Can Medical Technology Really Solve the Problems in Care of the Elderly?
Care for the elderly, both at home and in residential establishments, is frequently in the press. More often than not, it’s in the tabloids for the wrong reasons; with news reports focusing on poor standards of care and cases of neglect.
According to inspections carried out by the Care Quality, a quarter of home-care services for the elderly in England are not meeting minimum standards of quality and safety. In addition to this, many establishments didn’t take the views of relatives and carers into account. 30% of nursing homes had a ‘Do not attempt resuscitation’ policy, 35% said that getting medication to residents on time was ‘sometimes’ a problem and just over half offered training to their staff on how to deal with a patient suffering a stroke.
Technology: An Opportunity for Improvement?
With an ever-increasing population of over 60s, healthcare for the elderly has never been so important. Indeed, it’s believed that by 2035, close to a quarter of the population will be over the age of 65. Yet with government cuts in spending, it’s been suggested that the future looks somewhat bleak in terms of care for the elderly.
Advances in medical technology have made a considerable difference. For example, Edith Garside, now over 90, wears an alarm button around her neck, enabling her to get in contact with emergency help if she has a fall. Once assistance arrives, a machine is used to gently lift her up without the risk of further damage, protecting her knees and hips.
‘I just have to have help,’ she says, ‘and they have been wonderful for me.’
Improving Health Services and Lowering Costs
There are currently a number of companies developing innovative new technology to improve the lives of the elderly in the UK; and to provide additional support for the over-stretched NHS.
The technology tends to fall into one of two areas; monitoring or assistance.
- Monitoring devices. Monitoring and surveillance equipment enables patient’s health to be more easily assessed, and can alert the relevant carer if something goes wrong or an accident occurs.
- Assistive devices. Assistive technology is designed to help the individual with a task they may no longer be able to do with ease, such as rising from a chair, walking or even opening a tin can.
Dr Christine Brown Wilson from the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work at the University of Manchester, highlights the advantages of using technology to enable more independence, and to allow staff more ‘quality time’ to spend with elderly people in their care.
However, others are concerned about the potential that technology offers for cutting corners. Professor Noel Sharkey from the University of Sheffield, expresses concerns about the social impact on patients; suggesting that readily available technology within the home would effectively leave them isolated from society.
As technology continues to develop, it raises many questions, both in terms of practicality and morality. Whilst having robots to wash hair, feed and assist mobility is a remarkable testament to technological achievement, do patients actually benefit from losing the ‘human touch’?
Of course, this is a matter of personal opinion. However, one thing does seem certain. As technology advances, so too does the NHS’s reliance on sophisticated equipment to take on some of the burden.