Technology can have real benefits

Smart speaker

Dan Mushens examines the benefits of using assistive technology to support those with alcohol related brain damage

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6th June 2019 by TFN Guest 1 Comment

Assistive technology can broadly be defined as the use of a device or system that allows an individual to perform a task that they would otherwise be unable to do, or increases the ease and safety with which the task can be performed.

With this in mind, I’m reminded of the efforts my own service has made over recent years to help the people we support to reduce the potential harmful effects of alcohol misuse, but also to better manage the impact of alcohol related brain damage (ARBD).

There’s an abundance of technology available, which includes assistive, adaptive or rehabilitative devices that can aid people with various types of disabilities.

Established devices such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, prosthetic limbs, whiteboards and walking sticks are still commonly used because of their known benefits. In the age of the digital era, new items are added to the market all the time as well.

On a basic level, some people we support have never had their own mobile phone and haven’t been able to make or receive phone calls or text messages. A phone can be a lifeline for people who live alone, drink alcohol regularly and are susceptible to injuring themselves by falling.

Therefore, we’ve helped people to buy phones and taught them to learn or relearn the skill of making and sending phone calls or text messages. This increases their sense of safety but also acts as a crucial and contemporary method of communication.

Another seemingly basic process that we’ve promoted is to help people set up direct debits and standing orders. Some people we support manage their financial affairs in what others could describe as an old-fashioned way.

On days they receive benefit payments, they’ll withdraw the entire amount and have the cash in their pockets which they’ll then to try to budget over the proceeding four weeks.

Occasionally and for different reasons, people may lose it, spend it all or simply forget to make essential payments like rent or utilities, which can put their tenancy at risk.

Using support to set up direct debits may not seem like a form of assistive technology, but when you consider it allows people to perform a task they would otherwise be unable to do, like pay their bills, I suppose it is.

Dan Mushens

Dan Mushens

When we highlight the benefits internet access and having broadband installed in their own home, it can seem like a giant leap into the unknown for the supported person who considers technology as an alien concept, or something for other people.

It always satisfies me when someone agrees to have broadband installed because I know it will open up an untapped world of assistive technological opportunity, which they just don’t know about yet.

With a home broadband connection available, several people have been supported to purchase digital television subscriptions, which contribute towards tackling boredom – a commonly stated trigger for alcohol use.

Some people have accepted support to purchase tablet devices, which enables them to complete everyday tasks like shopping, banking and ordering meals.  If someone’s mobility has been compromised due to intoxication or they’re simply having a poor mental health day, then buying groceries from the local shops, visiting the bank or preparing meals can become major obstacles to navigate.

Since early this year, our service has been promoting the benefits of smart speakers with many people already deciding to make a purchase. These speakers are great memory aids and have been used for setting reminders for appointments or to take medication doses. However, interestingly it’s the access to the music subscriptions that have been the biggest success.

One person who has historically experienced a chronic lack of motivation and lethargy, with limited engagement and social inclusion over the years, appears to have been reenergised by having the ability listen to any song he chooses by using his vocal commands from the comfort of his armchair.    

The endless capabilities of the smart speaker are not only a constant source of conversation for him when staff members visit, but the conversations he has with the actual speaker itself, albeit limited in nature, seems to have played a small part in tackling some possible issues of loneliness.

Assistive technology isn’t a substitute for person centred care and support, neither is it a one size fits all approach that can see the benefits for one person, systematically replicated with others.

However, it is an opportunity for those with an open mind to embrace evolving and available solutions that can contribute to their own continuing recovery.

Dan Mushens is a recovery practitioner for Scottish mental health charity Penumbra who believe that recovery from mental ill health can and does happen. He works in their Glasgow alcohol related brain damage (ARBD) Supported Living Service and can be found on twitter @danielmushens

7th June 2019 by DAVE YOUNG

Many chronic alcohol and substance abusers have created their Own Private Hell - OPH - (my own acronym) which has meant their near total excusion from the world surrounding them and rendering them oblivious to the mental and physical dangers of being so. Dan stimulatingly describes the methods he and colleagues use to introduce them to long-existing technology such as the mobile phone which most people won't leave the house without but which to the excluded minority seems like something out of Star Trek. Dan also describes more recent introductions such as smart speakers and a wealth of equipment designed to make necessary social inclusion a reality along with more enjoyable hi-tech such as vocal commands for their favourite music. It's a great step for the future of social recuperation.