Getting to Grips with Technology

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Applications, Advancements and Gaining Independence

With 13.5% of its population being aged 65 and over, Richmond council and many of its affiliated charities have invested a lot of time over the years helping this vulnerable, and often isolated, section of society to gain the vital independence that comes from the ability to use technology confidently.

INS is no exception and since its inception 15 years ago, one of the key aims of Integrated Neurological Services has been to help clients retain their independence whilst managing their conditions. In the midst of this technological revolution, teaching those who are unfamiliar with all the gadgetry that is now available has never been more essential.

INS trustee Jenny Brown uses technology in the form of an application on her smart phone to monitor her heart condition. She gave an interview, highlighting just how essential technology is in this day and age, not only for one’s health but also for maintaining a sense of independence.

JB

What does your work as a trustee for INS involve?

Jenny Brown: I’ve been an INS trustee for three years and apart from participating in trustee meetings, which take place about four or five times a year, they also have workshops which I attend. I’m also a member of the fundraising committee and I’m currently chairing the communication group on an interim basis and I help out with fundraising events. It’s very busy here so there’s never a shortage of things to do.

What sort of fundraising have you done most recently?

JB: Last year I introduced Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson to INS. She had agreed to do the annual lecture for us, which raised a lot of money. I also helped out with the garden party which took place at Trumpeter’s House in Richmond. INS needs to raise a huge amount of money every year and it’s quite a big task to undertake so I make sure I help out at as many events as I can fit into my schedule.

Have you found it to be challenging?

JB: It’s very challenging for the committee and INS to be able to put together the number of events which we need to raise the money we need. Not least because the staff is small and it takes a lot of work to organise a good event.

One of the things INS helps its clients with is maintaining independence through the use of technology. How has having and using technology, in the form of an application on your phone, affected your life?

JB: I had a heart problem last November and had various tests before finally going to see a Cardiologist. He explained that my heart was pretty normal but what I needed was a monitor to check my heart when I exercise and when I rest. Since then I’ve become slightly addicted to it and use it almost every day. For example, if I walk I’ll check my heart rate before I go for a walk and then if I feel slightly odd during the walk I make sure I get a read out of my ECG and my pulse rate. Otherwise I just take a reading when I get back and make sure it isn’t abnormal. It gives me a lot of confidence when I go walking, when I exercise or just when I’m generally doing activities.

Do you feel more independent having the application?

JB: Yes, I feel much more reassured and much more able to exercise because I know if anything is wrong I can just email the ECG to the Cardiologist. It’s given me a lot of confidence and the ability to exercise more and just do more of the things which I enjoy doing. I feel much more confident than I did before. I’ve also got another application which came pre-installed on my phone. It tells me how many steps I’ve taken every day, how many stairs I’ve climbed and how many miles I’ve walked. I’m trying to do 5000 steps a day and this is a great way of monitoring my progress.

How did you hear about these apps? Were they recommended to you?

JB: The AliveCor app that provides the ECG reading was recommended to me by my consultant. It requires an attachment plate which comes in the form of a mobile phone case. I bought the case from Amazon and then just downloaded the app for free. The device is priced around £79 but for the confidence it’s given me and the amount of exercise it’s got me doing I honestly believe that it’s worth every penny. Not only does it monitor my health but it has improved it. Exercising strengthens your heart so the more I do, the more confident I get that I’m not going to have any more heart problems.

What can you tell me about the technological support provided by INS?

JB: As I am used to using technology, I had no problem downloading and using these applications on my phone to monitor my health. Unfortunately a lot of people, especially older generations, aren’t as technologically literate and therefore these sorts of applications and devices aren’t useful to them. However, INS run classes on iPads and tablets for their clients to help get them used to this technology and give them the confidence to use these gadgets. Furthermore, Richmond council are running Be Online month which, amongst other things has a very good website aimed at helping older people use technology. If you look at the list on Richmond council’s website, there’s a huge number of drop in sessions and courses which people can do to help increase their knowledge and give them the confidence to use technology like this. I definitely would have found using this app challenging if I hadn’t been au fait with technology to begin with.

The other thing they’re doing is working with technology and people who have been diagnosed with things like dementia to help them stay safe in their own homes. There’s a lot of technology available to aid with that which the council is advertising on their website as well.

It’s all about keeping people’s independence. I think this month is really encouraging people to access these resources use the technology and therefore the apps like I have. It’s a really good thing they’re doing. Along with INS who are teaching their clients about new technology in their classes.

Do you feel that more people should be made aware of this sort of technology?

JB: I think it would be marvellous if more people were aware of it. Rather than going to see my consultant or GP I just send them a trace of my ECG and they come back to me. It saves time on follow up appointments and could potentially save the NHS a lot of money.

I’m just really pleased to know about these things but unfortunately not many people do and that’s what Richmond council are doing with the help of all their courses about technology.

Being able to actively monitor your own health is essential to maintaining independence no matter what your age and it’s wonderful that Richmond council is running a number of initiatives to help people gain confidence when it comes to using technology.

Be Online Month is a campaign being run by the council from February 15th to March 11th and consists of a variety of classes designed to help older people become more confident using technology.

Whilst the campaign is in association with a nationwide awareness fortnight run by the Be Online charity, the month long campaign run by Richmond council aims to build on the vision set out by Councillor Marcel. A goal he has highlighted in his manifesto is to run “a number of campaigns to raise awareness of services for older residents, in particular with regards to loneliness and isolation and how this can be achieved through greater access to new technologies.”

Schemes such as the Be Online month provide essential support for elderly residents and allows members of the community to increase their confidence when faced with unfamiliar technology.

Whilst the elderly are the primary focus of this campaign, the classes are in fact open to anyone and range from learning how to write a CV to being taught how to use eBay.

A full list of the workshops available can be found at www.richmond.gov.uk/be_online_month

Further services that Richmond council are also offering include a Telecare package. A Telecare package consists of a variety of gadgets and technology that allow those who have been diagnosed with dementia to maintain their independence at home. Available devices range from smoke, flood and carbon monoxide detectors to medication dispensers and alarm pendants.

All of the assistive technology that is supplied aims to help with patient’s memory and recall and are all linked to a response centre, allowing for both peace of mind and increased independence.

For those who are already well acquainted with technology but are still wanting to take a more active role in looking after their health, you can use the new “Health Help Now” application that has been developed by the Richmond GP Alliance. You can find out more by visiting http://www.commpartnership.co.uk/new-local-health-app-and-website-avialable/ which offers further details.

There are also helpful links that allow you to find the location, opening hours and contact details of your local practice, all in one convenient place. ‘Health Help Now’ can be easily accessed via your internet browser or, for those with smart phones and tablets, an application is available to download. The website was launched in 2014 by the GP Alliance and is tipped to be better than the health service’s current website, NHS Choices.

Whilst increased independence through the use of technology is undoubtedly the key message to be taken from both INS’s classes and the council’s Be Online month workshops, making people aware of everything that is available to them is the first and arguably the most important step.

Through a plethora of schemes, classes and workshops, both Richmond council and INS are providing vital services within the community. Not only are they reaching out to help people learn how to use all these new gadgets and gizmos, they are taking the even more important step of informing us all about just how much technology is out there. Allowing us to actively monitor our health and wellbeing and ultimately reclaim our sense of independence once more.

Charlotte Trueman

INS Volunteer Journalist