The growth of assistive technology (AT)

Assistive tech

Assistive technology (AT) is a term attached to any item or device that helps someone to do something that otherwise they would be unable to do. It might make the task easier or make it safer for someone to attempt something. For people living with dementia or for those caring for them, assistive technology helps to enable them to live independently for longer than would otherwise be the case.

It’s predicted that by 2021 there will be 1 million people in the UK with dementia. As the number of people with the condition continues to rise, technology that helps those with the disease and reduces pressure on carers will be vitally important. The role of this type of technology can vary greatly and range from simple devices to complex integrated systems, offering assistance in some of the following areas –

  • Safety – One of the most important roles of AT is safety. In a care home setting, motion sensor technology can be used to alert staff when a resident moves within their room, especially useful if they are prone to trips or falls. AT can also be used in a person’s home to help to prolong their independence.
  • Everyday living – AT can be used to help with the everyday needs of someone living either in their own home or in a care environment. Gadgets can be used to control temperature, light activation, ovens, dishwashers and curtains amongst many other things. Some technologies can also be used to enable remote monitoring of someone’s daily health condition. This gives family, carers or support workers the opportunity to react quicker to potential hazardous situations.
  • Monitoring – Many people with dementia are prone to wandering. Unfortunately they can also become disoriented very easily and often struggle to find or recognise their way home. AT such as door and exit sensors can alert family and carers when someone leaves their house. GPS can also be used to help to provide exact location details too, to assist in returning them safely home.
  • Communication – Methods of technology that assist in communication are also being used to enable easier ways to keep in touch with someone with dementia. This is another way in which pressure can be relieved on those looking after someone whilst maintaining good levels of independence.
  • Reminders – AT can also be used as reminders to people of times to take medicines or simply be aware of the time of day. Many people with dementia lose track of time very easily and sometimes cannot decipher when it is time to go to bed or have something to eat.

It’s important when considering the use of AT to think carefully about the needs of the person for which it is intended. The technology must be able to support and suit the individual and offer a solution to their unique situation, rather than the other way around. Dementia is a disease that manifests itself differently within each individual and the AT that works for one person may not work for another. That said, in summary some of the key benefits of AT include –

  • Increased choice, safety, independence and sense of control
  • Improved quality of life
  • Maintenance of ability to remain at home
  • Reduced burden placed on carers
  • Improved support for people with long-term health conditions
  • Reduced accidents and falls in the home

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