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Thursday, 18 January 2018

University-led initiative explores use of new digital health technologies in elderly care

Written by The Editorial Team

A block of retirement flats has become a test bed for internet-connected devices which could help improve the health of older people.

Tenants of Leach Court in Kemp Town, Brighton, have volunteered to trial digital technologies including smart medication dispensers, activity monitors, and falls detectors which are carried with them or are built into their homes.

It is hoped the data will help the individual and also their families and their GPs.

Specialists from the universities of Brighton and Sussex joined professionals from Brighton and Hove City Council, NHS Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group and Kent, and Surrey & Sussex Academic Health Science Network to explain the aims of the ‘Living Laboratory’ project to Leach Court residents.

The project is being led by Dr Theo Fotis, Principal Lecturer in health sciences at the University of Brighton, who is working with Dr Anand Sundaralingam, Darzi Fellow at the University.

Dr Fotis (pictured) said the aim of the Living Laboratory was to “empower citizens to better manage their own health, at a time when restrictions on funding make it hard to provide the level of quality healthcare needed for an ageing population”.

He added: “The uniqueness of the project is that we are working in the community, with the community, and for the community to provide stakeholders with a tool to accelerate digital health innovation.”

Dr Sundaralingam said at the meeting with tenants: “Digital technology for self-managed healthcare has already arrived, so we need to work out how to best use it. It is a real privilege to have all of the important people – the end-users and patients – in the room with us.

“A lot of barriers are often put up by professionals like us, but we need to actively encourage our end-users to be part of these decisions by using the technology to see what might have value and whether it has ‘patient importance’.

“We are exploring a number of digital technologies including smart medication dispensers, activity monitors, and falls detectors which can not only be carried around, but also be built into the home. This is a whole-person approach to self-managed care rather than looking at specific conditions.”

This first stage of the project is building the infrastructure, testing the new technologies and sharing the residents’ experiences with university academics, doctors and technology industry experts. The University of Brighton plans to explore the possibility of further technological development, in collaboration with commercial partners, based on the findings at Leach Court.

The project fits with Ageing Society, one of the ‘4 Grand Challenges’ identified in the Government’s recent Industrial Strategy White Paper, which says: “We will harness the power of innovation to help meet the needs of an ageing society.”

Dr Fotis said: “We will also be leveraging our digital health eco-systems to other teams at the University of Brighton who may want to explore additional aspects of healthy ageing.”

Leach Court resident, Jean Murray, said: “We’re so proud that our home has been chosen for the test bed. I’ve really enjoyed all of the conversations (with the professionals) so far, and I am looking forward to what we can do together.”

Leach Court neighbor Marion Walker, said: “It’s a great thing – sometimes we older ones get ignored so it’s good that they want to listen to us.”

The project came about through an initiative called Leading Places which saw Brighton and Hove City Council and the universities of Brighton and Sussex working together to draw on Brighton’s expertise in pharmacy, allied health, digital design and architecture. The project explored the development of strategies for self-managed care for older people.

Melissa Ream, from Kent Surrey Sussex Academic Health Science Network, said: “It makes such a difference to know that someone is taking an interest in you. We’re not just talking about whizzy gadgets, it’s about keeping our older citizens healthier, and out of hospital.”

Picture - Dr Theo Fotis and Leach Court resident Rachel Frost exploring the new technology.