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Something to watch over them

Written by Annabel James

Mum keeps falling over and she’s unable to get up without help. We needed a solution, and fast.

Having wondered how those pendant alarms advertised in the back of the weekend papers actually work, I now know. I also now know that the general term for them and similar products is Telecare.

Falling over

It feels very Big Brother to be even thinking about ‘monitoring’ things at home, but Mum keeps falling over when she’s on her own and can’t get up without help.   With Dad increasingly anxious about leaving her even for a short amount of time, we needed to find a solution – and not just for her.  Poor Dad is even more on high alert, waiting for the (gentle) thud as she topples over at all hours of the day and night.

What is Telecare

The official definition of Telecare 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. The aim of telecare is to enable people to stay independent in their own home for as long as possible, so with this in mind, we embarked on our telecare adventure.

 How Telecare works

As we learnt, the aforementioned pendants are the simplest form. Generally 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 callcentre 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 Mum to talk to the monitoring centre, and for them to talk to her – if presumably she is within chatting range of the base unit.  We discovered that there are lots of monitoring centres around the UK and different services available and a range of prices as well. Dad was keen to find a local centre who would know the local services should Mum need them.  We decided to pursue this route, rather than the traditional personal alarm which when triggered sounds an alarm.  Of course it assumes that someone is close by to hear it and respond.

And for something slightly scarier but incredibly useful… passive telecare

So far so good, but we realised that a pendant was only useful as long as Mum was actually able to press it (not keep it in the kitchen drawer with last years’ diary and lots of elastic bands)…..but, also with the ‘what if’ scenario in mind we then plunged into the world of passive telecare. This is The Truman Show for real. Through sensors placed around the house, or even in specific places such as the bed, or a favourite chair, the system can raise the alarm through the phone to the centre if it registers “out of the normal” behaviour.  So, if Mum falls over and is unable to press her button, and the sensors registers that she hasn’t moved in a while, it 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.

So, having been very sceptical about technology and telecare at the start of this quest,  I have come round to the view that technology can be amazing, when used in the right way at the right time.  In no circumstances does it replace the human factor, but it most definitely plays a vital role.  We have an article here that explains more about telecare and the different systems and options available.

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

The Telecare Services Association has also got useful information.

About the author

Annabel James