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Monday, 02 October 2017

Engage: The future of care home provision in the UK

Written by The Editorial Team

We all need extra help and assistance sometimes, whether we have an illness or are just getting older. The UK population is living longer than ever before. According to the Office of National Statistics, life expectancy has generally increased steadily over the past 30 years and currently stands at approximately 79 years for men and 83 years for women.

While this is great news, it also means that care homes need to prepare. With facilities across the UK struggling due to lack of governmental funding, it’s hard to imagine what they will be like in the future. To get an idea, we’ve joined with Royal Blind – a visual impairment organisation and provider of services at care homes in Paisley – to look at how care homes could change.

Maximum independence

Some people in care homes can feel like they’ve lost, or are losing, their independence. In the future technologies could help those with certain care requirements to live their life in a more self-sufficient way.
We already have devices to monitor heart rate, blood pressure and number of steps someone has walked in a day. But in the future, we could have wearable technology to help check fluid retention and respiratory rates. Being able to self-assess these things could lower hospital admissions and help patients to understand their symptoms before they require medical assistance.

Other technology like this, including portable x-ray machines and blood-testing, are part of the ‘hospital at home’ model, which focuses on enabling patients to receive care in the comfort of their home (when appropriate). A greater integration of this in future healthcare is hoped to provide people in need of care with a greater feeling of control over their health, providing them a better quality of life by giving them the independence to self-diagnose themselves.

Integration of state-of-the-art technology

Technology is likely to play a large role in the safety and running of future care homes. For example, care homes are starting to use sensors in rooms within the building that alert staff when a patient has fallen, or when they have stopped moving. For dementia sufferers, parts of buildings might be coloured with different lighting so that they are able to recognise their own living quarters.

Sensory technology could even take another form. If combined with medication, patients can swallow sensor technologies, which would then dissolve in the stomach and transmit important medical data to a smartphone app. This would help medical professionals establish how well their patient is reacting to their medication, and whether they need to change dosage of drug type. Obviously, catching such problem as early as possible will massively benefit the patient’s health and level of comfort.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is also creating other versions of this technology. Basically, this is an automatic dosage system. A tiny, implantable device is put into the patient and controlled by an embedded microchip to release medication directly into the body. Such technology would make the problem of forgetting to take daily medication non-existent, which would benefit people with long-term conditions and women taking contraception. Reportedly, dosages can be given for up to ten years without patient intervention.

Back to physical sensory technology, this could also be used to track movements and help people with mental problems, such as depression. Computer programs are now being designed that track someone’s activities through sensors on a mobile phone. When movements appear to be low, then those with a history of depression can be contacted and asked if they require help and support before the condition worsens.

It’s hoped that these devices will increase safety and comfort for patients, and help to detect and monitor illnesses to improve prognoses.

More focus on quality

The funding of care homes is a divisive point in the UK today, with many care facilities reporting substantial financial difficulties. However, some predict that care homes — funded by both private investors and social care — will focus on quality. This is because this strategy has the potential for people to “live healthier and longer lives”, as Jane Ashcroft (chief executive at Anchor, a non-profit provider of care for the elderly) suggested in the Silver Chic report.

The design of the care home will be key to this emphasis on quality. Specifically, housing will be built on a turntable, to help those living there receive sunlight for the longest periods of time possible. What’s more, creating connections and boosting communication will also be crucial to help combat loneliness in future care homes. To do this, care villages will use small bridges across various gardens so that residents will feel closer to their environment and other residents.

Use of androids

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are 850,000 people suffering from dementia in the UK, and this figure is likely to rise to 1 million by 2025. As well as troubleshooting technologies, care homes of the future will implement robotics to help calm dementia sufferers who must deal with extreme stress. This could, for example, take the form of robotic pets that can respond to human touch.

Of course, androids may be used for much more than this. Robotic suits could be integrated to assist the comfortable movement of arthritis sufferers, while other uses for robots might include helping patients get in and out of bed or using voice commands to control curtains, lights and other devices to improve the independence of visually impaired patients.  

Considering this research, the future of care homes appears positive. Some of these technologies are already in action with others showing promising signs for implementation soon. Overall, the goal is to achieve safer, happier, and more comfortable living environments to help patients in need of care live as independently as possible.

Picture - The Royal Blind's futuristic Jenny's Well Care Home opening this month in Paisley.