Telecare: a lifesaver or an intrusion?

What is Telecare?

The aim of telecare is to enable people to stay independent in their own home for as long as possible. The official definition is support and assistance provided at a distance using information and communication technology.  It is the continuous, automatic and remote monitoring of users by means of sensors.

Our investigations into Telecare made us think differently, and more positively about it.   None of us want to ‘spy’ on our families, so the prospect of monitors and call centres is pretty alarming – quite literally.   We came round to the view that technology can be amazing, a lifesaver even, when used in the right way at the right time.  It never replaces the human factor, but it most definitely plays a vital role.

 How Telecare works

The simplest products are called personal alarms. They consist of a button – often a pendant around the neck, or on the wrist, and a base unit that works with the telephone. When the button is pushed, a call will automatically go via the telephone line to a monitoring centre, staffed 24/7 by trained operators.  You agree with the call-centre operator what responses might be.  You can also have the alarm call go through to a carer or specified individual.

The base unit is a two way device enabling direct conversation with the monitoring centre if you’re within chatting range of the base unit. There are lots of monitoring centres around the UK and different services available and a range of prices as well.  You might want to consider a local one with local resources and access.

Passive telecare

But. What do you do if the person wearing the pendant can’t/won’t activate it?   The answer may lie in elements of passive telecare.

Through sensors placed around the house, or even in specific places such as the bed, or a favourite chair, passive telecare systems raise the alarm through the phone to the centre if it registers “out of the normal” behaviour. So, if someone falls over and is unable to get up, the sensors registers the lack of movement within a set time, and will raise the alarm.  Simples.

During our research we learnt that telecare offers all sorts of monitoring, from kitchen activity which could tell you if someone is eating regularly, to gas/water/carbon monoxide monitoring.   The more sophisticated telecare and telehealth solutions can monitor individual health concerns, provide daily medication for example, or monitor movements outside the home for example if someone goes wandering.

You can get some alarm systems from the local authority as part of a care package, and funding can be available through the NHS as part of a continuing healthcare package or intermediate care.

Monitoring

Here is a guide to other kinds of monitoring that is available…… our personal favourite is Smart Shoes which have a built-in sensor so that they can send an alert if someone has a fall. They also have a GPS sensor so it would be possible to locate someone accurately.

Bed or chair occupancy sensor – placed on a mattress or a chair and the monitoring centre receives an alert when the person has got up and not returned within an agreed period of time.   An occupancy sensor can also be programmed to switch lights on and off which can be a very important aid when getting in and out of bed.

Bogus caller button – can be placed next to the front door or at the bedside. They are often called panic buttons and can be programmed to make no sound so that when the button is pressed the operator can listen to a situation and intervene when necessary.

Carbon Monoxide Monitors designed to provide an immediate alarm when they sense dangerous levels of carbon monoxide inside the home – an alarm will sound and help will be called through the control box.

Incontinence Sensors – a thin, discreet sensor pad placed between the bedding and mattress—it raises an audible alarm and sends an emergency call to the monitoring centre for assistance.

Medication management units are very helpful if you have to take tablets at different times of the day or if you have difficulty remembering whether or not they have been taken. The unit is pre-programmed to prompt you to take your medication and will dispense the tablets when they are due to be taken. If the tablets are not removed at the pre-set time then the monitoring centre is automatically alerted and a carer, a friend or relative will be contacted to remind you about the missed medication.

Property exit sensors – placed above a front door and/or a back door and they detect when someone leaves the property and does not return within a pre-set period of time. When this occurs the monitoring centre is automatically alerted and will contact a carer or service to assist you.

Temperature extreme sensors will detect a fire in a kitchen where a smoke alarm may raise a false alarm. It will also alert the monitoring centre if the temperature is too cold in the house — this could be if the central heating breaks down or if an outside door has been left open in cold weather.

The Which? Guide to Elderly Care has a good summary of telecare.