Assistive technology

6. Ethical considerations

Assistive technology can have considerable benefits for people with dementia, but it also has some potential negative aspects, and there is a risk that it can be misused.

It is important that assistive technology is always used for the right reasons. It should be primarily for the benefit of the person with dementia – to enhance their independence, safety and daily living. In practice it will often also benefit the carer, but it is important that the person’s needs are put first. It is also important that they are clear about the purpose of the technology and how they might benefit from it.

Assistive technology should not be used simply as an easy way for a carer to monitor a person with dementia without their consent or interests being considered. Nor should it be seen as a replacement for the human interaction that carers, friends and relatives provide.

Consent is particularly important. When choosing to use assistive technology and selecting the systems or devices to use, the person with dementia must be involved in any decisions, and their consent must be sought and gained, wherever possible. In some cases this may not be possible, if the person doesn’t have the ability to make decisions for themselves (known as ‘capacity’). In these, cases, decisions need to be made in the person’s best interests, and must also be the least restrictive option.

This is a particular issue with safer walking technologies. If someone doesn’t have capacity to consent to carrying such a device, the carer may not explain the true purpose of it or may conceal it (such as in clothing). This is a threat to the person’s privacy, and is therefore not the least restrictive option.

The Mental Capacity Act (2005) sets out the law around making decisions in these situations, and also provides some guidance on how people can make them. For more information see factsheet 460, Mental Capacity Act 2005 and factsheet 484, Making decisions and managing difficult situations.

Ultimately, nobody should be forced into using technology they don’t want, and technology should only be used when it’s needed or wanted. Each person’s individual needs should be considered carefully when weighing up the pros and cons of any device.