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Dissemination Centre

Assistive Technology Themed Review launch event

Date: 04 February 2019

Category: Assistive Technology

remote monitoring

Assistive Technology Themed Review launch event

Simple technologies can make a big difference to older people living with health conditions, disabilities or frailty. Motion sensor lights located between the bed and the toilet, for instance, can reduce the risk of falls for people with impaired vision. They may also reduce the sense of disorientation at night in people with dementia who are confused and wakeful. 

Last month the NIHR Dissemination Centre was privileged to host 55 enthusiastic occupational therapists, local authority commissioners, adult care social services, researchers, industry, carers and service users to launch the publication of ‘Help at Home’, the latest NIHR evidence Themed Review.

Help at Home brings together 40 published and ongoing studies that examine the practical issues and the potential benefits of a wide range of assistive technologies.

The room was buzzing on the day of the launch: with enthusiasm about the potential for good that assistive technology offers, but also with frustration that technology’s benefits are not always well-understood by those who could benefit – either as buyers or as users of the kit.

It was clear from the expert presenters that the knowledge base for assistive technology is emergent, with fragmented and dispersed evidence, quality standards and expertise not always brought together in a way that makes sense for users or systems. (Luc de Witte)

It appears that telecare has until now been used to reduce care costs, not necessarily to increase wellbeing or reduce loneliness.  The focus has so far not been on supporting individual people’s ability to solve the practical problems they face, and it seems that technology is often under- or over-prescribed with insufficient assessment. (John Woolham)

Delegates discussed their own experiences – personal and professional – of assistive technology, which varied widely. Some common barriers to the use of assistive technology were identified: cost; lack of knowledge to make buying decisions; a lack of confidence in an ever-changing market for tech goods and services and the absence of any centralised organisation to guide or manage the development of these goods; aesthetics and design being under-valued (`no one wants ugly products’); complexity of information and needs on discharge; the fact that OTs cannot routinely prescribe technology as part of their assessments of people’s needs, and the fact that NHS and local authority budgets are not pooled to enable decisions to be made about investment in the best technology.   A common theme from participants was lack of clarity about who was the client? Who was the person in charge?

On the positive side, delegates identified many enabling factors which may lead to greater and more effective use of assistive technologies in future: much is possible with low-cost, easily-bought items such as Alexa & Google Home and as the population of older people is more familiar with apps, confidence may increase. If a clear, standardised menu of funded assistive technology products could be made available for OTs to prescribe at the time of a user’s assessment many more benefits of the technology could be realised. And at the heart of greater use lies great design: as one delegate said “get the basics right, make products that work well, are easy to use and easy to charge and people’s confidence in using them will increase.”

A strong message from the many different voices at the event was the need to involve service users in the design and testing of solutions.  As one delegate noted, “let us move from getting the person to adapt to the technology to a position where we adapt the technology to the person and their needs”.

  • Summary:

    Last month the NIHR Dissemination Centre hosted 55 enthusiastic occupational therapists, local authority commissioners, adult care social services, researchers, industry, carers and service users to launch the publication 'Help at Home'.

About the author

Alison Ford

Head of Engagement, NIHR Dissemination Centre

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