnerable are kept away from the deadly virus.
Cera Care is a high-flying home care start-up. In February it raised £53m to fund the expansion of its business. It uses technology to monitor patients’ conditions and match them with the most-appropriate carer. It also uses artificial intelligence to detect a problem with a patient before it develops into something more serious.
Co-founder Dr Ben Maruthappu says that its staff have been covered up with face masks, aprons, and gloves while checking in on patients on a daily basis.
“The health system is obviously under tremendous pressure but I think social care providers are in a brilliant position to look after people who are now on the verge of facing quarantine for a number of months,” he says.
“There are over a million people in this country over the age of 70 who stay in their homes and will need some help. Some of them will need groceries and all sorts of amenities and some will require support in their living to allow them to be protected at home.”
Dr Maruthappu says that technology has allowed the company to become much more “rapid” in its response to queries. Loved ones can also be updated on the status of their elderly relatives regularly.
Similarly Anchor Hanover, one of the country’s largest care home providers, is using other technologies to keep people entertained. One of its systems, Memoride, connects Google Street View to a motion sensor to allow residents to cycle along roads they know, thus stimulating memories.
“Even though the doors are shut, there are other ways to keep them open,” says Ms Fjodor. “Technology is brilliant.”