Alison Rogan

Tunstall’s Ali Rogan talks about meeting the Crawley Forward Thinking Group (an inclusive forum for people living with dementia) as part of working with the Alzheimer’s Society and the Dementia-friendly Technology task and finish group.

Following my trip to Worthing, I recently spent another very pleasant afternoon with a group of 10 people living with dementia, this time in Crawley.  The sun was shining and as I arrived, there was a hive of activity putting tables up and placing chairs in the right places.

Because it was a larger group, I was a little apprehensive about how to broach the subject of dementia-friendly technology. So we began with an open question – does anyone here use technology to support their everyday lives? In retrospect, it’s a tricky question because a lot of technology we use is ‘just there’ and normalised. We don’t see it as ‘supporting us’.

Take for example our mobile phones. Out of the group, nearly half had a mobile phone. George* was the first one to talk about technology, describing his new watch that clearly displays both the time and the date. I take a look and it’s very impressive but then I spot his small blue mobile phone which is safely nestled inside his upturned cap. “What do you use that for?” I ask. “To phone people!” he replied with a smirk and everyone laughs. He describes it as “keeping him out of trouble” and goes on to explain the day he went into a pound shop and his wife said I’ll see you at the door. Half an hour later he realised he’d gone out of the wrong door. That’s happened to me and my friends before!

We chatted about other areas where technology may help us, and remembering to take medication was highlighted. Judith* used to run a care home and now lives in sheltered accommodation. She has a dosette box but does forget to take her medication. She realises when it gets to bedtime and we discussed the merits of the telecare monitored medication reminder. It sounded interesting to people but a lot of the group had others in the house that would remind them to take their tablets.

It turns out that Judith’s home is fitted with telecare but like many people, she doesn’t tend to wear her pendant which was a particular issue when she fell in the garden recently. Luckily she was okay and she whispered to me later, “I’ll wear it in the garden now”.

Judith also described the day the fire brigade called round. She was dealing with a small fire in the kitchen and was surprised when the fire engine pulled up. She seemed unaware that this would happen (as a result of her telecare monitored smoke detector alerting the response centre), but was very grateful it did.

I was keen to move the conversation on from technology to help manage risks to technology for fun. Jeff* lives with his wife and sees her using all sorts of gadgets – mobiles, tablet, laptop. He said he’s going to “go down that route” however doesn’t quite know what is out there. Cliff* was also keen to point out that his wife had set up Skype and they were talking to relatives in Australia and Canada the other week.

So technology can be fun, but it can also be vital for independence. Jonathan* lives alone in his own home and has a fabulous personal assistant. He describes himself as a technophobe and would only be able to use something very simple. Half way through the afternoon, Jonathan reaches under his jumper collar and pulls out his telecare pendant – everyone was interested and asked how much it costs. I didn’t know what arrangements Jonathan had in place, but on average the cost is as little as £4 per week which surprised most people. One member of the group said it’s not for them – I’ve got my wife so I don’t need “one of them” – and I got the feeling that it’s owning up to losing a little bit of independence to have a pendant.

But I’ll never forget what happened at the end of the meeting. Jonathan looks at me with a melancholy look and, whilst clutching his pendant, announces “I wouldn’t be without it”. That summed up the benefits of dementia-friendly technology perfectly for me.

*Names have been changed

Alison Rogan is External Affairs Director at Tunstall Healthcare and chair of the Dementia-friendly Technology task and finish group.