University of Hertfordshire to support delivery of £1.1 million project to provide digital innovations for vulnerable residents

 5 April 2024 5 April 2024
5 April 2024

In a successful joint application with Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Integrated Care System’s (BLMK ICS) Digitising Social Care (DiSC) programme and Health Innovation England, a team of researchers from the University of Hertfordshire has secured £1.1m funding from the latest wave of NHS England’s Adult Social Care Technology Fund. This will be used to develop digital innovations that support vulnerable adults including people living with dementia.

Supported by the Applied Research Collaboration East of England and The Office of Health Economics, the research will evaluate the impact of introducing new pain assessment technologies and robotic companions in different adult social care settings. In particular, the innovations aim to support older people, particularly those living with dementia, and their carers.

One such innovation is PainChek, an electronic device that identifies and manages pain for those who are unable to communicate it verbally. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) to spot small changes in facial expressions and voice to quantify a pain score and guide carers to provide the right support. The funding will enable around 1,000 residents in a variety of settings to be assessed by their care provider.

Additionally, as part of the initiative, around 1,300 care home residents will be provided with a robotic companion to provide comfort and decrease loneliness. Robopets are intended to provide a calming influence, give people greater independence and confidence, and to improve mental health and wellbeing.

Dr Jenni Lynch, Reader in Social Care, Technology and Knowledge Mobilisation at the University of Hertfordshire who is leading the implementation arm of the project, said: “We are absolutely delighted with this opportunity. Our researchers have worked extremely hard to secure this funding as we know that around 50% of people living with dementia have undetected and untreated pain, leading to huge amounts of distress.  Loneliness and social isolation are also major factors affecting the wellbeing of people living with dementia. With this project we can hopefully shed more light on how advanced digital technologies can be used to tackle issues that really affect people's quality of life.”

It is hoped that both innovations will improve overall wellbeing and quality of life for residents by reducing distress and anxiety, which will also have a positive effect on families and carers.

Through a number of methods and processes, including focus groups and observations, researchers will capture the experiences of service users, carers and key staff. These insights will inform the development of an evidence-based plan for scale and spread across BLMK ICS.

Clare Steward, DiSC Programme Director, said: “We are very aware that depression, loneliness and dementia are real challenges for our ageing population, and are keen to invest in solutions that would help improve the quality of life of our residents and reduce pressure on care services.”

“Co-production and collaboration have always been very important to our team and after looking at a number of potential innovations, we have worked closely with our stakeholders and local care providers to agree which two schemes would most benefit our residents and providers.”

Find out more about the DiSC programme


Press Office +44 (0)1707 285 770