AI has now been deployed in the retail, marketing, and tech sectors for a considerable amount of time. However, it has also begun to be used to facilitate improved adult social care provision. Here, we take a look at how the technology could revolutionise the sector and ease some of the pressure facing Local Authorities.
What Does Adult Social Care Encompass?
Adult social care encompasses all and any professional assistance provided to adults ‘with physical or learning difficulties or physical or mental illnesses.’ This includes help with basic tasks, such as washing, eating, and getting dressed in the morning, as well as the provision of entertainment, social environments, and medical assistance.
Adult social care can cost a considerable amount and is available from both public and private sector organisations. In many cases, an individual who requires care will utilise a combination of public and private sector providers, while also receiving informal care from friends, family, and loved ones.
How Is Adult Social Care Provided?
Currently, financial assistance to pay for social care is means tested. Individuals receive help from their local council if they come in under the thresholds and have to pay for their own care if they exceed them. At the time of writing, there are two functional thresholds in place. Individuals with a wealth that is calculated to be less than £14,250 will have all of their social care paid for by their local council. Those with a wealth of more than £14,250 but less than £23,250 can have their social care partially funded by the local council. Anyone with a wealth that exceeds £23,500 is expected to pay for their own social care.
Putting a Strain on Local Councils
Of course, this puts an enormous strain on local councils, many of which are already struggling to find the financial resources to fund their social care programmes. As the UK population ages, this strain is only going to increase, with councils facing a series of tough financial and moral decisions about the extent to which they can afford to fund and offer adult care services to their residents.
However, there are potential solutions to this problem in development. One of the most interesting is the growing use of AI in the care sector. Could machine learning, advanced robotics, and automation provide us with a way to cut the cost of social care provision without impacting on the quality of the service?
Examples of AI Already in Use in the Social Care Sector
Pepper, a humanoid developed by Japanese robotics specialists, SoftBank, is currently being deployed in care homes in the country’s capital, Tokyo. Its responsibilities include monitoring the care facility during quiet periods, such as in the night, entertaining the residents, and leading them through exercise routines.
Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg. Pepper is actually just one of a multitude of AI applications being deployed in care homes around the world.
Paro is another Japanese development. A robotic seal that’s specifically designed to interact with dementia patients, Paro has already been tested in NHS funded care homes in the UK. It is often used to help calm distressed patients and encourage social interaction and there have been repeated calls for the NHS to continue investment in the project and introduce more Paros into UK care environments.
Many of these AI applications have been designed and developed in Japan, where unique cultural and demographic factors have emphasised the need for alternatives to traditional forms of adult social care. So, what can Japan’s experiments with AI tell us about our own situation?
Lessons from Japan – What We Can Learn About AI in Adult Social Care
Perhaps most importantly, Japan’s experiment with AI social care can tell us about the problems we may experience in the future, whilst also providing innovative solutions. Japan has a rapidly ageing population and a shortage of care workers. Approximately 25% of its population is now aged 65 and over and the government estimates that they’ll require 380,000 more care workers by 2025. The UK faces a similar problem – we are an ageing population that is expected to need an additional 700,000 care workers by 2030. There is another similarity – the question: ‘where are these additional care workers going to come from?’
Historically, in the UK, this issue has been resolved by attracting care workers from abroad. However, the effects of Brexit may make this far more difficult. In Japan, where immigration is a less common phenomenon, they have turned to AI. If this movement continues to prove successful – and there is every indication of it doing so – the UK is likely to follow the Japanese lead and begin looking to AI as a solution to its own social care crisis.
What Role Does AI Have to Play in the Future of Care Provision?
Currently, there are three principal areas in which AI is making ground in the UK adult care sector. They are:
- Cobots’ – These are AI robots that are typically used to enhance a human worker’s ability to perform certain tasks. They are particularly useful when it comes to lifting, hoisting and moving individuals. Heavy lifting tasks often require two pairs of hands but cobots allow a single carer to carry out such a task, reducing the cost of expensive home visits.
- Companion AI – These are AI applications such as Pepper and Paro, which are used to offer adults companionship, stimulate social interaction and often help with memory problems or provide assistance with daily routines. There is enormous scope for growth in this area as AI improves and becomes more able to read and replicate human emotion.
- Mobility Aides – AI and robotics are combining in powerful pieces of technology that help those with physical disabilities or health problems move or retrain their muscles. Tree, another Japanese creation, is a good example of this kind of technology.
There is also a great deal of evidence that, when it comes to Chatbots in Adult Social Care, the ball is well and truly rolling and the cost does not need to be significant. Options that utilise existing technology, such as Alexa, can be implemented at a relatively low investment but with significant results. Inform Communications are currently working on a pilot project with a major UK council to do just that: get in touch with us to find out more. Small steps of great value will not cost the earth and can still make an impact quickly!
There can be no doubt that AI has an enormous role to play in adult social care provision in the future. Faced by staff shortages and a lack of funding, UK authorities will be looking for ways to cut costs while maintaining or improving service provision. AI allows them to do just that. However, care providers are keen to stress that AI will not be able to completely replace human care and that AI solutions that complement and enhance human care provision and social interaction should be the priority. If those developing the technology take note of the sector’s needs, AI truly has the potential to revolutionise adult social care over the coming years.
Have a question or want further information on how technology can help service providers ? Our expert team have been providing customer contact solutions for over 25 years. Call us on 01344 595800 or drop us a line.