Smart speakers project to advance elderly care across Cornwall

Elderly people throughout Cornwall will be benefitting from new digital health assistance thanks to a project led by the University of Plymouth. 

Alongside Age UK Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the University has been awarded a Technology Enabled Care (TEC) grant from Cornwall Council to buy Amazon Echo Spots for use within care environments. 

The University aims to install 150 in care homes, while the Age UK Cornwall team will provide them for 32 people in their own homes. 

The care homes and domiciliary patients will be linked with a team of 15-20 Digital Health Champions who will support them in effectively using the devices.

The devices can be tailored to the needs of the user and the environment, but broadly they could be used for:

  • Reminder for treatment or medication prompts
  • Interface to community resources such as Cornwall Link
  • Means of video communication with healthcare practitioners, family and friends
  • Enabling interaction with age appropriate media, e.g. sound media suitable for their age/interests
  • Providing an alternative means to access online opportunities for those for whom traditional methods are less compatible

The University is undertaking the work as part of its EPIC project (E-health and Productivity in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly), which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund to identify health and social care issues in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, while empowering companies to provide technological solutions.

The funding came from Cornwall Council’s TEC grant scheme, which is designed to help adult health and care managers tackle issues such as pressure on services, respond to the changing expectations of public services, and continue to improve outcomes for the people who use these services throughout the region.

Professor Ray Jones, Director of EPIC and Professor of Health Informatics at the University of Plymouth, hopes that this activity can help to address loneliness and mental wellbeing among care home residents and to improve the uptake of technology in the care sector.

He said: 

“The benefits of using such technology could mean not only reduced loneliness and better connection with families, but also help reduce demands on the health and social care system. It could pave the way for more video-conferenced and telepresence consultations in care homes, which could reduce travel times and increase capacity of primary and secondary care givers. Our aim is to raise awareness and normalise the use of video calls and voice-activated technologies among care home staff, residents and families across Cornwall, and we really hope it will make a difference.” 

The EPIC team will also be analysing how rolling out this technology in Cornwall could promote the adoption of further technologies in future, and will also be providing 15 Digital Health Champions to work directly with the care homes in the scheme to train staff and residents on how to use the technology. 

In order to assess the usefulness of the Echo Spot, care homes will be offered the chance to acquire this technology for free on the basis that they help to support and record usage data of the devices.

If you are interested in taking part in the echo Spot activities for your care/home, please contact epic@plymouth.ac.uk, or attend EPIC’s events exploring the topic:

Crossroads Care Home, Redruth, Wednesday 17 April, 2–4pm

Professor Ray Jones on the importance of the EPIC project:

The idea of the project is to develop and use eHealth - such as websites, technology and apps - to improve health and wellbeing in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and, where possible, make sure that the eHealth solutions are made there too.

Find out more about EPIC