Technology: the for and against

Chris Harding looks at the pros and cons of how technology continues to be used in the care sector – can – and should – it be replacing people?

There has been a lot in the press recently about new technological solutions designed to alleviate the pressures facing the care industry. It is frequently suggested that an app or a computer program can be used to reduce stress, help residents feel calmer, provide them with much needed stimulation, even to feel less alone.

As I said at the time, surely the solution to someone feeling less alone is to have more company, not less? Surely, for people living with dementia in a care home, they need companionship and someone to talk to, not to have those people removed and replaced with a technological device? And I stand by this – to a degree.

When I lead our training sessions, I always say to people that The Daily Sparkle itself is not actually what residents want! The newspaper and the topics are not what they are interested in. What they want, is the connection that comes via this resource. And that’s true of every single resource, whatever it is. If we were to put all our topics in an online format, and make them readable on an iPad for instance, so carers and coordinators could just hand out iPads and leave residents to read the Sparkles alone, they would be virtually useless. They would in fact stop being a resource. People don’t want to read the Sparkles, they want to talk about them. They don’t want to remember a classic radio programme from their childhood and then sit staring at a screen unable to do anything with that memory. They want to recall it with friends, to share their memories, they want to talk, connect, remember together.

If a resource doesn’t create a situation where people are talking to one another then it’s missing the mark. Our resources are designed to be used with people – to be read out, to be part of group chat sessions, to be an opportunity for quizzes and reminiscing. Simply put, they need a human being to make them work. And thank goodness for that. Without someone sitting down with the Sparkles and talking or reading through them, they are useless. And we wouldn’t want it any other way.

However, there are some merits to technology, if it’s used in the right way. How wonderful would it be for instance, to have computer programs that could undertake more of the administrational tasks you have to do, or robots that could do some of the more mundane jobs a carer has to fit in? If there were devices that gave activity coordinators and carers several hours of time back a week, and if this time was used to spend with residents, then that would be a wonderful thing. More human is never a bad thing, and if technology can be used – not as a cost-cutting exercise – but as a way to actually improve care, as a way to free up people’s time to give them more opportunities for meaningful engagement with residents, then I am all for it. But only if this is what it’s used for.

The most important thing, as far as I am concerned, is for all our energies to work towards making sure the elderly and people living with dementia are living well. Are happy and stimulated, enjoying life and interested in everything around them. More interaction with people helps this, so let technology serve this goal.