How digital infrastructures are reshaping the future of dementia care
Image credit: Robert Kneschke/Dreamstime
As the number of people living with dementia increases exponentially, using technology to capture key information like life events, mental state and wishes for the future is a key element of UK plans for integrated social care.
This September marks the eleventh edition of the increasingly growing global awareness campaign, World Alzheimer’s Month. Every year, people from around the world come together to cast a spotlight on dementia and challenge the stigma attached to the condition.
According to the National Health Service, it is estimated that around 676,000 people in England are affected by dementia. Across the UK, the number is estimated to be about 850,000, and predicted to rise exponentially to 1.6 million by 2024.
With approximately 70 per cent of care home residents living with dementia, care providers are continuously searching for new ways to streamline processes and improve quality of care, reducing workloads, giving carers more time to spend with their residents and delivering better overall outcomes.
In 2014, NHS England published its Five Year Forward View strategy, which outlined a vision to transform the NHS and for social care in England to become more integrated – the NHS Long Term Plan followed in 2018, to set out additional steps towards integration. Then, in 2021, a white paper was published, Integration and Innovation: Working Together to Improve Health and Social Care for All, setting forth legislative change to enable better integration in England. Finally, in 2022, came the policy Health and Social Care Integration: Joining up Care for People, Places and Populations, setting out measures to make integrated health and social care a universal reality for everyone across England, regardless of their condition or where they live.
Working together to improve health and social care for all, the Health and Care Act 2022 prepares for a future with integrated care systems (ICSs). The Act launched new legislative measures designed to make it easier for health and care organisations to deliver joined-up care for people who rely on multiple services. ICSs aim to deliver better, more integrated care for people, with a better and clearer transfer of information from one professional to another.
Many people with dementia also live with multiple other health conditions, each requiring support from a different service simultaneously. As well as helping them receive the right support for their needs and providing greater choice, ICSs will reduce the number of times people have to share the same information with different professionals, join up teams and services that are involved in a person’s care, and reduce barriers that make it difficult for people to access services.
One solution that has been used increasingly over the past few years to fulfil such ambitions is technology. After all, digital solutions are constantly evolving and improving, making it easier for care providers to enhance their quality of care.
There are numerous systems in use already, from staff and workforce management to fluid monitoring, incident management and movement detection. Although different care settings may not require all of them, an ability for them to operate together in one unified ecosystem is increasingly beneficial, especially from a dementia point of view.
Digital care management systems are becoming the hub of all information, informing care providers of everything they need to know. As a result, carers can now access an array of information about a resident living with dementia in the palm of their hand, helping them to assess needs and deliver evidence-based treatment.
When taking on a resident, whether or not they are affected by dementia, the objective is always to capture their life story and identify what makes them unique. By using technology to document key factors such as life events, mental state and wishes for future care, digital care plans will naturally be more comprehensive and therefore instrumental to both the individual and the care provider.
When individuals with dementia start to experience cognitive decline, they may struggle to express themselves. This is where digital systems can also provide a carer with access to wishes or concerns the individual may have noted when joining the care environment – this could be anything from religious or cultural beliefs to wishes for the future.
Additionally, it is now possible for carers to interact with residents living with dementia without needing to try and extract information from them. This can be a daunting and uncomfortable experience for the individual, especially if they cannot recognise the face in front of them. Applications like my own company Person Centred Software’s ‘Who I Am’ feature can show carers on a handheld device what a resident’s daily routine is, what they like to do, what makes them happy, what makes them upset and so forth. Interactions become pleasant and more interactive for both parties, providing a better experience for all and helping facilitate trust – the foundation of any aspiring friendship.
In the short term, digital care management systems have only had around a 30 per cent uptake in the industry. However, innovative systems that evidence care at the point of delivery will become more widely available.
Ultimately, any care provider not already using one of the digital care systems proven to improve the quality of life for people with dementia risks being left behind the times and, in doing so, compromises its ability to provide outstanding care.
Jonathan Papworth is founder of Person Centred Software.
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