I was pleased to support a Dementia Carers Count event recently that focused on the place of technology in supporting family carers of persons living with dementia. This is an especially important topic to me as I see how much tech is focused on the person with dementia with less attention on what tech can do to support unpaid carers. Of course any tool or strategy that supports those living with dementia can benefit carers such as digital planning tools and reminders about where to be at a given time and prompts to eat of take medication. These technologies can be especially important to carers who live away from the person they care for.
Much tech can give reassurance to carers such as falls detectors, door alarms and GPS location devices. Yet the technology doesn’t always work or the system around it fails. Persons with dementia may take GPS tracker watches off or those receiving an alert may not be in a position to respond to texts or phone calls, especially if they are driving or working at the time or are far away. Of course there are professionally led systems such as alerts going to a call centre but these don’t work for everyone and
I have met plenty of people during my nursing career who would not wear a pendant alarm if you paid them! It seems there is much to do to co-design tech WITH those who will use it in terms of usability (managing its functions, controls, portability etc) and whether it will work in the real world. It has to be acceptable to the user so for wearable tech that means looking less like a medical device.
What the Dementia Carers Count event confirmed for me was that there is a huge mountain of technologies in use within the dementia field which has been growing rapidly. No glaring need for a new technology came up in the discussion, but a strong sense of ‘using what we have’ did come up. The consensus seemed to be to use existing products such as Amazon Echo and Google Home and build on existing digital platforms. Existing tools such as WhatsApp were also highlighted by carers as being hugely useful for communicating with other family members about the care of a person.
Perhaps we have enough tech already? Feel free to comment if you think there is an unmet need of carers not yet addressed by technology, if indeed tech is the right solution for the need. At times it feels like some people think tech is the solution to everything! It isn’t but it certainly has a place in making lives that little easier if they are designed with the person in mind, appreciate the carer perspective and adapt as needs change over time. Affordability and access are needed too but my final point is about choosing tech.
For many carers it is a minefield knowing where to find tech, how to judge how suitable it is and then to afford it. There are some websites that offer some help but I think there is a great opportunity for skilled people like Occupational Therapists to help with assessment and selection of tech. Too often have I seen tech sat unused in cupboards (Telecare, walking aids) and we don’t want this in the dementia care field. If you know of any dementia tech schemes that work and work for carers, please do tell.
Future research topic this highlights: Appraisal and selection of tech by dementia carers
Professor Tracey Williamson PhD – DCC Professor of Family Care in Dementia