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Caregiving Collaborative planning Health and wellbeing

Technology at work on behalf of persons being cared for and their caregivers

Well-chosen technological applications can improve standards in social care.

Frank O’Hagan

Enhancing skills in a time of change

In recent years, there has been an explosion of ways in which information can be shared and learning strategies developed through a variety of differing technologies, including the effective use of the internet. Caregivers of all ages have been enabled to engage, in a positive and motivational fashion, by utilising new modes of learning and caring. While children and adolescents are honing their technological expertise from their very early years, many in older generations are becoming more aware of the necessity to acquire pertinent competences in order to participate meaningfully in their increasingly digitalised communities. It has become imperative to establish a feasible and balanced approach in the usage of technology to bring about more nourishing and empowering lifestyles for our most vulnerable citizens.

Modern technology has much to offer by way of what social care personnel can arrange and undertake, in a flexible manner, to influence a more efficient use of available resources. Well-judged interventions can encourage greater understanding, reflection, and resourcefulness in improving safekeeping responsibilities among stakeholders. It may seem a cliché but the saying “Crises breed opportunities” applies to purposeful and compassionate caring. This is certainly evident as when digital innovations are put to good use for those who are unable to attend planned events or are confined to their homes for long periods. They may also be convenient and advantageous when professionals – social workers, medical staff, etc. – wish to monitor progress or provide guidance on a regular basis.

“Every failure is just another step closer to a win. Never stop trying.” … “I choose not to place “DIS”, in my ability.” (Robert M. Hensel)

Technological applications in caring

Diagnostic and tracking technologies have useful work to perform in observing and measuring how the changing tribulations associated with a disability are evolving. Additionally, they have an important function to execute in outlining evaluations on the appropriateness and significance of strategic objectives. Regarding such procedures, it is imperative that anybody being assessed and their caregivers are not voiceless but have an active, participatory role in decision-making. While diagnosis can postulate a starting standpoint for protection and remediation, it will be of little worth if apposite frameworks for on-going provision are not accessible.

Periodically, someone may display an awareness of what should be undertaken but, because of a disability, is unable to act accordingly. Various technologies are aimed at obtaining data and statistics, reinforcing cognitive proficiency by stimulating memory, presenting suggestions for action, and offering solutions to surmount a difficulty. Consequently, they can endorse independence and augment safety and security across a broad spectrum of personal, social and domestic activities – movement, time management, shopping and gardening – within commonplace environments. Exemplars include: information and communication technology – e-production and distribution of bulletins and pamphlets to keep custodians of children at risk and guardians of the frail and infirm up-to-date; programs and systems to entertain, coordinate biofeedback, and boost learning, knowledge and understanding; assistive technology – robotic aids, enlarged print for reading instructions, speech to print, ‘smart’ living quarters, etc. to ensure that formulated targets are attained; adaptive technology – software and various types of equipment, artificial limbs, mopeds and so forth, to maintain or bolster transformative changes and aptitudes for overcoming impediments and accomplishing tasks which previously would have been impossible; and rehabilitative technology – to enable patients to recover from incapacities and illnesses as in the use of virtual reality for acquiring high-priority tactics while feeling immersed within motivating surroundings. As there are similarities in the gains afforded by these numerous technologies, the umbrella term of ‘assistive technology’ sometimes is used to encompass all or most of them.

Online, hybrid and blended learning and support

Do not be surprised if you come across the terms ‘online’, ‘hybrid’ and ‘blended’ being depicted in slightly varying ways. For the purposes of this post: online refers to methodologies which only take place online; hybrid means that some partakers are physically in attendance while others are online but perhaps, now and then, use is made of both pedagogic styles; and blended denotes a combination of conventional teaching/training with members present along with online/e-learning also being employed to extend availability as well as independent contributions and flexibility.

Although found in many forms and guises, each methodology can be effective in supplementing both social and domiciliary care. They include: skills-based training; linkage with official agencies to ascertain relevant information; joining locally-networked meetings, including individualised and/or group tutorials; enrolling in remote conferences; and perhaps relishing instructive experiences via immersive involvement in virtual spaces.

As indicated already, depending on circumstances, these approaches can be utilised in a wide range of locations – in the home of the person receiving care by using a social media platform and, if necessary, in the presence of a companion; in a co-learning hub to help overcome a sense of isolation; in an authority’s social work facility or a national health centre, to name but a few. There is little doubt that online, hybrid and blended learning, and the meaningful use of assistive technologies, can achieve much in fostering a sense of self-esteem and appreciation among everybody delivering or requiring support. In all situations, high-quality oversight is paramount.

”I am still learning.” (Michelangelo (1475 – 1564) at 87 years of age)

Making worthwhile use of apps

Apps within an operating system admit users to an array of specific tasks – finding lost keys or locating disoriented loved ones who are missing; producing slides or photograph albums for those whose memories might be nudged by scenes from bygone days and find pleasure in ‘going down memory lane’; collating, in discussion with a patient being cared for, a selection of favourite music and songs to play during leisure periods; making use of audio-books to counteract poor eye sight or prevail over feeling too exhausted to enjoy active reading; employing ‘smart speaking companions’ to remind users of when medication is to be administered; engaging in pastimes such as completing jigsaws or camerawork perhaps specialising in taking photographs of flowers, trees, and landscapes.

Virtual Meetings

These get-togethers can be on a one-to-one basis or for connecting observers across diverse settings. By facilitating virtual attendance at events, the inconvenience of travelling while under pressure from a packed schedule is eliminated. Arrangements set up for families and friends, including inhabitants of care homes, are helpful in eliminating remoteness and enrichening camaraderie. They also have a role to play in consultations with professionals such as: designated visiting nurses when reviewing developments; dieticians advising on a correct selection of food and liquid intakes; and occupational therapists providing instructions and guidance during activity sessions.

Therapeutic inputs can be multifaceted: to illustrate – partaking in mindfulness could be in solitude at home or in a park, with a troupe of acquaintances on a nature walk, or online with a facilitator to lead dispersed participants in moment-to-moment contemplation with images and music transmitted to assist in focusing and deepening their partnership. An excellent instance of technology extending inclusive practices was witnessing a regular member of a weekly mindfulness group joining in from his hospital bed.

“Technology is best when it brings people together.” (Matt Mullenweg)

Advantages and potential drawbacks

There are, of course, both gains and conceivable hazards related with the different forms of assistive technologies and online/hybrid/blended learning and assistance. It is imperative that stakeholders, regardless of their age, have opportunities to profit from guidance by reputable mentors and not be misled by technological noise, fads or gimmicks. Everyone must be made fully aware of the dangers posed by fraudsters who use trickery, adopt a ‘false persona’, or manipulate virtual communications to delude and cheat. Additionally, consideration needs to be given to the fact that caregivers frequently suffer from what can be termed ‘digital deprivation’ as when they cannot afford suitable technological equipment, lack sufficient space and privacy, or have not been trained in technical skills to make first-rate usage of undoubted benefits.

Some learners and trainees prefer face-to-face exchanges and may be dissatisfied when advice and guidance are only available or delivered online. Others suffer by becoming caught up in what is occasionally referred to as the ‘always on’ culture, thus risking subsequent burnout or exhaustion. Searching endlessly for snippets of information or gossip on various platforms can prove to be somewhat addictive, waste energy, lead to neglect of important chores, and failure to give enough thought to essential priorities. Unfortunately, spending too much time in seclusion might be a forerunner for moods of loneliness and isolation. Nonetheless, there is an increasing need for all users to grasp the great improvements which technology brings to modern living. Despite possible pitfalls, with proper care and attention to detail, many rewards await.

Concluding remarks

It is not surprising that caregivers often feel that they form a hidden and marginalised community. Interactive opportunities for contact with specialists in specific ailments, and with fellow guardians, can go far in overcoming uncertainty and distress linked with caring duties. Technological innovations supply the capacity to make openings for learning and training more accessible, enhance inclusiveness, and stimulate a genuine culture of companionship. Noteworthy advancement can be achieved by bringing together interested parties – who are undergoing significant obstacles and challenges – to engage in relevant assemblies, workshops, and evidenced-based therapies.

In summary, among the numerous advantages of technology at work in social care are: (1) easy access to seminars and training prospects taking place in both neighbouring or distant locations which are too problematic or expensive to attend; (2) flexibility concerning the learning context – ensuring privacy for reserved or reticent individuals; assisting voluntary and paid workers to competently address issues arising from disabilities or additional needs; aiding caregivers in expressing and sharing ideas and good practices; and (3) options to record, monitor and review through in-person or online sessions with the aim of identifying requisites, deepening knowledge and understanding of specific topics, and ensuring superb back-up.

References

This post is partially related to an article on good brain health which is also available on this website. If of interest, the link to it is: https://improvingcareand.education/enhancing-brain-health-biological-research-technologies-lifestyles/

Acknowledgements

I have written this post from a personal point of view. However, I wish to express my thanks to Jo Berry and Katy Green for raising my awareness of the multiple benefits which can result in social care practices through the effective use of technology in action.

By O'Hagan

Dr Frank O'Hagan has formerly worked as a science and mathematics teacher, social welfare officer, teacher education lecturer, university lecturer and inspector of educational establishments. Now retired, he continues to have a keen interest in education and provision for carers.