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New report highlights how smart meters could transform Britain's health and social care

18th November 2020

  • A new report from 2020health highlights how an upgraded energy system with smart meters at its heart could transform the way we care for the most vulnerable
  • Smart meters could become a telehealth solution sitting in virtually every home in Great Britain within just a few years
  • Energy usage patterns from smart meters could - with consent - make it easier and less stressful for family members who live apart to look after their relatives
  • 81% of adults would be comfortable letting a family member live on their own for longer if they could be alerted to unusual changes in behaviour
  • Nearly three-quarters believe tech has the potential to change the way we live and care for ourselves

A new report released today by 2020health, an independent social enterprise think tank, highlights how energy usage patterns from smart meter data could - with user permission - help the NHS to improve care for people living with conditions such as dementia, making it easier for them to live independently in their homes for longer.

Smart meters will enable a more resilient energy system, help build a cleaner Britain and give consumers control over their energy use, but 2020health's research, commissioned by Smart Energy GB, suggests the benefits could extend even further.

850,000 people already live with dementia in the UK and that number is expected to grow to 1.6 million by 20401. In just a few years, data from smart meters could be used to help provide better care and potentially reduce the £26 billion a year currently spent supporting sufferers, a third of which is money spent by people with dementia and their families.

The report suggests that energy usage patterns from smart meter data could be used as a non-intrusive way to understand the daily habits of people with illnesses such as dementia, Parkinson's and depression. Irregularities in these patterns could alert relatives or healthcare workers that the person may need additional support.

For example, later use of the kettle in the morning could indicate insomnia, pain or memory problems. Increased energy use in late evenings or at night could include 'sundowning' syndrome, which is often a sign of progression from early stages of Alzheimer's to more serious deterioration. Complete inactivity of appliances such as the TV or oven could indicate a fall, stroke or acute illness.

If unusual behaviour was detected, an alert would be automatically raised and sent to a family member, care worker, telehealth hub or doctor to respond. Not only could this provide professionals with important insights into the health of the patient, but it could also allow family or friends to act as 'first responders' to possible low risk health concerns. This could alleviate pressure on the social and healthcare systems and easing the burden on carers.

Academics and prominent supporters of research into neurodegenerative diseases alike have welcomed the report.

Sir Geoff Hurst, who works closely with Alzheimer's charities, said: "Dementia is a condition which is very close to my heart as many of my former teammates have suffered with it. I am interested in new technological developments which can help sufferers, as well as their families and carers. It is very welcome news that something as small as a smart meter could potentially help our healthcare services in the future."

Arlene Phillips, CBE, who has had her own experience caring for her father when he had dementia said: "It's so hard to detect the signs when you don't live with your relatives. I found out that my father would often leave the hob on overnight - not only was this a symptom of Alzheimer's developing, it was also dangerous. Had this technology been around when I was looking after my father, it would have greatly helped me understand what was happening with him.

"I'm an active campaigner for new research reveals 81% of Britons agreed that if there was a way of being alerted to any unusual behaviour, they would be more comfortable with their elderly or vulnerable loved ones living independently for longer, not to mention making it a little less stressful for people to look after their vulnerable relatives."

The report is released as consumer research reveals 81% of Britons agreed that if there was a way of being alerted to any unusual behaviour, they'd would be more comfortable with their elderly or vulnerable loved ones living independently at home for longer.

Furthermore, with four in five aware that the NHS is under more pressure than ever before, nearly three-quarters of adults (72%) think that tech has the potential to change the way we live and care for ourselves. In fact, adults welcome telehealth solutions which could assist the lives and independence of vulnerable friends and family, with just over two thirds (67%) agreeing that non-intrusive remote health technology could help people caring for those with dementia still living in their own home. Plus, six in 10 (61%) agree that having smart healthcare technology in a loved one's home would give them more peace of mind.

It is not only neurodegenerative diseases which remote health and care technology could detect. There is evidence that smart meters will present a unique opportunity to gain insights into cases of fuel poverty, neglect and unhealthy living conditions. If a building's thermal efficiency rating is known, then a combination of daily average electricity and gas readings, together with external air temperature and solar irradiance data, may be enough to detect the under-heating of homes.

Julia Manning, Director of 2020health and member of the Royal Society of Medicine's Digital Health Council concluded: "We were excited to find that an informal care offering with smart energy technology has already become a reality in Japan. Scaling affordable health and care solutions in Britain is always a challenge but remains urgent. Our ageing society indicates a future of much greater healthcare need, and smart meter technology could prove useful in making it easier and safer for people with conditions, such as dementia, to live independently in their homes for longer, delaying transition to the care home setting and providing peace of mind to family and loved ones. Harnessing this technology could bring benefits to all: patients, caregivers, family members and healthcare providers across the UK."

To read the 2020health report, head to https://www.smartenergygb.org/en/health-and-social-care. If you would like to register your interest in getting a smart meter installed, contact your energy supplier.

-ENDS-

Notes to editors

1Alzheimer's Society Website

Consumer research was conducted with 4,000 respondents in November 2020 by One Poll, as commissioned by Smart Energy GB.

About smart meters and the rollout

Britain is committed to a cleaner future - one with zero carbon emissions and reduced pollution.

To make this happen, our nation requires a major upgrade to its energy infrastructure, specifically, it requires the creation of a smart energy system. Smart meters, which replace traditional, analogue meters, are the building blocks of a more reliable, clean and affordable energy infrastructure, allowing Great Britain to better manage energy use, transition to mass uptake of electric vehicles and to build a greener economy.

There are already 21.5 million smart meters installed in homes and microbusinesses across Great Britain. Every household in England, Scotland and Wales can now see their energy use in near real time, receive accurate bills and do their bit for the planet, by requesting a smart meter, at no extra cost, from their energy supplier.

About Smart Energy GB

Smart Energy GB is the campaign for a smarter Britain. It's our task to help everyone in Great Britain understand smart meters, the national rollout and how to use their new meters to be cleaner and greener with their energy use. Our national campaign is reaching households and microbusinesses in England, Scotland and Wales. For more information visit our website at smartenergyGB.org

Smart Energy GB media contacts

For more information including interview requests, case studies of smart meter users, infographics, photography, and video content please contact please contact the Smart Energy GB media team: [email protected]