It is well documented that we are living longer, and that society is struggling with the cost of this both financially and socially. Many of my age now have three other generations to support financially and in many cases physically: elderly parents, children struggling with the demands of careers and families, and grandchildren.
Whether we like it or not more and more of us are having to take on at least some part of the care requirements for one or more of these generations.
Traditional retirements are long gone, I suspect, and any future planning will need to take into account more of the above, not less.
Three recent articles summarise the situation pretty well.
Stoke Sentinel via their Stoke on Trent Live article entitled ‘Alexa, open my curtains!’ Council turns to voice-activated speakers as residents told to pay for panic alarms
An eye catching headline, and technically correct, it highlights the increasing issues faced by councils in funding these ‘care@home’ services, and the large number of people that already benefit from them.
What it doesn’t do though is look at the implications of using Alexa as an alternative, or additional service. For a start Alexa needs the internet, and a WiFi Router. You more than likley need more than one Alexa, and they need configuring which to get the best out of them means a Tablet or Smart Phone with the Alexa application. To be fair non of these are huge issues but for the elderly generation they are more than likely beyond their comfort zone. My father for example has an Alexa, uses the application on his Tablet and generally makes a good job with it. He is OK so long as all is working as it was set up, but if an issue arises he calls his personal Help Desk (as an aside we share the same application so I can access his from my smart phone and tablet so I am not required to attend in person). My father though has been involved with and using technology all his life so he has a good start point. My Mother in Law on the other hand, and a old family friend who along with his wife who currently has carers in four times a day, don’t have a clue. I am not being rude, it is a fact. They have go to their 80’s without been remotely engaged with the advances in technology so are not going to start now, especially if memory issues exist. They are not alone for sure.
It gets worse as well. My generation, the ones with the increasing care demands, are not exactly technology wizards. Many are, but the majority are not. We are the generation that know how to use technology when we are shown (email, internet, online shopping) but when it comes to setting it up our go to solution? The kids.
I am sorry to say the Alexa option gets more expensive still. For Alexa to draw the curtain, you need compatible WiFi and Alex enabled curtains. They exist, they work great, but they are not cheap.
And finally ….. Alexa is dependent on electricity and the Internet so a Plan B will always be a good idea.
Now you would think from the above I am not a fan of an Alexa Type solution, but you would be wrong, very wrong, in fact very very wrong! When we were in Spain we set up Alexa and Ring based communication and monitoring solutions with my parents. Now we are back in the UK we use Alexa, Kasa and Ring to monitor and control the apartment in Spain. Here in the UK our home is very much in the Smart Home category: radiators, webcams, CCTV, lights, smoke and CO2 detectors, motion sensors all linked to Ring, Kasa, Vera, Uncle Tom Cobley and all ……..
I have a whole screen on my Smart Phone dedicated to the apps which monitor, control and communicate with the three properties.
My point is that including an Alexa Style solution into your care@home routine is a great idea, but it is harder and more expensive than a eye grabbing headline may imply.
BBC News article entitled How worried should we be about ‘Big Brother’ technology?
Well worth a read for it’s historical content (V2 Bombs), it’s the associated birth of CCTV that prompts the headline and the evolution of the Smart Speaker (Echo and Google), the 245 million CCTV cameras in operation around the world (China is forecast to have 500 million in a matter of years to facilitate their ‘social credit’ scheme to determine if you are a good citizen), and the ongoing debate and concern over big brother (any excuse to bring up 1984 and George Orwelll).
Genuine concerns yes. But you can’t make an omelette without breaking the eggs, ying and yang, heads or tails, no gain without pain ….. you get the picture, their is always a flip side to ‘progress’ and individually we must evaluate the upside and downside as pertain to us.
I can monitor the bottom of the stairs in a home of someone at risk to check they haven’t fallen down and to hear any subsequent cry for help, but at the same time I will hear what they are saying when in range of the camera. Am I monitoring or spying? I can schedule on and off times for the camera, but can I control when the person may want to use the stairs. Am I using it for good or evil?
The Guardian article entitled Families sending relatives with dementia to Thailand for care
Another great headline, which immediately sums up the cost and availability of care in the UK, but further reading throws up the real issues.
There are an estimated 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK. Local authority residential care costs up to £700 a week, with private care around £1,000. There are no prescribed staff-to-guest ratios in the UK but, with annual staff turnover exceeding 30% and 122,000 job vacancies, levels in state and private facilities tend to be around 1:6.
In Thailand, in contrast, 1:1 around-the-clock residential care with fully-qualified staff – in award-winning facilities that look like four-star hotels – costs around £750 a week.
Peter Brown moved to Thailand from the UK and opened a four-star hotel resort in Chiang Mai 11 years ago. He founded the Care Resort Chiang Mai six years ago, after becoming unhappy with the quality of care his mother was receiving in her British care home.
“I don’t believe there are any relatives in the world who want to export their mother and father to a different country,” he said. “What they want is care for their mother and father that they are entitled to and unfortunately, their local city is incapable of giving them.
“They don’t want their mother and father locked away for 23 hours a day, sat in a corridor for one hour then put back into their room, so they start to look around for alternative options. There are plenty of options in a separate country, so how can you blame them for taking it?
“You should find the solution at home. But the solutions aren’t good enough or affordable in the UK. Dementia sufferers need a lot of time and that doesn’t fit in with the western lifestyle any more. The advantage with somewhere like Thailand is that the staff are a lot cheaper and the strong family culture here. People respect the elderly as a norm. In the west, we don’t respect the elderly any more.
“The British state does need to do more because the best place for people to be looked after is where they are now.”
Now this is why the article is so interesting to me: Care in the UK is expensive, inconsistent and the general view (certainly that of the current Government) is that more needs to be done to facilitate care in the home. It is certainly something that my wife and I, and my parents, believe in 100% and as a family we have agreed to do what we can to ensure this is an option for us all when the time comes.
The comfort of your own home, familiar surroundings, closeness to life long friends, dealing with doctors and the such that have known you for years all make a huge amount of sense to us. Factor in the increased options that technology provide, and emerging options for live in carers etc and you have far better options available than a Care Home.
Oh, and for the record the cases quoted in the Thailand article all related to people who already had a ‘relationship’ with Thailand and could afford to visit the relatives in the home frequently. They weren’t just dumping unwanted people in a foreign country, not that the headline made that very clear ….
And this, dear reader, is why Marshall Innovations has decided to offer care@home services based on our experience and skills, so feel free to head on over and check tem out here.