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Exploring smart technology in social care settings

Older woman using a smart speaker

Our research programme explores how smart speakers and other types of smart technology may be beneficial in different social care settings.

Smart devices offer easy control through phones, tablets, or voice commands for daily tasks. They are becoming increasingly popular in social care settings where they aid in entertainment, communication, reminders (e.g. for medication) and controlling the home environment.

In collaboration with Innovate Trust, our research has explored how smart home technology could empower people with a learning disability to live more fulfilled and independent lives. From this, we developed a comprehensive handbook for implementing smart technology in supported living settings for adults with learning disabilities.

Video about using smart technology and supporting people with learning disabilities in social care settings

Download the handbook

Lady looking at smart speaker and smiling

Who the handbook is for

The handbook has been designed for anyone involved in the health and care of persons with a learning disability. However, it's relevant to a wider range of users, such as:

  • family members
  • local authorities and supported living providers
  • support workers and clinical practitioners.

The handbook provides evidence-based insights, highlighting the advantages of using smart technology for people with a learning disability and practical guidance for optimal outcomes.

Access the handbook

Other research applications

We have been expanding this research to look at the use of smart technology in other settings, including, older adults living in social housing and children with speech difficulties.

More recently, we have been working with 11 housing associations and councils, such as Newydd HA, to investigate the potential of smart speakers to uplift the lives of older adults living in social housing.

Additionally, we have been exploring the potential of smart speakers to help improve the speech of children with speech difficulties.

Alexa 'skills to try' for older adults living in social housing

As part of the research, Newydd has created a series of posters suggesting different ‘skills to try on Alexa' to help older adults living in social housing.

Download 'Alexa skills to try' posters

Research findings

We interviewed over 80 people with a learning disability about their experiences of using the devices and the impact it had on their wellbeing, self-determination and independence over a 12-week period.

We also interviewed 127 support workers about their experiences of using smart technology in the workplace.

What we found

  • social companionship – some participants found that the devices provided companionship and enjoyed speaking to them, especially when alone
  • entertainment - this was often the most popular feature of the device and participants enjoyed having access to these features (e.g. playing music) any time of day
  • independence - participants were able to use the device by themselves and some were able to use the devices to reduce their reliance on support workers, for example by setting their own reminders for medication
  • improved speech - some staff suggested participant’s speech clarity may have improved after using the device.
  • being understood - some participants faced challenges in being understood by the devices, but they were often willing to persist in trying to use the device
  • forgetting phrases - participants did not always know or remember the correct phrasing to request certain device features, and sometimes forgot to say the wake word (e.g. Alexa).
  • persistence in use
  • support and training

Older adults in social housing

We are currently interviewing 100 older adults, living in social housing or receiving social care, who have been using a smart speaker for 9 months.

What we found

Benefits (so far):
  • convenient autonomy - adults could do things more easily for themselves that they may have found more difficult without the speaker, such as playing their own music
  • cognitive stimulation - participants felt that learning to use the device and playing some of the games on it 'kept their brains going'
  • companionship - the device was reported to provide some company to some participants, being 'a voice in the room' and someone to talk to
  • accessibility - accessible to those with sight and mobility issues.
Challenges (so far):
  • lack of support
  • fear of technology
  • technical issues
  • hearing Difficulties
  • promoting self-reliance while providing support, and enhancing digital infrastructure and accessibility.

Children with speech difficulties

We interviewed 11 children with speech difficulties who had been using a smart speaker for 4 weeks, along with a parent of each child.

What we found

  • children enjoyed using smart speakers, leading to them speaking more slowly, loudly, and potentially more clearly.
  • device not understanding children
  • rigidity of the device's speech
  • persistence in use
  • continual improvements to the device's accessibility and function

"Our research is building an evidence base for how to use smart technology safely and effectively in social care settings."
Dr Georgina Powell Research Fellow (Health and Care Research Wales)

Take part in our research

We are looking for organisations working with older adults (65+) who do not currently own smart speakers to take part in our study. If you would like to take part, you will receive free smart speakers for your users, residents or clients.

Take part in our research

Ongoing projects

Privacy-awareness assistant

We have developed a ‘privacy-awareness’ skill app for Alexa to help users make informed choices about their smart device settings. This assistant explains voice recording, location, and purchase settings using user-friendly language, benefiting individuals with limited digital experience.

Collaborating with Innovate Trust, we observed that older adults and those with a learning disability using our privacy assistant, had a clearer understanding of their device’s privacy settings compared to those using the standard app.

Companion device

We have developed a companion device, similar to a smart speaker, which offers companionship and emotional support to lonely or isolated older adults.

We are currently pilot-testing this device with 10 older adults who have reported that they are lonely.

Thank you

Thank you to all the participants and collaborators for making this research possible, and to HCRW for funding the projects.

Meet the team

Picture of Georgina Powell

Dr Georgina Powell

Research Fellow (Health and Care Research Wales)

+44 29208 70716
Picture of Lauren Makin

Lauren Makin

Research Assistant