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Assistive technology at home

Assistive technology for disability and dementia

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Assistive technology for disability and dementia

Find out how assistive technology can help those with dementia, Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's to stay independent for as long as possible.

If you’re a carer for someone with dementia, Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's, or are living with those conditions yourself, there are a wealth of assistive technology and telecare products available to help you or your loved one stay safe and independent. The technology is increasingly available to buy yourself, and there are also options that may be offered by your local council.

Alarm systems with a pendant you wear around your neck and use to summon help in an emergency have been available for many years. But more advanced 'telecare' technology is now part of the home-care package for some, incorporating a fall detector into the pendant, or placing sensors around the home.

Telecare sensors can tell you, for example, when someone hasn’t moved for some time, has got out of bed and hasn't got back in again (using sensors under the mattress). or has left the gas on or their bath running.

We've asked assistive-technology experts to select and review products, including memory aids for people with memory loss, telecare and GPS tracking devices, and gadgets for staying safe at home.

These experts included occupational therapist Kirstie Dalrymple of OT Works, Gareth Williams from Telecare and digital health firm T-Cubed, and Brian Longman from the Aztec Centre (equipment centre) in Croydon.

Assistive technology often works through a system of sensors that monitor your activity and detect when there is a problem.

Good for you if: You want to stay living at home but need help with – for example, with memory problems

Think twice if: You see this as the only solution. This technology is often part of a bigger overall support plan.

Joanna Pearl,
Principal Health Researcher

Assistive technology and memory loss

People with dementia, such as those suffering from Alzheimer's disease, may find assistive technology helpful. For example, a device that verbally reminds you to take your keys when you open the front door could make the difference between someone with memory loss staying at home because they’re fearful of being locked out again, or enjoying a social life.

However, assistive technology does have its pros and cons. For example, a door viewer that takes a photo of the person at the door and allows you to vet them is great, but wouldn’t work if the householder forgets and automatically answers the door to all callers. In this situation, the person with memory loss might need a telecare system that alerts a call centre to vet the caller instead.

Disability and telecare

Assistive technology and telecare can also have a role to play if someone is living with a disability – from Parkinson's to multiple sclerosis.

They can allow people to access your home, for example, via a key safe or a fingerprint-based door lock. Or they can let you remotely control your surroundings, from curtains and heating to television.

Getting an assessment

Choosing telecare and assistive technology is very personal: devices that are right for one person may not necessarily be useful for another.

Because of this, it's a good idea to contact an assistive-technology expert, such as an occupational therapist, to assess what type is right for you.

Visit our page on how to buy assistive technology for more information.

Of course, you shouldn’t be put off buying simple assistive-technology products, but you should be aware that – in more complicated situations – it’s good to have expert advice to get exactly the right gadget.

Will assistive technology one day replace humans?

Assistive technology and telecare products aren’t without their critics. Some people see this type of technology as an invasion of privacy, while others fear that it could result in less human contact. For example, a pill dispenser that reminds someone to take their tablets could replace a home care worker popping in.

When thinking about ‘care packages’, it's best to approach assistive technology as forming only one part of an overall plan. Instead of paying a carer to visit to remind someone to take their tablets, that money could instead be used to pay for a taxi to a regular social event.

There are also gadgets that link to another person, such as a family member - sending them a text or paging them if a GPS tracking device tells them their relative has gone walking outside a ‘safe’ zone or got lost.

Assistive technology can allow you to take a more positive or proactive role in their home care, even if you’re hundreds of miles away. For example, you could see how your relative is coping via some sophisticated technology and your computer, allowing you to phone them at just the right time.