Digital technology can bring huge benefits to the health and wellbeing of people with dementia and their carers, a pathfinder project has found.
Through the Leeds Dementia Pathfinder, technology such as iPads and Alexa devices were brought to support groups and Memory Cafes, as well as loaned to carers to use at home.
The technology had an incredibly positive impact – one carer said it had “changed her and her dad’s life” after she used it for medication, exercise and appointment reminders.
Another said that using an iPad had helped him to feel less isolated as it had enabled him to continue with his hobbies as well as spend more quality time with his wife, playing games and listening to music together.
Overall, carers said there were practical benefits, such as enabling them to manage medication or get health information. They also said it improved their wellbeing by providing them with online support, as well as an opportunity to relax, socialise and have fun.
The pathfinder was part of the NHS’s Widening Digital Participation Programme, delivered by NHS Digital, which aimed to make digital health services and information accessible to everyone – particularly the most excluded people in society.
In addition to loaning out technology, the Leeds Dementia Pathfinder – which was run by 100% Digital Leeds alongside several community partners – provided training and resources.
Almost 800 people engaged with the pathfinder over 12 months, including people with dementia, carers, staff, volunteers and stakeholders. Among them were 172 people who trained as Digital Champions.
Lessons learned from the project, as well as the equipment, were used to continue to provide vital support when the UK went into lockdown due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in March - just as the pathfinder finished.
Devices were loaned to settings such as care homes, hospital wards, support groups, Carers Leeds and Neighbourhood Network Schemes across the city. This enabled staff to support residents, patients and isolated older people to stay connected with friends and family using video calling.
Val Hewison, Chief Executive of Carers Leeds, said: “The Leeds Dementia Pathfinder had a really positive impact on carers’ lives. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and lockdown, it was more crucial than ever to keep in contact with carers of people with dementia. We used our experience and knowledge gained through the Leeds Dementia Pathfinder work to do this. We found creative approaches to digital technology to help carers who are socially isolated and by so doing, we improved that ever important connectivity with families and communities.
“Our work with 100% Digital Leeds means we are confident in encouraging and supporting carers of people with dementia to improve their quality of life, empowering and building on the wealth of strengths of carers that already exist. None of this would have been possible without the success of the Leeds Dementia Pathfinder project.”
Across the country, 20 pathfinders have been run in partnership with the social change charity Good Things Foundation to test new ways of helping people access digital tools to improve their health.
Helen Milner OBE, Chief Executive of Good Things Foundation, said: “We’re stunned by the transformational stories we’ve seen from the dementia pathfinder across the board. It’s helped people with dementia live their lives more comfortably, given care workers essential relief, and has equipped support groups with better tools to serve their community. An 84-year-old carer put it best: ‘No one knows what it’s like to be a dementia carer until you’ve lived through it. Using the iPad meant I could have some ‘me time’ as well as have some lovely and connected moments with my wife. It helped us so much.’
“We’ve learnt that digital skills deliver a wide range of health improvements and have huge potential to create better health outcomes in the future as we move into a post-COVID-19 world.”
Ian Phoenix, Director of Citizen Health Technology at NHS Digital said: “It is fantastic to hear that this pathfinder made such a huge difference to the lives of people with dementia and their carers, not only during the project but during the period afterwards when support was provided remotely using digital technology.
“The main aim of the Widening Digital Participation programme was to develop innovative ways to improve health and wellbeing which could then be rolled out more widely – and this is a great example of that. The Leeds Dementia Pathfinder shows what a critical role digital technology can play in tackling health inequalities.”
An evaluation of the pathfinder can be found here