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Making a Change: How Technology Is Helping the Elderly Population in the UK

29/05/2016 21:02 | Updated 29 May 2016

tech-for-good

Over my 22 years as a physiotherapist I have seen huge changes in health and social care system structures, access to support services, and to the treatments for some of the major conditions I see every day such as stroke and Parkinson's Disease. However, there has been little change in the day to day problems faced by older people, those with long term conditions and their families. Despite advances in technology, this has been slow to impact this group of people. This is my motivation for working with Intelesant on the development of applied technology that I believe will make the changes that elderly care is so desperate for.

Technology is making a huge difference to acute healthcare with improved diagnostic equipment that is becoming ever more portable, surgical equipment enabling more procedures to be developed, and supportive devices that enable people to leave hospital sooner. Out in the community there are pockets of innovation which show the art of the possible, but there is still much work to do in bringing this to scale.

Mobile health technologies are changing the landscape for health and social care in the community. In general, people are using these technologies in daily life and adding in health information is a logical next step. Fitness and lifestyle apps started to empower the individual by increasing awareness of their own behaviours and how these could be improved. The content is familiar to me as a physiotherapist working in rehabilitation, we use goal setting to motivate, action plans to activate, and measures to consolidate, all done in collaboration with our patients.

The logical next step for these technologies was into long term conditions and we now see apps used to support illnesses such as lung disease, diabetes and anxiety. The market is growing at a rapid rate as the prevalence of these conditions increases and the demands from patients grow. They all provide real time access to information that would previously have been in a leaflet (usually left at home) or only available through contact with a service.

For an ageing population, the major challenges are identifying health issues before they become a crisis and enabling this group to access technology that works for them. The literature around home monitoring suggests that individuals see the benefit of devices in the home, but not for them personally. Intelesant's discussions with older people has reflected this, they see a need for this after there has been a crisis but not before, and therefore it is often too late. Older people will often have greater support needs after a crisis, but would reap great benefits from early action. A good example is a simple water infection. Treated early, the infection can be managed simply at home with a full recovery. Left to develop, an older person can become increasingly confused and unsteady resulting in a hospital admission for treatment or worse, a fall.

Howz was developed in response to the need for a practical, simple, and non-intrusive system that would help an individual identify their changing needs at the earliest opportunity and help them manage their concerned family and friends, which could contribute to improvements in health and social care services in the future.

Daily routine is one of the best ways to know you are OK and with Howz you can also let others know. Detecting someone being up in the night more than usual may be the first sign of that water infection, which provides the best opportunity to get early treatment. We have worked with older people, their care networks, and the agencies that support them at home to understand their motivators and what they require from a system, as well as how they view apps in general. Using electricity monitoring with additional sensor data to create a description of daily routine and where change has occurred provides the peace of mind without intruding on daily life.

Across the UK health and social care economies are engaging with technology innovators to improve outcomes and boost efficiency. Bringing together skills and experience from the general population including the 'end users' is now recognised as the only way to crack this challenge. Intelesant is also about to embark on a research project with the University of Manchester looking at how the Howz technology can work with patients that have suffered a stroke, and how it may offer support to reduce social isolation and further deterioration of their health.

For my parents, it gives me great hope that they will be able to stay at home as they age without feeling like a burden. For me, as a potential carer, I see that technology could make a huge difference on a daily basis.

HuffPost UK Tech is running a two-week focus on our Tech For Good campaign, which aims to highlight the technology that is driving social change and making a positive, long-lasting difference to our world. If you'd like to blog on our platform around this topic, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with a summary of who you are and what you'd like to blog about.

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