Project outcome for the Western Isles

The Giraff

Service description

The Giraff robots are just under five feet tall, with wheels and a TV screen instead of a head [20]. The screen will allow for two-way conversations in a video-call system. The robot uses a Skype-like interface.

The software program that communicates with the Giraffe can be downloaded free of charge and can be used by any PC that has Internet connection and a webcam. The Giraff is run by rechargeable batteries and it is parked in a charging station after use. The Giraff needs broadband to work, either a fixed broadband or a fast mobile.

The Giraff is kept in the home of the person with dementia, and the controls for the robot are with the person’s relative or carer. The relative can call up the robot from a computer to effectively waken it up, and the person with dementia will not have to do anything at all. The caller’s face will appear on the screen, and the caller can then navigate the robot through the home of the person with dementia to check that all is well, check medication has been taken, food has been eaten, the person has washed and dressed, or just to provide reassurance or have a chat. The machines will allow relatives and carers to check on them, potentially from hundreds of miles away.

Description of tests

The test was carried out as a one-day trial at a day care centre in August 2013. Present were eight persons with dementia, two carers, four Alzheimer Scotland staff, two IT staff and two public health staff.

Prior to the test, the Giraff got negative publicity in the local press and there was much hostility from both carers and staff regarding the Giraff, specifically the use of a ‘Robot’ and pictures of the Giraff with a jacket on were seen as derogatory. Staff were concerned that they would lose their jobs and be replaced by robots doing manual tasks. The cost was another issue ‘are you going to be putting them into everyone’s home who has dementia’ ‘It will cost too much to use the internet all day’

On the day of the test, the sound was not working and the head of the Giraff did not tip down, however as the Giraff was being controlled from another room, by leaving the door open the person controlling the Giraff could be clearly heard.

All eight people with dementia received the Giraff well. The member of staff being seen on the Giraff screen was met with smiles from all the people with dementia as Giraff approached, the Giraff was responded to as the member of staff and not as equipment or something strange.

The staff thinks that the Giraff will be an excellent aid for those in early stages of dementia and provides a good way of communication when it might otherwise not be possible – they felt that perhaps it would be good for being able to do additional checks, particularly at times when the relative cannot be reached by telephone.

Problems with the Internet connection on the Western Isles have made it difficult to carry out a trial of any length. However, the project team is now working closely together with the Shetland partners to test the Giraff in an area with good Internet connections.

Costs and benefits

The Giraff costs £ 7,500 (9,146€) . A broadband connection is necessary to employ the Giraff.

The Giraff was not tested in users’ homes, but it is possible that replacing physical visits with visits via the Giraff will result in saved travel costs and health care staff time, as well as delayed admittance to sheltered housing or nursing homes. There is not enough data available to perform an economic evaluation or develop a business case.

Assistive technology

Service description

Different types of assistive technology have been tested. Sensor mats, radio calendar clocks, wander reminders and proximity voice memos have been deployed with users. 

Description of test

The test participants were recruited through Alzheimer Scotland, who issued the equipment. Approximately 35 items of equipment have been given out. The day date time clocks proved very helpful to many people and more were ordered during the trial.

Costs and benefits

The assistive technology tested during the project is all low-cost technology.

Training was not necessary neither for users, family nor health care staff.

Benefits experienced during the test period are increased confidence, better communication and reduced fear.

In some cases, the assistive technology may reduce the stress of carers. It is possible that decreased carer stress can delay admission to a care home.

Dementia Friendly Community

Service description

NHS Western Isles is currently working in partnership with local businesses across the Western Isles that have an ambition to become Dementia Friendly. The Dementia Friendly initiative aims to give public recognition and support to shops, businesses and towns across the Western Isles that are taking steps towards being more inclusive towards people with dementia. Staff receives cards in how to best to communicate with people with memory problems. Further education tailored to each business is offered. Small cards with advice on how to manage situations as they arise are distributed to staff. At present, 15 businesses have signed up.

The Dementia Friendly Communities programme focuses on improving the inclusion and quality of life of people with dementia. In these communities, people will be aware of and understand more about dementia; people with dementia and their carers will be encouraged to seek help and support; and people with dementia will feel included in their community, be more independent and have more choice and control over their lives.

It is envisaged that a Dementia Friendly Community is one that shows a high level of public awareness and understanding so that people with dementia and their carers are encouraged to seek help and are supported by their community. Such communities are therefore more inclusive of people with dementia, and improve their ability to remain independent and have choice and control over their lives.

It is intended to continue to roll out this initiative to the rest of the island chain.

Strategy for Deployment in the Region

Decisions on the implementation of any new services would be taken at the highest level of Health and Local Authority services. However new ways of working inherent within the Remodem Project have not been regarded as entirely new services but a way of enhancing and improving existing services.

The project has not been long enough to effectively evaluate any aspect of this project. However, there has been significant progress in highlighting dementia, the needs of service users and their carers and generating interest in professional and public circles. The Remodem Project has served to focus attention on dementia and services for people with dementia in this area.

The RemoDem services fit with a number of national strategies, for example, ‘Shifting the Balance of Care’, ‘E health Strategy’, ‘National Dementia Strategy’ and ‘20/20 Vision’. Given some additional funding the services could be routinely implemented.

The development of a Dementia Care Team for the community has been possible by dovetailing aspects of the Remodem Project with another local initiative. This is an exciting future development of a community team linked by technology.

Even during the short timescale of this project, the Western Isles have managed to dovetail it into other projects (Dementia Care Team and the modernisation of mental health services in the Western Isles). If they are able to continue, there is no doubt that it could have further synchrony with these and other projects.

The potential benefits of the tested services are for the 315 people currently diagnosed with dementia their families informal carers and professional health and social care staff.

The Giraff type technology is not only suitable for persons with dementia. It is also viewed as the way ahead for people with any long term condition, living in remote and rural areas and who require support in self-managing their condition or when health and social care staff require daily contact (possibly during a temporary exacerbation or another short term condition worsening the situation or in the temporary absence of a carer) and travelling would be an issue. Additionally, it could allow family, living at a distance, the reassurance of multiple daily contacts, if required or desired. This is particularly pertinent to island communities. There is huge potential for this type of technology in both rural and urban areas.

Published: 17/02/2013

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This is an excerpt from the complete Business plan and deployment report.