What is the role of technology in social care?
It is often proposed that technology offers the potential to alleviate some of the current challenges in social care, most notably by reducing dependency on traditional services. After all, there is a smart phone or a tablet device in the majority of UK homes now, super-fast broadband is available in increasing locations, social media is becoming more prevalent than traditional news broadcasting, and there is an app for everything. Technology, it seems, is running our lives.
In essence, although a lot of technology is aimed at younger people, it is arguable that older people – particularly if they live alone with family or friends far away, long-term health conditions to manage, or care and support needs -could have the most to gain from what modern creative engineering can offer.
By its very nature, technology can help to bridge inter-generational divides, and many of our younger care workers have introduced some of the devices they personally use to the clients they are supporting. Sharing photos and events is, after all, part of daily life for so many of us now.
Technology has found its way into social care in other ways too, with numerous initiatives including high profile examples where people with dementia have been encouraged to interact with art and music. Technology has also inspired a lot of creativity in care, with one example being the story behind Unforgettable.org, a company founded by James Ashwell, the son of a lady who lived with dementia. James passionately believes in the transformational ability of technology, most notably assistive living products, for older people.
But there are stumbling blocks to integrating technology into the lives of older people, most notably around the costs associated with purchasing equipment, the availability and cost of Wi-Fi or mobile internet, and challenges around training older people to use devices. For everything technology offers, and it offers a lot, its critics argue that if anything it is becoming too pervasive in society and we are losing the art of personal interaction.
Whilst as an organisation we blog and use social media to communicate, we will never lose sight of the most important aspect of our work, that of personal interaction between our staff and our clients. Finding a balance is vital, and although older people can undoubtedly benefit from access to technology – and we would always fully support assisting with that – many people also say that there is no substitute for personal, face-to-face conversation, a kind touch and human companionship in their home. That, more than anything else, is the true value of home care.