I recently wrote a blog on technology in social care services (early August). Last week I came across a report produced by the Social Care Institute for Excellence into using technology to support people with dementia.
It seems therefor opportune to take time to expand on the theme, especially in the area of dementia where knowledge of any new innovation or report on the use of technology can only be of benefit to some service users and staff.
The SCIE report stresses the importance of staff preparation before engaging the service user in the use of technology.
Making sure the right equipment is available
Whether it’s a desktop computer, tablet, mobile phone or laptop, staff should make sure that they have the equipment you need for a particular activity. The ‘Dementia and digital’ report from the Good Things Foundation (formerly Tinder Foundation) said that tablets are the most effective devices to support digital skills. It’s helpful to use the technology that the person is most familiar with.
Ensuring the right connection
Some activities need an internet connection and others don’t. It is important that staff know if they need to have a reliable broadband connection, as it’s frustrating if the connection is slow or keeps breaking up. Staff can get a broadband connection through cables or wireless. Wireless is more flexible but does not always work well in some larger or older buildings. A ‘dongle’ can be used which connects an individual computer to the internet as and when you need it. These kinds of solutions don’t work so well in areas where mobile phone signals are weak however, and they are usually too slow for downloading videos or films.
If staff are using equipment powered by batteries, they should make sure these are fully charged. Audio speakers might be necessary for those with hearing loss as the volumes on tablets in particular can be quite low.
Taking a person-centred approach
Do: • Do focus on the person’s abilities, not their impairments. • Do remember engagement can be at any level, from sensory stimulation from a video, game or piece of music, to writing emails. • Do pay attention to each individual’s preferences and capabilities. For example, some people may be able to touch type, and others will never have used a keyboard. A person with arthritis may not be able to use a mouse. Past experience and current capacities will affect the person’s level of engagement. • Do talk out loud about what you are doing as a running commentary keeps people involved. Remember that things that seem obvious to you may not be to people who are unfamiliar with technology. • Do make sure carers and family are on board particularly if the technology is going to be used to communicate with others.
• Don’t make prior assumptions about what someone can or can’t do. • Don’t take over. Wherever possible, the person with dementia should lead the activity with the carer’s support. This can be a fine line in technology but the key is to match the activity with the person’s capacity. You might want to initially introduce an iPad by saying ‘Have you seen this?’ Even if people cannot engage directly with the technology, you can still offer them choices about what you are doing and how. • Don’t force the issue if the person is not interested. Engagement will vary from person to person, from day to day and at different times of day. Be led by the person. • Don’t go on too long – it is always good to break activities into small steps. As a rule you should limit activities to 20 minutes or less, unless you have a good reason to carry on. • Don’t set people up to fail. Don’t suggest complicated tasks if people do not have the capacity to engage with them.
Using technology will not suit everyone. Not all staff will feel comfortable and people with dementia may be resistant. It’s important that this is not seen as a failure. Technology is only one way of engaging people and someone’s interest may fluctuate. Be patient. As with all person-centred care, the wishes and preferences of the individual are paramount.
Decide beforehand on a simple activity that involves people, for example, playing a game such as solitaire (for an individual) or bingo (for a group) or finding some music on the web. Using a desktop computer may have associations with work or bureaucracy for some people. Consider starting with something that looks more commonplace such as a digital camera. Tablets such as iPads can be useful, as many people do not think of them as ‘computers’.
The authors of the report suggest that technology has so much to offer people living with dementia and their carers including: access to information, advice and entertainment as well as reassurance for a carer who does not live near a loved one.
The use of technology to engage people who live with dementia can be seen as a step forward and something social care services will need to harness now and into the future. It is not a panacea that can replace the comfort and attention to needs of caring staff. However, used sensitively and thoughtfully, technology enhances rather than replaces human relationships and interactions.
The authors of the Social Care Institute for Excellence report ‘Technology supporting people living with dementia and their carers’ is recommended reading for those social care services providing dementia care.
Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy