Digital assistants support adults to keep active at home


During Covid-19 restrictions, adults with additional support needs were spending much of their time indoors and becoming inactive.

The Council’s Reablement service provides a range of in-home care services to adults requiring support who have undergone a life change and need support to adjust to living independently in their own homes.

They grew concerned about the reduced levels of physical activity of people who no longer had carers or family visiting them regularly and helping them to move about.

NCC was in the process of a digital transformation project for digital prescribing to reduce falls risk in Reablement’s service users with their Innovation Partner, Urban Foresight. As part of the Discovery research, they learned that developing strength and balance through physical activity was key to preventing many falls.

As such, the service and Urban Foresight partnered with Active Newcastle to explore the use of digital technologies to encourage physical activity and prevent falls.

Solving the problem

Active Newcastle’s valuable experience in encouraging activity in previously inactive groups was coupled with Urban Foresight’s understanding of assistive technology deployment, and the Reablement Service’s insight into end-user needs. This resulted in the design of a programme of training for reablement staff and the trialling of Amazon Echo Shows to help end-users complete routine activities.

Active Newcastle produced an information leaflet on straight-forward and safe activities for more frail individuals to complete in their own homes. These include accessible tips on building activities into your everyday life, such as doing a dance in the kitchen whilst your kettle is boiling or doing arm and leg lifts on the sofa during a TV ad break.

Specialists from Active Newcastle provided training to the Reablement Service’s coordinators to safely introduce this activity programme to end-users. This training supplemented the existing moving and handling training, ensuring staff are now better equipped to support adults to become more active.

Finally, as part of the Digital Prescribing for Falls Prevention trial, a group of Reablement’s service users were issued with Amazon Echo shows. Their care coordinators assisted them in setting up reminders from Alexa to get up and move around throughout the day.

In one case, the Council’s physiotherapy service, the Community Response and Rehabilitation Team (CRRT), set up timed prompts for a service user on their Alexa. These prompts remind them to complete their physiotherapy exercises, something that would have previously been left up to the individual’s own motivation and organisation.

Key outcomes

The trial commenced in 2021 and participants reported positive experiences from using their Alexas to remind them to be more active.

One of the really positive aspects of the project is how older people are embracing the technology.

Ben Mclaughlan, Service Improvement Lead, Newcastle City Council

The Reablement Service is planning to test the video calling capabilities of the Echo Show. This will support the remote delivery of some new services, including assisting individuals in completing physical activities.

If successful, remote services can significantly improve the efficient delivery of home care, reducing officer travel time, and keeping vulnerable adults safe from infection transmission.

The Reablement Service has benefited from the training received from Active Newcastle, who also found a new route to supporting higher activity levels in a previously inactive population.

This experience informed a successful bid for funding from Sport England. This investment will be used for a new programme of training for in-home care staff to help people requiring care to stay active and improve their capability to remain independent in their own homes.