Intelligent Personal Assistants could drive down disability support costs

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A research project is underway exploring how Intelligent Personal Assistants can support people with learning disabilities to become more independent within their supported living accommodation.

Innovation foundation Nesta is supporting the project, which is led by Innovate Trust, with grant funding of £15,000.

The Trust provides a supported living service for 275 people with learning disabilities to enable them to live in the community.

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The type of support depends on the individual needs of each person, including taking medication, attending appointments and carrying out household chores. Services are delivered under contract with the three local authorities of Cardiff, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Vale of Glamorgan.

The Trust has identified that intelligent personal assistant technology has great potential to support a person with learning disabilities to live independently in the home.

It plans to research and test the use of IPA, and find out how it can work harmoniously with current assisted living technology such as sensors in the home to identify activity e.g. trips to the bathroom and kitchen during the night.

The Trust aims to trial the use of IPA technology in two supported living schemes and compare this to two control homes without IPAs. Staff support will continue throughout the research period.

If proved successful the IPA system can then be used in other supported living homes during the implementation phase, with the aim of increasing the independence of people with learning disabilities to manage their daily lives.

Providing the current model of supported living is expensive and labour intensive, according to the Trust. Assistive technology is a possible option in obtaining greater independence for people with learning disabilities while also achieving cost savings.

An IPA enables a person to operate a range of services via voice command, for example, house utilities, security and communication devices and also acts as a resource by providing a bus timetable, alarm clock and diary.

This is in addition to being a useful device to aid speech development or simply enable a user to relax by listening to music.

The project will help to make the case for the use of IPAs in the home of the service user and help persuade families and statutory services of the benefits.

The implementation of IPAs is anticipated to make a saving in night time support currently at £68 per night per supported living scheme, which over a year amounts to £24,820.

The Trust anticipates that 10 schemes could initially benefit from IPA technology amounting to savings of £248,200 per year. Each supported living scheme accommodates three to four people, therefore benefiting up to 40 people with learning disabilities.

This would also be a cost saving to the local authorities within their supported living contracts and ultimately, across the social care sector.

The use of IPA technology could also increase safety in the home by associated fire and heat sensors raising the alarm quicker than a member of staff who is sleeping-in on the premises.

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