Here in the AgeSpace bunker, or more accurately, our various mini-bunkers, we’ve spent a lot of the last year tussling with tech. And I don’t just mean zoom. But tech that supports our elderlies and enables them to go on living independently at home for as long as possible.
It’s not about surveillance
The future is here, and despite our (my) initial reluctance, it’s time to embrace technology related to care, because it’s brilliant and quite probably a lifesaver. I’m not talking about surveillance cameras or intrusive monitoring, but elegant and above all useful tech that in ordinary circumstances many of us are already familiar with.
The concern about replacing humans with pioneering aids such as robotic dogs or automated care assistants is well placed. Nothing should replace actual humans in the care and support of elderly parents and relatives. The slew of new gadgets – officially known as Technology Enabled Care Solutions (TECS) – must only supplement and support the human bits – and enable us all to spend more quality time with the people we care about; and crucially, when we’re away from them, worrying less because we can be there virtually, by tech proxy. And still no surveillance cameras.
Entry level tech
The spectrum of tech solutions is broad and ever expanding. Entry level is sometimes called Telecare, likely a personal alarm pendant worn around the neck or on the wrist with a button to press should Mum or Dad fall over and be unable to get up. Back in the day these would sound an alarm when activated assuming that someone was in hearing distance to help out.
These days personal alarms come with GPS trackers and are linked to 24/7 monitoring call centres who can call a friend or an ambulance, able to locate the faller to within metres, assuming a wi-fi signal. Brilliant for so many situations, not just a tumble in the kitchen, but for anyone out in the garden out of sight or hearing shot, perhaps for someone who wanders unintentionally; or for anyone who remains independent and out walking and enjoying life but who may struggle to get up should they take a fall.
Pendants are just the start. In-home monitoring (that unhelpful M word again) is a thing. Essentially motion sensors, some the size of a credit card, placed in vantage points around the home, can both check movement – or crucially – a lack of movement. These include for example bed sensors to track movement at night; sensors on the fridge to check if Mum has put milk in her morning cup of tea; sensors on chairs again to check movement; front door sensors to check incoming, and importantly for some, outgoing.
Telehealth is increasingly bringing smart tech to the world of elderly care. This ranges from virtual GP consultations, online prescriptions etc of course, but also increasingly the meeting of TEC with fitbit and the like these days; monitoring heart rate, blood pressure and other vitals. And – for those Alexa devotees (other brands are available), fantastic voice activated solutions are already available for critical daily tasks such as medication reminders.
Revolutionising care provision
Care providers are beginning to use technology too – not only to help them run their businesses – with apps for rotas, cashflow etc – but also the sharing of information between carers, and with families; this is enabling more consistent and better communication for all – which can only be a good thing. And if you’re considering employing a carer it’s really worth asking the question about their approach to tech like this.
Inevitably some of this tech also comes at a price. Some is very reasonable too of course. There are also increasing numbers of providers. With this brave new world available just knowing what’s out there in the first place is tricky. So we’re trying to help you as much as possible, by developing lots of new content, reviews and information.
What’s best for particular circumstances can be hard to work out. Some of this is around the language – words like monitoring and sensors don’t feel much like care. We’ll do the best we can to separate language from function to give you the most useful information and guidance.
Tech Tusslers – that’s us!
Annabel James is founder of AgeSpace.org. All views my own.