Tuesday 17 June 2014

Publication of  the National Dementia Strategy in2009 and the launch of the prime minister’s Challenge on dementia in 2012, haveraised awareness of the challenges faced by people living with dementia andtheir carers, and triggered a range of initiatives and actions to improve thesupport that is available, writes Sarah Pickup.

Major areas of focus have been on improving the timeliness of diagnosis, reducing the use of anti-psychotic drugs, investing in research and on improving awareness in the general population through initiatives like dementia friendly communities and dementia friends,  and the training and understanding  of the health and care workforce.

Two thirds of people with dementia live in their own homes and most would like to be able to stay there for as long as possible. The majority of support is provided by family carers often supported by home care and other services as the condition progresses. Wider support services available vary from area to area and can include dementia advisers, dementia cafes, reminiscence activities and help in accessing  a range of community services that can help people sustain previous interests and maintain engagement with their community.

The prime minister’s challenge has identified post diagnostic support as key to ensuring that early diagnosis actually assists people to live well with dementia,  and the champion groups set up under the challenge have been working to look at how the range and spread of such services can be extended so that everyone with dementia can access good support following a diagnosis.

One of the areas that has seen relatively little attention to date is the use of technology to support people with dementia and their carers. Yet for some people technology is making a huge and positive contribution to enabling them to live well with dementia and /or provide reassurance and support to their carers. Technology can be used in a range of ways and a joint report from the Alzheimer’s society and Tunstall identified three key areas of opportunity: to improve and enhance safety, to support people to manage health conditions and to enhance quality of life.

The Dementia Friendly Technology Charter, published this week, aims to ensure that providers of technology, commissioners of service, health and care practitioners and people with dementia and their carers are all aware of the benefits that technology can bring and that the full range of technologies becomes more widely available and used effectively to complement the personal care and support that people need. Technology cannot replace the personal care that a carer or care worker provides but it can go some way to helping people with dementia feel safer and carers manage and reduce worry.

The Charter recommends that following a social care assessment  consideration should always be given to using  dementia friendly technology to help meet needs; that a single regularly updated on-line resource should be developed describing dementia friendly technology and how it can be used; that commissioners and providers should develop easy to find information about how to access dementia friendly technology in their area and that technology providers should take into account the specific  needs of people with dementia when developing care services that use technology.

The document then goes on to set out things that should be considered in determining if and how different types of technology can help support people  with dementia  and their carers. There are suggestions of technology to support different stages in the dementia journey but very much recognising that solution must be tailored to individual circumstances.

A wide range of different technologies are described from monitored smoke alarms, to activity monitoring systems,  from communication apps to fall or movement sensors and from medication dispensers to telehealth systems. Key questions are suggested to help all parties determine what would be most beneficial.  The Charter helpfully includes a number of case studies that help to illustrate the potential of technology to help people retain their independence and provide reassurance about their safety.

Not everyone will be comfortable with the idea of support through technology but the key is that it is just support – something that should complement  the care and support provided to an individual and tailored specifically to that person and their needs. We are more likely to get people to try different things and to gain acceptance if we introduce the idea of assistive technology early in someone’s dementia journey and we should perhaps consider offering at least some support in this way at the point of diagnosis and providing information about other things that can be made available if the need arises.

Of course,  writing a charter is step one, getting widespread adoption will be the next step and the real test will be how it impacts on what is available in every community to support people to live well with dementia.  And with that we need everyone’s help.

Sarah Pickup is Deputy Chief Executive of HertfordshireCounty Council and a former President and Honorary National Secretary of ADASS.She received an OBE in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours.