“Keith, help, I can’t find the toilet.” Technology blog and report

Technology can make a difference

 — Care and supportDementiaInformation sharingIntegrated care

Keith SpinkKeith Spink, senior digital developer at the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) looks after his Dad, often remotely, using technology. This may sound challenging, but Keith attests technology has given his father a better quality of life, greater independence and provided him with peace of mind – as he now explains…

I was asked to speak at a recent roundtable event organised by SCIE and the Department of Health. It looked at how technology can support the goals of the Care Act. The subsequent report can be found here.

The following is what I told delegates on the day.

Keith, help, I can’t find the toilet

Keith’s Dad.

Dad’s got vascular dementia. On top of that he’s been visually impaired from birth (the whole family has been) and Dad went totally blind in the 1970’s. But we’ve always operated on the basis that blindness isn’t a barrier in life and, until retirement, Dad was independent. Then Mum died and gradually Dad needed more help.

The help came mainly from me. I’m a geek and web developer and I work full-time. So, how was this going to work? The clue is in the first half of the sentence. I know a bit about technology. And that’s how I help and support Dad.

You see, when I first looked into finding help I wasn’t satisfied with what I found. A care home seemed inappropriate – Dad likes living at home alone. So I organised some one-hour care visits. They have become the backbone of Dad’s care and the reason why he’s able to live at home. The care visits, with regular carers, are fantastic. However, they only cover three hours in a 24-hour period. So I needed to shop around to find a way of supporting Dad the other 21 hours, every day.

An internet audio player from the British Wireless for the Blind Fund is just one of the many devices improving quality of life for Keith's father.
An internet audio player from the British Wireless for the Blind Fund is just one of the many devices improving quality of life for Keith’s father.

Now, like many men, I hate shopping in the high street. So I used Google and Amazon. They seemed much more useful than some specialised online web stores. Before I knew it I had installed the following: talking motion sensors and personalised recorded messages that call Dad to the toilet, radio or front door; a cheap timer plug with a mains-powered talking motion sensor; and a personalised recorded message tells Dad to go back to bed if he tries to walk around during the night. I got them all on Amazon. Importantly, I bought different types to see what was the most efficient.

When Dad told me he was getting lost I realised that I could buy cameras that cover the downstairs living area. I bought four and can now keep an eye on him all day from my computer or my phone.

Did this all cost a fortune? Well, it was about £300. Oh, and I got some ‘table edge guard’ tape so that if he bangs his head he won’t get hit by a nasty sharp edge. That costs about £10. So, it’s ‘do-able’.

I’ve also obtained an internet audio player from the British Wireless for the Blind Fund and Dad loves it. I’ve sorted his hearing aids, which has also made him much happier. And he has a talking memory pendant, which, although not perfect technologically, does help him by playing particular messages, based on the day and the time he presses it.

At the moment I’m still looking for solutions to the problem that’s arisen when the front door goes and Dad then struggles to get there on time – before the person walks off. I’m also considering getting a mobile phone-activated central heating control system installed, so that Dad doesn’t have to have the heating or water heater on all night.

I admit I’m a geek but even I had to think logically to find cheap solutions. You can too. My advice? Think ‘outside the box’ and experiment with different things. Using technology might sound daunting, but, once you’ve worked out how to do it, it can have great benefits.

No one is suggesting for a moment that all of this should replace the care and support of real people visiting those at home. I feel strongly that care visits and technology need to work hand in hand. But, and this is so important to me and Dad, what I’ve been able to achieve is to provide him with more independence, dignity and, dare I say it, happiness, than he would have otherwise had.


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by Dan Keating

As one geek Keith to another ( though 83) I compliment you on your efforts to help Dad be more independent. In my case I am profoundly deaf, though much helped by a cochlear implant – more technology. Of course, when it comes to computing deafness is no problem and blindness can be overcome, too. I run a website at http://www.silverhairs.co.uk and just received an MBE for my efforts to help older people get on with the Internet – vital these days. I have to admit to supplementing my pension with well selected adverts on my site and have also collected £20,000 for a charity I support. So, hurrah for geeks. We need more if them, young or old !

by Dan Keating

What an inspiring example of what’s possible with new technology and DIY skills. Thanks Keith for also talking the time to share the story

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