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The cost of living, access to assistive technology and off-the-shelf answers

04 January 2023
By Matthew Ford, SCIE Research Analyst

‘Dementia-branded’ products are improving people’s lives, but can off-the-shelf alternatives do the same and save people money? My research suggests that they can.

The ‘cost of living crisis’ and the lasting legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic have further exposed the countries’ health and social inequalities. Often absent from debate is the digital divide, which considers the gap in society between those who have access to digital technologies and those who do not.

I began to examine the digital divide in relation to people living with dementia in early 2019, for my PhD in Digital Health. Motivated by the belief that everyone deserves equal opportunity to benefit from technology, and a personal connection to dementia, I set about exploring the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology by people living dementia and their families.

The technology is widely used in dementia care to support independence and help keep a person living at home in the community. As this technology has become more widespread, an industry has formed around marketing ‘dementia-branded’ GPS products, that can retail from upwards of £100.

Image of SCIE employee Matthew Ford

People living with dementia and carers told me that the price of these products was excessive and, for many, was beyond their reach. This resulted in them being excluded from gaining the benefits that GPS and other devices offer.

Off-the-shelf alternatives

Off-the-shelf products are readily available, without a specific use attached, and can be purchased online on marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay for around £10-£30. Through a series of focus groups and interviews, I presented a low-cost alternative through ‘off-the-shelf’ GPS devices. People living with dementia and their families chose a device that was then provided for them to try out. They were asked to use these devices alongside their daily lives, as I examined adoption, acceptance, and in one case abandonment, of this technology.

Awareness and training

My research demonstrated that off-the-shelf technology presents a viable, inclusive alternative, to ‘dementia-branded’ products. However, access is not the only barrier, but also awareness and education. Participants reported that more needs to be done to raise the profile of ‘off-the-shelf’ alternatives to assistive technologies, as they have a role to play in reducing disparity in health and social care and increase access to potentially vital technology.

In terms of education, to assist participants in my study I created a website and online training tool. Educational resources were co-produced with older adults and people living with the condition, and available in various formats including instructional videos to teach participants certain features, and a step-by-step user guide. In the future, to raise awareness of alternative options in technology, my plans are to repurpose this website to provide information on how to purchase low-cost off-the-shelf assistive technology and continue to provide advice and online training.

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