In this week's column, Jason Brock, the leader of Reading Borough Council, celebrates the council winning over £1 million to invest in monitoring technology that helps to enable elderly residents to stay in their homes. Councillor Brock writes:

Older residents in Reading continue to tell us that, for as long as they are safely able to, their first choice is to live independently at home. That’s completely understandable, and it’s certainly what I would want for both me and my loved ones too.

The days when the default position to meeting care needs was being moved into a residential care home are now long gone. Such specialist homes still have a hugely important role to play depending on the level of care required, but for residents who remain confident and well enough to remain at home, maintaining a level of independence is a big consideration for them and their families.

It’s against this backdrop that I’m delighted the Council very recently successfully secured over £1 million in extremal funding to develop our work in this vital area. The pot of money is from the Adult Social Care Technology Fund and will allow the Council to expand an ongoing project to trial how technology can help keep older residents of the borough living safely at home for longer.

How does it work? Smart sensors are installed in people’s homes that then go about collect information on the resident’s daily routines - things like sleep patterns, bathroom visits and meal preparation times. Once the system learns these regular patterns, which usually takes two weeks, it can alert the resident’s family members if anything out of the ordinary happens. This might be, for example, someone suddenly starting to make more trips to the bathroom at night, or an indication that they are no longer preparing meals. In most cases it may be nothing out of the ordinary, but it can be an early warning system in case anything is amiss.

The technology is particularly helpful for individuals who have been discharged from the hospital, or people living with long-term health conditions. In these cases, staff have been able to use the information to swiftly provide appropriate support to residents and, in the longer term, enable them to continue living safely in their own homes.

We often hear concerns raised about the impact of how modern technology can gather and use personal information – and understandably so – but here is a real example of it being put to amazing use. The potential to transform the lives of some of the borough’s residents is considerable and it helps to offer peace of mind in terms of successful independent living.

As a Council, we have a responsibility to address and react to the evolving needs of our older population. As far as I’m concerned, the more we can harness this technology to enhance people’s independence, safety, and happiness, the better. This initiative sits snugly alongside the Council’s ‘home first’ policy, which we know continues to bring so many benefits to residents and local communities in Reading.