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Is Alexa finally making the internet accessible for older people?
Technology has moved on in leaps and bounds over the past couple of decades, and the advent of high speed internet has opened up all sorts of new possibilities for learning, playing and staying in touch. However, new technology has always been thought of as something for younger people, and older people, who were not brought up with computers around them, have traditionally been stumped by many of these modern facilities. 

But could recent advances in tech be about to change all that? We look at the impact voice activated technology could have on the older generation, and how things are looking for the future. 

Voice technology: The internet, without a PC

The Amazon Echo and Dot are wireless speakers which are connected to the internet, allowing users to search the web and much more by communicating with its in built artificial intelligence, Alexa. These gadgets were two of the most popular Christmas presents in 2016, and are set to be equally popular during this festive season. 

Of course, Alexa is not the only voice assistant out there. Cortana from Microsoft and Siri from Apple have been around much longer, but it is Alexa who has harnessed the convenience of being always on, sitting in the lounge or kitchen, ready to answer all your questions. And, when it comes to integrating this technology with the ‘smart’ home, the possibilities are endless. 

Ageing in place 

For older people who are still living independently, tech like Alexa can be hooked up to various items around the home, to make day to day living safer and more convenient. For example: 
 
• Alexa can connect to heating systems, to control the thermostat and switch heating on and off when people leave the house or arrive home. 
· It can be hooked up to lights too, to avoid lights being left on when rooms are not in use, or to give the impression someone is home when they are actually away visiting. 
· Alexa will organise shopping lists through voice activation, and can even order products from Amazon directly. 
· You can ask about the weather, hear the news headlines or can even play your favourite music. 
· As Alexa is voice activated, it could be used to summon help, for instance in the event of a fall. 

The possibilities for Alexa to help people who are ageing in place are phenomenal. From tackling loneliness to making life safer, it’s truly an exciting time for voice activated technology. Of course, these things need to be set up, and also require a permanent Wi-Fi connection, something that not all older people will be keen to become involved with, but in a willing household with tech savvy friends or relatives to help, elderly people could be more able to enjoy the benefits of the internet than ever before. 

The internet in the care environment 

At Blenheim House, the potential for Alexa and other voice operated technology is very exciting. Although we don’t yet have such facilities in place, we do have Wi-Fi throughout and plenty of willing care workers ready to help at any time. Many of our residents enjoy Skyping with their families, as well as using the internet, with our support, to find information and connect with other people. 

We also use technology such as Acoustic Monitoring to benefit the well-being of our residents. Acoustic Monitoring listens, non-intrusively, to residents while they’re sleeping and triggers an alert when the sound in a room exceeds set levels. This enables our care team to respond to residents in need of care. And because residents are not disturbed by in-room monitoring visits, they benefit from a better night’s sleep while enjoying greater privacy. 

We are excited to see how technology develops, and how it can be applied in our care setting to improve the lives of our residents.

Celebrating Christmas when your loved one is in a care home
If you have a loved one in a care home, Christmas may have seemed to lose a little of its sparkle. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Care homes offer plenty of opportunities to celebrate with your loved one, and to enjoy the festive season just the same as if they were still at home. 

Celebrating with your loved one 

Just because your loved one is in a care home, doesn’t mean you have to exclude them from your festive celebrations. Why not pop in and decorate their room, or bring them some Christmas cards from their friends and family to open and read with them? Aside of this, here are some top tips for making your visit and celebrations go well:

· Play music and sing: Older people can get a great deal out of singing and listening to music, so bring along a CD or an iPod with speaker to play some of their favourite festive melodies. 
· Show them your photos: So many of us leave photographs languishing on our smartphones or PCs, never to see the light of day again. Print out a handful of photos from recent events, and let your loved one look through them to reminisce and catch up on all your news. 
· Favourite foods: The care home is likely to be loaded with treats over the festive period, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring along some old favourites. From home made mince pies to their favourite fudge, a taste of home can bring comfort and joy to your loved one. 
· Get involved: Hopefully you’ve already got some familiar faces around the home, such as care workers or other residents and their families, so join in with activities to reinforce those connections. If you’re new to the home, this is a great time of year to make new friends and connect with people, which can be truly valuable in helping your loved one to feel included. 
· Don’t overdo things: As much as you want to enjoy this special time, it’s crucial not to overdo the festivities. Particularly people living with dementia can become overwhelmed if there’s too much going on, and even those who are not cognitively challenged will become tired if they try to do too much. Schedule some quiet time to let everyone recharge their batteries. 

Celebrating with older people in their care home setting doesn’t need to be anything less than magical. Talk to our team about how best to spend the festive season with your loved one, and make this Christmas just as special as all the others. 

Christmas at Blenheim House 

Our care team work hard in the run up to Christmas to get our residents involved in plenty of festive activities. From making decorations to buying and wrapping presents, we want to make Christmas just as fun in our home as it is at home, and to welcome family and friends to spend time with their loved ones. 

We like to get to know each individual person in an intimate way, particularly if they are suffering with cognitive impairment. Telling us about past Christmases, favourite foods or songs and other familiar situations can help us to tailor their Christmas experience to make it memorable. 

You are welcome to join us for a special meal on Christmas day, or at any other time over the festive period. In fact, our doors are always open, so whether you want to come for an hour or stay all day, we’ll ensure you can have a wonderful time with your loved one this year. We often have Christmas entertainment or other events taking place, so why not ask a member of staff if you’d like to join in with some of these activities. 

Of course, you don’t have to stay in the home, so if you’d like to take your loved one to a carol service, out for a meal or to your family home for the day, just talk to our care team to find out how we can help you. Christmas is a time for family, and whether you live nearby or far away, we want to help you and your loved one to celebrate in a way that meets all your needs.

Top tips for supporting people with Dementia in your community this Christmas
With around 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia this Christmas, there will almost certainly be people in your own community who are affected. Whilst Christmas can be a wonderful time to spend with family and friends, for all too many dementia sufferers, it can be a very isolating, worrying time of the year. 

Alongside all the changes brought about by decorations, noise and lights, those living with dementia are frequently ostracised, with two thirds saying they have received fewer invitations to social gatherings since their diagnosis. All too often a lack of understanding and worries about behaviour will leave those living with dementia alone, unwelcome and isolated. 

Become a friend to those living with dementia this Christmas with our top tips to help you support those affected in your community. 

· Know the badge: The Dementia Friends badge is a blue and yellow forget-me-not flower, and a symbol of people who understand and are willing to help those living with dementia. When affected people go shopping or out and about, they know they can look for the badge to ask for assistance. Retailers like M&S, Barclays, Homebase and Argos have trained Dementia Friends in store, who are ready to help anyone who becomes overwhelmed or confused. 

· Wear the badge: To really add comfort to those with dementia in your community, why not learn about dementia yourself and wear your own Dementia Friends badge? There is plenty of information online about how you can help those living with dementia, and by wearing your badge with pride, you’ll be raising awareness and showing you’re willing to help when you’re out in your community yourself. 

· Be accommodating: If you’re organising any events or activities around the Christmas period, remember to make them accessible for those living with dementia. Simple changes like big, clear signposts and quiet rooms set aside can make everything much easier and more welcoming for those people. 

· Create music: Studies have shown that listening to and participating in musical activities, particularly when old favourites like carols are involved, can be highly beneficial to those living with dementia. If you know of people in your community who are living with this illness, why not invite them along to the church carol service, or to a sing song at the community hall? Carolling can be very inclusive for those living with dementia, and can bring back wonderful memories too. 

· Be patient and understanding: It’s all too easy to get caught up in the Christmas rush and bustle, particularly when we’re out last-minute present shopping or getting our food for the big day. Try to think about others when you’re out and about, and instead of getting irritated by the confused old lady in the supermarket, ask if she needs any help. 

It is estimated that within the next decade the number of people living with dementia will exceed one million. That’s around one in every ten people you’ll meet. Knowing the signs, and what you can do not just to help them but to make them feel included and valued, can make all the difference to those in your community.

7 easy things to do that could boost your memory
The natural decline of our memory is a fact of life. The hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for memory, loses five per cent of its nerve cells with each decade that passes. As we age, the production of acetylcholine also slows down; this is a vital neurotransmitter for memory and learning. 

Based on this knowledge, scientists used to think that a person’s memory and cognitive abilities would peak in middle age, and then slowly go downhill from there. However, more recent research has found that adults of all ages are able to form new neural pathways in their brain, and that anyone, with some effort and dedication, can boost their memory. Here’s how you can too. 

1. Exercise your brain 
A brain workout doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. It’s all about exercising that muscle, helping to build its strength. The important thing here is to do something new. If we always follow the same old neural pathways, the less inclined our brain will be to make new ones. Learn something new, set yourself a challenge and see what a difference it can make. 

2. Exercise your body too 
Aerobic exercise is good for the brain, so anything that gets your heart pumping will help to boost your grey matter too. If you’re not up to jogging or jumping on the exercise bike, a brisk walk or swim is just as good. Even stretching those muscles in chair yoga will help reset your brain and keep it primed for learning. 

3. Get enough sleep 
More than 95 per cent of us require at least 7.5 hours of sleep a night, some up to 9 hours. Skimping on sleep can cause problems with memory, creativity, problem solving and more. When we sleep, our memories are consolidated and organised, so sleep really is crucial to maintaining good memory recall. 

4. Get social 
Research shows that social connections are important to brain health. Having meaningful friendships and a strong support network keep us mentally and emotionally alive. Having an active social life can slow the rate of memory decline, so get out there and have fun with your friends. 

5. Say no to stress 
Chronic stress can cause damage to the hippocampus, and is known to destroy brain cells. People who experience high levels of stress can struggle with early onset memory loss, so managing stress levels is crucial. Know when to say no, take breaks when you need them, and set a healthy balance between work and play to keep stress in check. 

6. Laugh 
Laughter, they say, is the best medicine, and in the case of brain health, it’s absolutely true. Laughter engages with multiple areas across the brain, and encourages the release of happy chemicals which can help form new neural pathways. Spend time with young people, watch funny movies, and remind yourself to lighten up whenever you feel too serious. 

7. Eat right 
Getting your five a day can be just as good for your mental health as it is for your physical. Look for foods rich in brain boosting omega 3, such as seafood, spinach and broccoli. Limit your intake of saturated fats, and replace a cup of coffee a day with a green tea to slow brain aging. 

When people keep their minds active with games, puzzles and other supportive strategies, they could slow down their rate of mental decline. This could help to stave off dementia for longer, although studies are ongoing to prove this link. 

At Blenheim House we regularly offer our residents opportunities to challenge themselves, to engage in new activities and to enjoy new experiences. From excursions to places of interest, to exercise classes and craft activities, we’re all about encouraging engagement to keep our brains active.

 

May