Opinion Real Lives Technology

Personalising assistive technologies

Sarah Cattell and her Shared Lives family (Sarah far right)

Dave Hursthouse, assistive technology project manager at Leonard Cheshire’s Hill House care home in Sandbach, Cheshire tells us how technology can be used to help reduce feelings of loneliness in care homes.

We’ve had to learn how to support our residents to use virtual technology a lot more during this pandemic to keep those all-important connections going, as well as maybe foster new ones.

Lockdowns and social distancing meant that visitors to site and outings had to be cancelled.  Like everyone else in the sector, we had to find new ways to tackle loneliness.

At Hill House in Sandbach, we have tried to take this to the next level and test the limits of how assistive and accessible technology can transform a care home.

Very early in the pandemic we set up a number of video conferencing options in the home for personal and communal calls, which meant that residents could remain in touch with family and friends, and we could still hold social events. This included virtual visits, tea parties, karaoke, quiz nights, book clubs and our all-important Christmas festivities. We think these activities made a big difference to our residents and their families.

We also realised just how important personalised assistive technologies are. Assistive technology helps those with access needs to carry out the everyday tasks they want.  In Hill House we’ve used affordable smart home devices, like Alexa or Siri, to help residents independently control more of their own environment.

But some of our residents need more complex devices and software to effectively communicate their wants and needs. Through person centred assessments, our project speech and language therapist, Lissa Garvey and occupational therapist, Charisse Holder are helping overcome these barriers.

We’ve used specialist communication devices such as Gridpads as well as using communication software on everyday devices (like smart phones and tablets) to help our residents communicate and express themselves.

You can imagine the difference this makes to residents and their loved ones. It’s a fantastic part of everyone’s work here to see people gain verbal capacity or gain independence in a way that was never possible before assistive technology.

Our therapy team have developed an assistive technology clinical pathway to help identify, trial and assess the most appropriate device types, software and access for the individual. We then work with the individual and on-site care teams to provide appropriate training and holistic support for our residents.

We have been fortunate to be part of a European pilot of new Beta software this year. VoiceITT is is a speech recognition app for people with non-standard speech. The app can be trained to understand specific phrases which can then be used to facilitate communication or operate smart home devices like Alexa. It is a revolutionary piece of software.

This is a great time for assistive technology, and it is impossible to know how much it will change in the next few years. As we move forward, things that seem like science-fiction are becoming science-fact.

The project has two more years to run but we’re already taking our learnings to see how we might roll this concept out across the wider Leonard Cheshire estate to benefit even more of our residents.

I can’t wait to see more people reach greater levels of independence, social inclusion, and satisfaction with the help of Assistive Technology.

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