Social Care: is there an app for that? By Hannah Murphy

App for thatiPads and tablets seem to appeal to a wider range of people than the usual gadget-lovers. They are increasingly topping the wish lists of people aged 65+ and at the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust (JRHT) we are seeing more and more people coming into our care homes with tablets and asking about Wi-Fi. So could touchscreen tablets enhance social care?

Since last September I’ve been examining the evidence that they are already beginning to. In dementia care, access to the internet’s abundance of music, pictures and videos is helping people recall past experiences and spark more conversations with each other, carers and between generations. When I’ve used iPads with people in JRHT’s retirement communities, I’ve found it amazing how access to the app store can open up conversation about a person’s life and interests.

It’s not about the technology itself, but what you do with it. Its place in social care must be to enrich – not replace – essential human interaction. One way it could support better relationships is by transferring the excessive paperwork of care workers onto a user-friendly, digital medium. If this was done well, it would give time-stretched carers the ability to focus more on the meaningful aspects of care than the administration. At JRHT, we want to go further than this and use iPads to rebalance the “do to” culture of care – where residents receive one-size-fits-all care rather than being involved in shaping it to their needs.

Inspired by JRF’s A Better Life findings, we think tablets could provide a tool to ensure the voices of older people with high support needs, and those who know them best, are heard and acted upon. The iPad could be owned by the resident and enable them to:
* make and/or maintain connections with what and who matters to them;
* voice their individual preferences in a way which could feed into their care plan;
* engage with the care home through opportunities to feed back.

There are exciting new ways to listen to what matters to people and tailor their care accordingly. It could be as simple as a “how am I feeling?” function or a “matters to me” priority list a carer could pick up when they enter their room. Existing apps which help people coordinate care or express their preferences could provide the building blocks for these ideas to become reality. I presented these ideas to the National Care Forum and was struck by the enthusiasm for this kind of innovation.

There seems to be a lot of potential for new technology to complement care for the 21st century. Not just to make it more efficient, but to make it more personal, involve loved ones better and enhance the enjoyment good care should offer. The technology needs to be truly fit for purpose, customisable to meet a variety of needs. The trouble for us non-techy people is: Where to start?

What do you think? I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences.

Hannah Murphy is an intern with the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust (JRHT), interested in how we could use technology to enhance the experience of residential care. She is also looking how we balance risks and relationships in care homes and assisting with John Kennedy’s Care Home Inquiry.


2 thoughts on “Social Care: is there an app for that? By Hannah Murphy

  1. Hi Hannah,

    Thanks for letting us use your article. The use of technology as an adjunct to care delivery seems to be an idea whose time has come (or at least whose time is nigh). Do you know of any useful, publically available (and preferably free) apps that readers could use?



  2. Hi Stuart,

    No worries, thank you!

    Tough one! Firstly because there’s loads I’ve come across so this might be a long comment and secondly because it all depends on what’s right for the individual. Different levels of skills, requirements and interests will be the main thing dictating what someone might value:


    With this in mind, accessibility is a key issue. Websites like “AbilityNet” and books on the subject can help people find their way around accessibility options to customise for various impairments or preferences. There are also apps like “Zilta” (free) which simplify the Android interface by making the icons larger and only including relevant ones on the homescreen. “Breezie” (supported by Age UK) does this as a whole tablet solution, which is costly but does include a personalised tablet and support.

    May be helpful for people living with dementia:

    I mentioned that apps could potentially help people communicate their preferences. “Talking Mats” is a great example of this, proven to help people who have difficulties communicating express what’s important to them.
    For more fun apps, “memory apps for dementia” has (some free) suggestions on their website. “iReminisce” is the first reminiscence app – which is an equivalent of a lifestory book based on the link between reminiscence and improved wellbeing for people living with dementia. Personalised remembering doesn’t have to involve a specific app however; “Google maps” and “YouTube” are often used in guided reminiscence sessions.


    Social networking sites like “Facebook” may be great for some but there are many other apps which enable close groups to stay in touch. “Skype” and “Facetime” are the main video call apps and there are others are designed to be even simpler. “Circly” (free) allows a circle of people to see each other but without the difficulties that usernames and passwords can present to some. “Visbuzz” is a tablet solution (again costly as includes tablet cost + support) where you only have to touch the picture of the person to connect them to a video call and has a simple messaging system. If easy video calling is all someone wants from a tablet this could be the solution.

    Supporting people to care

    Technology can support stronger caring networks by enabling people to keep updated, coordinate caring and even involve care professionals in one space. I’ve come across many free or relatively cheap apps such as “Yecco”, “Hometouch” and “Jointly”. I like “Tyze” (free) which involves the person being cared for and focusses on keeping them connected and at the centre. These apps often involve a social element, allowing the people caring to share photos and messages too.

    Etc. etc.

    Tablets and the app store are full of free apps for a wide range of interests. Whether it’s Sudoku, recipes, the ability to voice-record, video call or take pictures; an easy-to-use device can create so many opportunities to maintain hobbies and gain new ones.

    This comment might be a bit overloaded with namedropping and info but hopefully this will give an idea of what’s out there and why I think there’s potential for the care sector to better make use of some of these elements to involve outside networks and make caring more personalised and enjoyable.


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