Technology aims to keep elderly in own homes

PUBLISHED: 10:18 13 February 2007 | UPDATED: 22:34 28 May 2010

Margi Fosh with some of the technology she uses to help the elderly stay independent

Margi Fosh with some of the technology she uses to help the elderly stay independent

Story by MAGGIE GIBSON CUTTING-EDGE technology is helping hundreds of people in Fenland lead independent lives by allowing them to remain, where possible, in their own homes. The technology not only gives confidence and peace of mind to the users but also

Story by MAGGIE GIBSON

CUTTING-EDGE technology is helping hundreds of people in Fenland lead independent lives by allowing them to remain, where possible, in their own homes.

The technology not only gives confidence and peace of mind to the users but also to carers who feel less anxious knowing it is in place.

And the huge transformations it is making to the lives of both young and old gives Margi Fosh great job satisfaction.

As assistive technology manager for Cambridgeshire and the Fens, Margi says: "I love my job and I love the fact I am making it possible for people to stay in their own homes."

From simple tools to sophisticated sensors, technology is being used 24 hours a day, reducing the need for hospital stays and residential care home places.

Based in Chesterton, Margi and her team provide services on behalf of Cambridgeshire County Council's adult social services and the Primary Care Trust.

Referrals are made to Margi through GPs, consultants, district nurses, the Alzheimer's Society, health and social care teams, carers and even service users themselves. Technology is installed only with the full consent of the user.

"Each referral is unique and is assessed as such," Margi explained. "Systems should not be introduced simply because the technology exists, only if it adds delivery of care and confidence."

All technology is trialled out and tested on staff before being used in the community. Some of the more complicated technology is tested by a consultant physician.

The equipment is loaned to users and can vary from a simple rubber duck to help someone pull the plug out of the bath to sophisticated combinations of communications technology signalling to a service centre which will then arrange an appropriate response.

It is even possible for a carer to go on holiday and monitor the well-being of a relative or friend.

Technology is being used to help people of all ages with both mental and physical problems. "We build up a picture of what each individual needs and research what products are available to help that person," said Margi. "It is not a one-size-fits-all thing."

Even something as simple as a special clock can make a difference to users. Margi said: "Imagine how debilitating it is not to know what day of the week it is. This can lead to increased anxiety and confusion, which could be prevented by the use of a simple orientation device - a calendar clock."

The clock displays the time and date, the day of the week and whether it is am or pm.

Automated pill boxes are commonly used for those with poor memory who take time-critical medication. The box can be set to deliver timed medication and will sound an alarm when it is due. Once the medication is taken out the pill box, the alarm stops and will reset ready for the next dose of medication. The box can be filled by a pharmacist or family member.

Margi and her colleagues have helped with many situations and never shy away from a new challenge. Examples of situations where help has been given include someone who forgets to turn off taps or the cooker, frequent falling, leaving the house at inappropriate times, forgetting events or tasks and leaving doors locked or unlocked.

For those with epilepsy there is a sensor which can be placed underneath bed sheets to monitor the users' vital signs including heart rate and breathing patterns to detect a range of epileptic seizures.

Every day Margi sees how lives have been transformed by the work of her team. A husband whose wife has dementia can now at last go to sleep at night knowing her safety is being monitored. A pressure mat alerts him on a pager when she gets out of bed.

"Her husband told me we had revolutionised his life," said Margi. "He was becoming exhausted but now he knows when she wakes up it is giving him reassurance."

Margi admits technology is not a substitute for 24-hour care, which is sometimes the only solution, but in many cases it can be used to help people hang on to their independence and live happily in their own homes.

* If you are already receiving health or social care services or believe you or a potential service user is at risk during your/their daily routine, contact Margi on 01223 883756 or by e-mail at Margaret.fosh@cambridgeshirepct.nhs.uk

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