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How retirement villages in the UK are welcoming the digital age

From a robotic dog providing companionship, to a camcorder doorbell, these are just a few ways that the forward thinking team at The ExtraCare Charitable Trust are introducing new technologies to enhance the lives of their residents.

With more than 40% of residents within ExtraCare living alone and 36% living with a disability, staff are constantly working hard to try and make their lives that little bit easier.

By purchasing, testing and often adapting off-the-shelf products, which in as many cases as possible are affordable too, ExtraCare are looking to improve the lives of older people while encouraging them to keep their independence.

Knowledge Transfer Partnership
We showcased our innovation and technology at the recent opening of Wixams Retirement Village, where we caught up with Smart Technology Specialist Alex Sleat, of The Bristol Robotics Lab of the University of the West of England, who is in the midst of working on a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with ExtraCare.

“The aim is, to take items we can get off the shelf, then adapting them or perhaps using them in different ways, to enhance the lives of older people,” says Alex, who is based in Bristol Robotics Laboratory, which is a facility that helps develop, test and implement assistive robots and intelligent sensor systems, some of which are now being used within ExtraCare villages.

For example, the Samsung SmartThings Door Sensor is being introduced in some residents’ homes, specifically for those who are living with dementia.

“The door sensor acknowledges when the resident opens the door, which might happen in the middle of the night,” adds Alex.

“This can then alert their Alexa, which will remind them to go back to bed. We’re also trialling pre-recordings from the residents’ family or friends, so it’s a familiar voice speaking to them.”

The robot dog – a life-like dog toy, which mimics the breathing movement – is owned by residents instead of an actual pet.

“While ExtraCare welcomes pets, some residents are allergic to pets, or are unable to own them anymore,” Alex explains.

“Owning the breathing dog not only offers companionship but often reminds them of their childhood, or brings back past memories, which can be comforting.”

With concerns from older people rising over their privacy, Alex and the team are working hard to ensure they help residents’ keep their independence wherever possible.

He says: “We’re encouraging residents to be more literate when it comes to technology, so they can be in control of their privacy and data.”

The Double Robot, which in effect, is an iPad on wheels could give residents the opportunity to speak to family or friends who might not be able to visit them very easily.

“It’s the simple things that make such a difference. It means we can manage on our own and keep our independence.” – Wixams Village resident, Diana Bowes.

“We’re not trying to reduce human contact, what we’re actually trying to do, is enable our residents to spend more time speaking to the people they want to speak to, especially those whose loved ones live far away,” Alex adds.

“We’re also looking at trialling healthcare appointments for residents from the comfort of their home and scheduling work meetings via the Double Robot, to keep their mind working.

“At ExtraCare, we empower residents to use their skills and experience and having the Double Robot could help encourage this, especially for those who might not be less mobile.”

Living in an ever growing digital age and learning new technologies can only keep the brain simulated, while breaking down the barriers between younger and older generations.

“A lot of older people feel distant from younger generations,” says Alex.

“Learning to use new technologies can help shrink the divide, plus, we’ve noticed some of our residents now communicate with their grandchildren better, not only because they can use modern technology but they have something to talk about.”

“For example the introduction of the Ring Doorbell, came after residents – especially those who live alone – felt nervous about answering the door to the unknown.

“Not only can those who have this doorbell, which has a camera fitted, see who is knocking at their door, but they can also be in control of who they answer the door too, thus, using their energy wisely.”

Ring Doorbell
Robot Dog
The Double Robot