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Live Labs Community Impact: Adult Social Care

30 November 2020

In our latest blog, Zoe Collis, the Live Labs Adult Integration Project Manager from Buckinghamshire Council, and Brigitte Sodano-Carter, the Project Delivery and Development Manager from Suffolk County Council, talk about their Live Labs trials to support adult social care within their communities. 

Zoe: Buckinghamshire Council has been looking at how we can use digital solutions to better support people to remain in their own homes. Currently, we are focusing on vulnerable adults at the start of their journey into social care, as we are aiming to maintain their independence for as long as is physically possible and safe to do so.

As a part of the Live Labs, we have identified home sensors, wearables and a mobile app as potential solutions, which will be used together to provide a picture of vulnerable people’s daily lives.

The mobile app will allow users to report and track their mood. Where people have suffered from a recent significant mental health event, registering a low mood can trigger support from family, carers or social workers. The app will also collect data from home sensors to monitor any instances from three target areas – urinary tract infections, falls and leaving home unexpectedly. Urinary tract infections may be picked up quickly through monitoring the frequency of bathroom visits during a night, for example. Or, if a person is at risk (i.e. if they suffer from dementia) an alert can be triggered if their front door is opened at night. If they are using their wearable device, they can be located quickly through their proximity to a particular lamppost. To prevent any falls, the app could potentially send a warning alert if it’s icy outside. The wearable device will also allow the frequency of falls to be tracked and included in a single application, allowing all information to be easily accessible in one place.

These Live Lab innovations have come about due to the creation of the MESH network in Aylesbury, which uses sensors and nodes in lighting columns. The network of sensors can communicate with each other and store data.

If these technologies work together successfully, they will enable people to have better control over their daily lives and proactively prevent or limit any care emergencies. Although the original focus of the Bucks’ Live Lab was on transport, these additional insights have been taken up by adult social care to help vulnerable people interact more safely with their environment. In the future, they could be used to monitor traffic patterns and manage the timings of carer visits more efficiently. Furthermore, this type of data, when anonymised, could be used to identify trends as people move around their communities - for example, if an area is being avoided, it may need to be made more accessible.

The proof-of-concept trails for the sensors will begin in 2021 and will evaluate the quality and accuracy of the technology.

Brigitte: In Suffolk, the ‘A Smarter Suffolk’ Live Lab has also been exploring innovative technology within the adult social care sphere. The team have been capitalising on Suffolk County Council’s rollout of a countywide low-power wide-area communications network LoRaWAN. Using the LoRaWAN network to develop a Wi-Fi connectivity, will enable innovation in adult social care.

The proof-of-concept technology trial consists of various types of sensors monitoring the activities and movements of vulnerable people in a non-intrusive way. Like Buckinghamshire, sensors can identify front doors being opened and closed and if a vulnerable person leaves their house. The technology mounted on the street lighting should be able to sense their direction of travel and send a message to their carer. Sensors in the home will also learn and then monitor daily activities such as levels of carbon monoxide, water leak detection and when movement is sensed, will even light a path to the bathroom at night time.

We expect to trial the sensors in an East Suffolk retirement home, where a scheme manager will be able to monitor readings and alerts. In future, it is hoped that alerts will trigger a response that will prompt carers to investigate potential issues. For example, the system could notify a carer if the user hasn’t switched the kettle on at their routine time.

The ultimate objective of this trial is to confirm that the technology can enable vulnerable people to live independently for longer and retain access to carers if required – a preferred option for most. The sensors should reduce strain on social care and healthcare services and provide peace of mind for families, that any irregular activity or inactivity will prompt someone to check on their loved one.

At this stage of the study, the technology needs to be tested to ensure that the sensors are working with the LoRaWAN and Wi-Fi network functions as required, and are reliable in different seasons and communities. In Suffolk, we can have trials in a range of environments – urban, rural and costal – meaning that the results will be relevant nationally. We will analyse feedback from the sensors to the dashboard and measure accuracy. Importantly, trial users will be able provide their views, including if they find the sensors intrusiveness. We hope to be able to generate trustworthy anonymised evidence about the suitability and value of the technology and share our findings nationally.

Working in similar fields but with different technologies, the Buckinghamshire and Suffolk Live Labs are able to complement one another without duplicating time and effort. Both teams are keen to share learnings and ensure that these trials can result in social benefits beyond the original Live Labs ambition to bring innovation to local roads, environment and transport.