How AI could provide better care and attention to care-users
Words by SCOTT WILLATS
Artificial Intelligence is divisive in the social consciousness. For some, it’s the key to a utopian society concerned only of the arts and relaxation, and for others, a dystopian future of mass unemployment and perpetual Orwellian monitoring from our omniscient overlord, Empress Alexa. But are there some business sectors, involving the vulnerable, the elderly or unwell, that could genuinely benefit from such a watchful eye?
The residential care Industry is struggling. 60% of residential care homes are local authority funded and it has been reported that over the past five years, funding has fallen by £4.6 billion, a 31% reduction (Roberts, 2017). Margaret Willcox, Former President of the ADASS, says: “With a continuing funding gap this year and beyond, increased overspending in council budgets, care providers closing or returning contracts, rising need, extra costs due to the National Living Wage and continuing difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff, the social care system remains in a perilously fragile state.” (ADASS, 2017)
When I visited the care home where I once worked, I found the same team of passionate, caring, and professional individuals, who were overworked, overburdened, and underpaid. I sadly saw many of the staff trying to tackle the mounds of paperwork that have become a daily ritual. Through no fault of these carers, the residents sat unengaged, idly waiting for their entertainment team to arrive, a luxury that’s a rarity in many care homes.
“In this sector, you always need staff” says Rakesh, area manager of the home and five others (Mathur, 2018). “Its (about) time efficiency, the paperwork needs to be there because if it wasn’t written down then it didn’t happen, but if you’re too busy writing it down, it doesn’t happen as regularly” concurs Donna, a member of the management team (Willats, 2018). The exhaustive level of paper work means nothing falls through the cracks, but a less digitally focused sector uses much of its man hours on time-consuming inefficiencies that are depriving the residents for what they need the most: Genuine care.
There’s a stir among professionals that the industry is about to change. “There’s a push to keep care in the home… But we live in a culture that doesn’t support it” says Donna (Willats, 2018). Rakesh continues, “The newer generations focus on their work, their business, and they have no time to give care to their loved ones, and it is very difficult, and quite practical to employ a care home.” (Mathur, 2018) Sadly, it is now estimated that around 72% of councils only offer homecare services to those with “substantial” or “critical” needs. (UKHCA, 2012)
Catch-all solutions or products aimed at alleviating the difficulties of every individual care-user simultaneously seems futile. Donna tells me; “The meaning of care is something that would be person centred. It’s something that would built around the individual for their particular capacity or ability or disability, so I think that’s where care now needs to be made bespoke, for the individual… Even writing, something they’ve known for a long time they struggle with, so they can’t apply themselves to technology.” (Willats, 2018)
But what if technology applied itself to the care-user?
Artificial Intelligence: Always observing, never forgetting, forever learning. Not only learning the affects and side effects of each care-user’s individual medications, their dietary requirements, their exact rate of mental deterioration, but also the minutia; the recipe to their favourite meal, most treasured memory and the song they danced to on their wedding night.
Researchers estimate an AI’s ability to learn the social skills required for care will be limited, but very possible (figure 1) (Frey and Osborne, 2013). All the medical training necessary could be downloaded and replicated easily and for free. Well-programmed protocols, and sophisticated machine learning could see a personalised AI make the split-second decisions necessary to keep a care-user as comfortable, and more importantly, as safe as possible. Rakesh tells me; “The most important thing, is how the problem occurs. You need to understand when the problem is coming from far away.” (Mathur, 2018)
2033. Mary, 74, suffers from middling dementia. Her children see her daily but work full time and can only afford a private carer once a week. Luckily, she has a personal home AI. It’s noticed she has been unsteady on her legs recently. A prediction it was prepared to log since Mary switched one of her medications. Before automatically ordering this week’s groceries and waking Mary with her favourite Beatles song, the AI has sent the weekly report with its observations and concerns to the GP.
What if Mary has a fall? Her children are at work, and her part time carer is off duty. Her personal AI, detecting the issue, would systematically send GPS SOS to emergency services, call her daughter Sarah, and reassure Mary that help is coming. Within seconds, her AI follows protocol, without fear, without hesitation, and with very little training.
Truly ‘Smart’ devices may soon be able to keep vulnerable adults in their homes far longer than currently feasible. Taking some of the stress and financial burden away from the families of less vulnerable care-users may well see residential care homes cater exclusively to the extreme care-users that truly need them, allowing for better quality of care in both residential and domestic environments. AI carers could very possibly allow their human carer counterparts the time to do what they do best; Laugh, play, reminisce and connect with those who need it most.
ADASS. (2017). ADASS: ADULT SOCIAL CARE FUNDING NEEDS TO BE TACKLED NOW. [online] Available at: https://www.adass.org.uk/adult-social-care-funding-needs-to-be-addressed-now-and-in-the-futu re-says-adass [Accessed 1 Nov. 2018].
Frey, C. and Osborne, M. (2013). THE FUTURE OF EMPLOYMENT: HOW SUSCEPTIBLE ARE JOBS TO COMPUTERISATION?. [online] Oxford: Oxford University, p.35. Available at: https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf.
Mathur, R. (2018). Interview with Rakesh Mathur, Carehome Area Manager
Roberts, C. (2017). Key issues facing the UK residential care home sector. [online] DLA Piper. Available at: https://www.dlapiper.com/en/uk/insights/publications/2017/02/an-age-old-problem-the-collapseof-care-homes [Accessed 1 Nov. 2018].
United Kingdom Homecare Association Ltd (2012). An overview of the UK domiciliary care sector. [online] Sutton: United Kingdom Homecare Association Ltd, p.6. Available at: https://www.ukhca.co.uk/pdfs/Overviewofthedomiciliarycaresector.pdf [Accessed 1 Nov. 2018].
Willats, D (2018). Interview with Donna Willats, Carehome Entertainments Manager