A friend of mine who works at the top of the caring professions offers a robust riposte to any elderly person who says that ‘I don’t want to be a burden’. She says, ‘Look, let’s get this clear, you will be a burden’ and then adds, ‘but I accept that and I have no problem dealing with it if you let me do so as best I can’.
At first, that sounded horrifying to me, but I have begun to understand. Caring for those entering frailty requires a contract, between the carer and the cared for. Families need a mutual support approach; the frail need to feel supported, but the supporting cannot feel taken for granted or, worse, exploited. As the old adage goes; love is a shared endeavour.
This insight offers an important lesson for providers of assistive care technology. Families with elderly relatives are busier than ever; the elderly are living longer in need of support; the period of sharing is longer with a higher risk of dismay on both sides.
Assistive care lifestyle monitoring systems are increasingly used to help, but there are hurdles of acceptability to be climbed. The English language does not help; we put ‘sensors’ in the home, we ‘monitor’ what is happening, there is a ‘system’ in the background watching events. For elderly people who grew up before the age of computing and social media this is intrusion.
Or is it? If an occupational therapist suggests to an elderly person that they want to monitor them using sensors in their home and have a system to use this, generally that will be acceptable; the suggestion comes with authority. However, if a daughter or son make this suggestion, rather too often the reaction is the opposite—‘you’re not going to spy on me’.
There’s an obligation on the elderly here to take their part in the loving family contract, and the best way of achieving this is for the younger family members to explain that using lifestyle monitoring systems is not for spying on oldies, but to remove daily anxieties from these younger loving carers. If you love your mum, she is in your mind; knowing that she got up, or that she went into the kitchen, tells you that she is well and staying fed and watered. That has an added bonus, when you make that daily phone call, you don’t have to risk appearing nagging by asking if she is all right and has eaten lunch, you already know that. Many assistive care users harness that knowledge, saying positive things like ‘I think you have been in the garden’, or ‘wasn’t Coronation Street great?’ Shared enjoyment, triggered by discreet non-intrusive watchfulness enhances the loving relationship we need to nurture for long-term support of the elderly.
Many people in Britain still believe that social care for the elderly is paid for by the state. If you are elderly but healthy, it isn’t. You and your family are financially on your own. The state does not have the money to spend, and the politics of increasing funding are locked in dispute.
Assistive care systems have the potential to make the passage through the frailty pathway much less costly for families by allowing independent living for longer. But they will also help society as a whole. Soon enough, their sensed data will generate genuinely useful clinical insights through the use of artificial intelligence. We will be able to predict expensive events like falls, dehydration or disturbed sleep; three major reasons why the elderly to present at A&E departments. Is this big brother, or loving mother? I leave you to decide whether to be a Luddite or grasp a caring future where machines help out families caring for the elderly.
Technology is getting cheaper, and very cheap if we can deliver it in volume. We can see a day when families do not purchase systems, but rent them as a service. Part of that rental will go into a savings pot held for the carers; not the cared for. Twenty years later, those invested thrift accounts will have grown in value to pay for services as those younger family members grow old.
Now that’s a thrilling prospect that your Scottish granny with short arms and deep pockets would really like, a thrifty approach to self-funding of social care, no need for taxpayers’ money, serving us all through intergenerational love.
here&there helps your relatives to live independently at home for longer. It’s the discreet monitoring system that gives the rest of the family peace of mind.