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HomeCare blog - July 2018

HomeCare blog

In the summer of 2017 our team had the idea of using voice assistants to help the older generation when we attended an ai4good event. We decided to make an application for the older generation based on Amazon’s voice assistant ‘Alexa’, with the stated mission:

'To empower older people to feel confident, be independent, and remain socially connected in our ever-changing digital world.'

The initial idea was focused on medicine reminders, security checklists, and helping people find events in their local community.

We chose to use Alexa for many reasons.

  1. It’s relatively affordable and is widely recognised
  2. Third-party developers are welcomed by Amazon
  3. There’s an Alexa device with a screen as well as speakers, called the ‘Echo Show’. Having this combination of speakers and screen is the most user-friendly option for older people, whose eyesight and/or hearing isn’t always the best.

Within a couple of months, we’d developed a prototype and were on the road with it, soon getting major input from many parties, with a special mention for AgeUK and NHS EPUT (Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust).

We trialled the service with 20 people across the country with an average age of 78 to get their feedback on how we could improve, and from that trial we moved onto a further 25 people living in sheltered housing estates in Hackney, London.

When we heard about the challenge we were super excited as our mission has huge overlap with the gauntlet that Essex council threw down, and we had already been talking with the NHS EPUT team.

Our entry to the contest [thanks to the lawyers…] is formally known as the 'Accenture Independent Living Platform', though we’ve been calling it 'HomeCare' as that’s how our users interact with it. We’re excited to see where we can take what we built so far and hone what it offers to those people living with dementia and those that care for them.

We recognise that dementia is never the same disease for different people, and that most will have their own unique journey. It has a huge impact on family and friends too. We hope that our vision for HomeCare can help care for real needs of our users, be conversational and forgiving, and reinforce rather than remove people’s autonomy.

The Challenge Team have been incredibly helpful so far, and we look forward to working with the partners at Alzheimer’s Society, PA Consulting, TechUK, and Essex University. Our team is made up of designers, developers, and Dr Justin Marley from NHS Essex. We hope that in due course we can try our service with real people living with dementia and make sure it isn’t a product that only sounds good in theory, but does good in reality.

The use of technology to help those affected by dementia, one of the UK’s most difficult yet under-supported challenges, is not only an opportunity but - we in the team would argue - a necessity. The care infrastructure today does not have enough money or people to cope with the increasing prevalence of dementia, and – despite rising to this challenge – care providers are looking for increasingly innovative and cost-effective solutions to meet the demand. If we can alleviate this burden in some way, surely that will have been worth it.