In times of severe budget constraints and a rising number of older people in need of support, innovative solutions that help with prevention, enable self-monitoring, and make working methods more efficient, can have huge potential. At its last meeting in Brighton on 11-12 October 2016, ESN’s Working Group on Ageing and Care looked at a number of such examples and how they might improve service provision and quality of life.

Putting quality of life at the heart of quality assurance systems

How does the quality of social services contribute to the quality of life of their service users? With this question, Alice Schippers from Disability Studies in the Netherlands introduced participants to the debate around quality. Compared to the health sector, guidance on quality indicators for long-term care is still not agreed upon at a European level, Georgia Casanova from the National Institute of Health and Science on Ageing (INCRA) emphasised. Such guidance needs to focus on participation, integration and coordination of services, social innovation and autonomy as much as on health-related indicators. 

Implementing technological solutions to address social challenges

Loneliness and isolation are among the most important social challenges for older people, yet few social services have developed plans to tackle them hands-on. Among those that have are the City of Bruges in Belgium, and Hampshire County Council in the United Kingdom.

One part of the ‘Online neighbourhood’ (Online buurten) initiative in Flanders (Belgium) is an outreach project aimed at those who have never or rarely engaged with the Internet and are socially isolated. It offers them the opportunity to learn how to use tablet computers and online services in small groups over 10 weeks in Bruges and Oostende. The aim is to foster e-inclusion of older people, thereby enabling them to Skype with their children and grandchildren, do online shopping and research and communicate with others.

Similarly, Hampshire County Council has started pilot studies to tackle rural social isolation with tablet computers adapted for older people and a box that can turn any TV into a video conferencing facility. It aims to make it easier for older people to connect with friends and relatives as well as social and health services. Empowering older people through these technologies to connect with people without having to leave the house, to do their own shopping, and keep up social activities, contributes to their social and mental wellbeing.

Technological solutions in care services for older people

Innovations in telecare, telehealth and teleconsultations also provide huge potential to reduce demand on frontline health and social services. The working group heard about the use of ‘virtual home care visits’ in the City of Lathi in Finland, where community nurses make video calls to older people to advise them on medication, nutrition and measuring blood sugar level and injecting insulin. The virtual visits are also used to advise on social services and benefits.

Technological innovation also benefits the workforce, as the Scottish Social Services Council’s ‘Open Badges’ system illustrates. It provides a system for social care professionals to have their practical skills recognised, regardless of whether they were acquired in a formal or informal way. This encourages learning and enables employers to recognise the skills a person has that are relevant to the job – beyond professional and academic qualifications.

Outcomes of the Working Group in Ageing and Care

As this was the last meeting of the Working Group on Ageing and Care, we will now evaluate the outputs of the five meetings, including the analysed practices, discussions and recommendations, and present them next year in the form of a toolkit. Practice examples will also be made available over the coming months in our practice library.

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