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Housing, technology and supporting people living with dementia (Part 1)

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Shirley Ayres works with innovative organisations to understand how digital engagement can build connected communities and promote digital technology to enhance care. Here, in the first of her two guest blogs in support of raising awareness of dementia, she discusses the challenges faced by those living with dementia, their carers and the important roles that all organisations play in providing support and care.  

Shirley AyresThere are approximately 800,000 people with dementia in the United Kingdom and by 2040, the number of people affected is expected to double. If we look at the statistics about the number of people living with dementia it is fair to say that this is an issue for all housing associations to take seriously. Local authorities, the NHS, Health and Wellbeing Boards, Clinical Commissioning Groups, social care providers and housing associations all have an important role in providing support and care in local communities. If you are unfamiliar with the resources that are available to support people living with dementia and their carers I hope this article provides some signposts for you.

The word dementia describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. These changes are often small to start with, but for someone with dementia they have become severe enough to affect daily life. How others respond to the person, and how supportive or enabling the person’s surroundings are, also greatly affect how well someone can live with dementia. Research suggests that as many as 30% of residents in extra care housing have mental health problems, most notably dementia. Housing and housing-related services can make the difference between a person with dementia continuing to live independently or moving to a care home.

People living with dementia suffer from a variety of conditions ranging from social isolation and depression to behavioural changes, mood and memory loss. For family and friends there are the additional emotional traumas of being with a person who may not recognise them or remember their shared life.  

Technology is changing the world and our expectations but before rushing for technology solutions it is wise to start by exploring the particular needs and circumstances of the individual.

Surprisingly for a person who is a keen advocate of digital technology my first suggestion is to be aware of the value of low tech solutions. Mike Clark rightly makes the point that ensuring people live in a safe environment is critical to well being and the simple Magiplug at a cost of less than £10 prevents baths overflowing using a pressure activated system.

Staffordshire Cares is one of an increasing number of online marketplaces established by local authority partnerships to make it easier for people to identify useful products and services which make everyday living easier.
There are now many apps, tools and resources to support those receiving care and their carers. Some are designed specifically for this purpose. For example the Virtual Care Home is an online resource that demonstrates dementia-friendly design in care home settings or people's own homes. The layouts of seven individual rooms are modelled with information revealed interactively on how the features can make a difference for people living with dementia.

I recommend every housing association buy a copy of Living Well with Dementia by Shibley Ramen. A unique guide that is easy to read the book provides a much needed overview of dementia care which emphasises the importance of the person and the environment for wellbeing. The book dispels the bleak outlook on dementia management and considers practical home design, the use of technology, the importance of gardens  and sensory considerations.

There are excellent examples of housing-related services for people with dementia provided by @HousingLIN the Housing Learning and Improvement Network which is connecting people, ideas and resources for better independent living choices.

Encouragingly there are an increasing number of local and UK wide online support networks providing support and advice for people living with dementia and their carers. Dementia Challengers was established by carers to help people access information and advice about dementia. The website provides useful signposts to guide carers to online resources including a section on technology.
Online community
One of the simplest needs for people is the ability to stay in touch with family and friends who may be widely dispersed. Online personal support networks are a creative response to building a network of connected support around an individual. Technology is being used by personal support networks to provide safe, moderated online environments which connect family, friends and professionals providing formal and informal care. Mindings which allows families to send personal captioned photos, text messages, calendar reminders, social media content to a family member’s home instantly from a mobile phone. Jointly developed with CarersUK is an innovative mobile and online app which makes communication and coordination between those who share the care as easy as a text message.

Click here to read the second part of Shirley's blog where she looks at other networks, digital reminiscence therapy, memory apps and the Dementia Gateway.

To keep up to date with Shirley's views you can follow her on Twitter, take a look at her Rebel Mouse page, read her blog and listen to her social care podcasts by following the links below.

Twitter: @shirleyayres
Disruptive Social Care podcasts: