Realising the potential of assistive technology in social housing

Enabling someone to maintain their independence while ensuring they’re safe can be a tricky balancing act.

Take Malcolm from Evesham. He has dementia and is prone to getting confused – and lost – on trips to the shops. He’s even been known to hop onboard a random train.

The unpredictability of Malcolm’s behaviour meant stress and anxiety for his family. That was until they began using GPS to track Malcolm’s movements. If he strays outside a ‘geo-fence’, both the telecare team and his family are alerted. Malcolm doesn’t need someone chaperoning him but without this technology he would probably be in residential care.

Malcolm’s story is a great example of the power of assistive technology, something I believe passionately in. My organisation, Worcestershire Telecare is part of The Community Housing Group, one of Worcestershire’s largest Registered Providers (RP) of social housing.

What makes our telecare service different is that we are now part of the same directorate as Care & Support 24, the team that carries out housing management for the landlord’s 2,200 supported living and extra care homes.

This restructure happened because The Community Housing Group recognised that technology is a key aspect of its care and support service. It’s now using TEC, not just to enhance independence, health and well-being, but to promote tenancy sustainability and wider business improvement.

Assistive technology can enhance independence, health and well-being, but also promote tenancy sustainability and wider business improvementFrom being “quite traditional” when I took over, Worcestershire Telecare has now embraced the latest digital technology. Being linked to housing management has nurtured both this innovation and the organisation’s focus on prevention.

For example, fire and fall detection devices have been installed throughout supported housing sites, regardless of whether residents require care packages.

This has prevented major damage to properties (avoiding £0.5m in costs) and possible loss of life, 110 times over in the last 12 months. More than 200 falls have been responded to quickly, avoiding long lies.

We’re also more proactive now in terms of monitoring, performing outgoing calls and providing pre-emptive support. We’re using preventative, proactive technologies as well as traditional, reactionary call technologies.

It’s early days but we’ve seen an increase in technology uptake with our tenants – including mobile GPS technology to support independence and a rise in home automation technologies to increase wellbeing and make efficiency savings on care packages.

We’ve also set up a demonstration home which includes everything from fall sensors to a telehealth system linked to onsite triage manager software. It uses mainstream technology like Amazon Echo to open doors and curtains.

In this demo flat, an ‘activities of daily living’ system shows staff and tenants how a person’s everyday movements, from opening the fridge to getting out of bed, can be used to build a picture of their needs. Over 1,000 people have visited from social care, health and housing across the UK.

However, some housing providers have been slow to respond to both the opportunities digital technology offers and the risks of not prioritising the analogue to digital shift, and this is worrying.

1.7 million vulnerable people rely on telecare in the UK, but many receive services that use analogue connections. By 2025, all analogue telephone services will be replaced as the UK’s telecoms infrastructure is upgraded to digital connectivity. I hope that more housing organisations recognise the urgent need to make this digital transition and to redesign their services at the same time.

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