Assistive technology projects to help elderly people and those with dementia

Defined by the King’s Fund as any product or service designed to enable independence for disabled and older people, assistive technology (AT) can span many things. Yet despite its obvious benefits, the quality of AT provision in the UK seems patchy.

An AT forum with 50 member organisations including Age Concern England and Mencap, hosted by the charity the Foundation for Assistive Technology, exists to raise the profile of AT among policymakers, commissioners and providers. Here, we look at new ways of promoting assistive technology and a new qualification being offered.


Most of us will want to remain in our own homes when in old age. However, for people with dementia, day-to-day living can be difficult. Simply forgetting to turn off the gas or letting the bath overflow can cause great damage and may put the person with dementia and others in danger.

This is where assistive technology steps in: gadgets and equipment to enable disabled and older people to remain independent. From the low-tech (walking sticks) to the high tech (satellite-based navigation systems to help find someone who has got lost), products to help install self-reliance and confidence are expanding.

Leicestershire Council has long been at the forefront of new technology through its Signal project, which provides equipment, advice and information to help older people with day-to-day activities. The project has a specially-adapted show flat in Coalville where older people, carers and professionals can see what is on offer and try things out.

But now it’s taking the technology on tour. A partnership between the council, district councils, Leicestershire Partnership Trust and local Age Concern has decked out a bus, driven by project worker Alan Pausey, to visit carers and older people to show them what is available and possible.

This includes devices that will: switch off the gas supply automatically if it has been left unlit, release the water in a bath before it overflows if taps have been left running, switch the lights on automatically if a person gets up in the middle of the night, and alert a family member or call centre if someone needs assistance.

The Signal project provided a carousel pill box to Barbara Timson, whose care worker is Pat Leeds. “We were concerned that Barbara was forgetting how many pills she had taken and sometimes took extra. This new ­carousel box is wonderful, because I put all her pills into it at the beginning of the week and each compartment contains the right dosage for each day. It’s much safer and easier for Barbara to use and she will be able to stay in her own home for longer now.”

Staff are also benefiting, says Rachel Cheney, planning and development officer for older and disabled people’s services. She says: “Staff are finding it to be a valuable way of learning about how equipment can assist in managing risk for this service user group, particularly seeing the community alarm equipment and being able to test it and speak to a real person at the call centre – it gives people a really good impression of how the community alarm service works.”

With the positive feedback received so far, the specially adapted bus seems to be just the ticket.

● For more information contact Tim Barnes-Clay on 0116 265 8912.
The Foundation for Assistive Technology

The signal bus what do you think?

“This sounds like a good way of promoting the benefits of assistive technology and should help people understand what the new service is all about, and how it could benefit them. Promotion is key to getting new services off the ground – and this approach offers an opportunity to reach out into the community – as long as it is affordable.”
Peter Woodhouse, strategic development officer, Cumbria Council

“It is a great idea, especially in a typical county council setting where you can get a lot of very rural and remote areas, such as we have in the west of our county. Being able to demonstrate assistive technology to someone is so much better than them just reading about it and even the most low tech of devices can make all the difference to someone’s independence.”
Pam Mills, people at home and in touch officer, Durham Council

“Promoting the service by taking it to the people within the community is an excellent idea. We are doing something similar for carers’ week here. We will have information on a bus to enable us to reach out to as many people as possible.”
Jane Stevens, project manager, assistive technology, Wigan Council

“Has Knowsley a similar project in mind? If not – we should. And is it possible to get the bus up here for a week’s tour of the borough?”
Ian Midwood, steering group member for Knowsley Older People’s Voice, an advocacy group in Merseyside


Coventry University’s Health Design and Technology Institute (HDTI) will open its new centre in 2008 to explore and pioneer new products in healthcare and new approaches in well-being.

The institute and its partners from the healthcare, telecommunications and product design industries will look to “accelerate the development of health technologies, pilot improved approaches to community healthcare delivery and provide state-of-the-art professional development and training”. Its research will focus on user-led projects.

HDTI director Simon Fielden says the institute will support the Department of Health’s objective to transfer care from hospital to the home. “Our focus is on developing assistive technologies for the patient rather than medical devices for surgical intervention,” he says. “Our areas of activity will include building and vehicle adaptations, walking aids and e-health developments such as remote monitoring.”

In tandem with this, from September the institute will be offering a qualification in assistive technology for health improvement, which can be full-time over a year or part-time over two.

● For more information, visit

Institute & course what do you think?

“This sounds a fascinating development. There has been rather a disappointing lack of products coming on to the market in the five years since telecare took off, so hopefully Coventry’s work in this area might help to stimulate the market and if it is user-led, all the better. The qualification is also something that has long been needed and I hope that similar courses will start making their way on to university prospectuses in the North.”
Pam Mills, people at home and in touch officer, Durham Council


A new website ( is launched this week by charity Trent Dementia Services Development Centre to raise awareness of how assistive technologies can help people with dementia remain in their own homes.

Funded by the Department of Health and inspired by ground-breakers such as the Signal Project, the website aims to show professionals, families and people with early dementia what is available, how to obtain the devices and how to use them. Keith Turner, who has early dementia, says: “There’s lots of information for those with dementia, their carers and professionals alike. It is easy to navigate and has lots of valuable tips.”

The site has four areas: prompts and reminders safety, such as devices that detect gas, smoke, extreme temperatures and whether someone has had a fall communication, such as “memory” phones which have photos of friends and relatives with pre-programmed numbers and leisure, such as easy-to-use music players, computer keyboards and talking photo albums.

● We will review this website in next week’s Community Care.

What do you think?

“This site is fantastic and would be a resource I would refer to time and again. As a carer for many years, I can say that the information contained on the site is all vital to helping people cope with supporting people with dementia. I would gladly recommend this site to people looking for information relating to dementia.”
Ronnie Sephton, former carer to a partner with dementia in Knowsley, Merseyside

If you have introduced, or heard of, a new idea for adults’ or children’s services please let us know: contact

This article appeared in the 26 April issue, under the headline “Let’s go techno”



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