From our autumn 2017 issue of Care and Cure magazine, Dr Lisa Newton explains more about what assistive technology is, what is available and how it can be obtained.
Dr Lisa Newton is a GP and Alzheimer's Society clinical research fellow. She specialises in understanding how people with dementia get information on, and access to, assistive technology.
Assistive technology is the name given to devices that can support people to live more independently and to stay safe at home or outside. It does not have to be 'hi-tech' - for example, a walking stick can be described as an assistive technology.
Assistive technology can be tailored to the needs of the individual and can work alongside existing care practices. However, it should never replace personal contact and care.
My research focuses on how we can help people with dementia to get the right information at the right time about assistive technology that may help their independence, and to be able to access it.
What assistive technology is available?
There are lots of assistive technologies available for people with dementia. This includes clocks that can tell you whether it is day or night, automated pill dispensers and locator devices for things that get lost a lot, like keys. There is even a special plug that means you will never flood the bath.
Many technologies have been developed to help people with dementia to stay safe, including detectors for gas, high temperatures and smoke that can either sound an alarm or alter the supply. There are also some ongoing studies to understand whether using GPS technology to track someone's location could reduce the risk of becoming lost.
Where can I obtain assistive technology?
You can obtain assistive technology by buying privately or through social services, the NHS (as part of continuing health care or intermediate care services) or some housing providers. It can be purchased from a number of sources including the Alzheimer's Society shop - see shop.alzheimers.org.uk or call 0300 124 0900 (local rate) - and the AT dementia website.
Social services can conduct an 'assessment of needs' that could recommend assistive technology. However, availability varies between different local authorities. Some fire services will come to your home to assess risk of fire and may suggest devices.
Research suggests that the earlier people affected by dementia start using assistive technology, the more likely it is to be helpful. My research project aims to find out what information is provided by memory services and how they support people to access assistive technology. The project involves a survey and interviews with professionals and people with dementia to identify 'best practice'. We hope the research will be used to design better information resources and ways to access assistive technology.
It is important to note that not everyone will find this technology suitable, and if something is turning out to not be helpful or is causing distress then it should not be used. If you have dementia, make sure that you have conversations with your family, carers, healthcare professionals and local authority to ensure that you can access the technology that would be of most benefit to you.