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Government policies encourage people to make preparation for old age and frailty. Yet, many of us are relying on the idea that the state will pay for old age care. It is risky for any government to highlight dismal prospects to voters who don’t want to know that there will not be enough tax income to provide the care we have come to expect. The wisest of us have got the message. We need to delay frailty if we can and find new ways of coping with it when it occurs, and we can’t assume we’ll get all the help we need.
One is to stay as well as possible for as long as possible. The evidence is strong for exercise, avoiding smoking, controlling alcohol, heart-healthy diet, and good social contacts and other strategies to maintain mental well-being. But even with these precautions, at the end of life, many people will still develop frailty before they die – for example up to 50% of those over 90 will get dementia that needs care.
So, the second strategy is finding ways to provide care differently. Assistive technology is not only about locating people who are lost, and medication prompts. It also allows those responsible for the care, whether the family or care workers, to spend more time on the human aspects of care, and less on clearing up after adverse incidents. For example, continuous monitoring can now allow us to predict and therefore prevent falls. That alone can prevent hospital admissions that are often the first step on the road to care home admission. Care homes may be lovely, but they cost a lot. Staff shortages are causing closures. Technology that releases staff for care, and reduces their burden is not just desirable, it is urgently needed. The right use of technology in those settings can liberate staff from repetitive tasks that don’t add value, but also prevent things from getting forgotten when things get busy or the unexpected occurs.
As a professor trying to improve the public understanding of dementia, I get many enquiries about whether technology used around people with dementia is replacing humanity and caring. The reality of care is that the level of need for older people, and especially those with dementia, is increasing faster than our current capacity to provide care. Those people who enter the care workforce deserve the best tools to make them as efficient as possible, so they have time for the good things in life, like a leisurely conversation and time spent together with the people they serve. For families who are providing care while also going out to work, or at a distance, technology offers a wide range of solutions that increase our capacity to match this ever-increasing need.