You may have come across telecare, personal alarms, or smart assistants for the elderly when searching for ways to look out for an elderly relative who you can’t check in with as much as you’d like. Over 1.7 million people in the UK use some form of telecare or elderly monitoring set-up to help look out for the loved one’s well being.
Age Space has all the information you need here to understand what a telecare system is, how it works, and how to get one set up.
What is Telecare?
Put simply, telecare is care from a distance. The aim of telecare systems is to enable elderly or disabled people to stay living safely and independently in their home, for as long as possible. When a telecare sensor device detects a problem, such as a fall, it triggers contact with a person in a 24/7 monitoring centre. This can happen whether or not the elderly person presses an alarm – should they fall – on a wearable telecare device.
Telecare means that relatives can feel a bit safer in the knowledge that if there is a problem, there is a system in place to help quickly, that doesn’t wholly rely on someone pressing a button or being able to call for help. Telecare systems enable elderly people, including those with dementia, to stay living independently for longer. These systems can also be set up to help make life a little easier, like reminding someone to take medication.
How Telecare Works
There are two main types of telecare:
- A personal telecare alarm pendant (worn round the neck or as a wristband)
- Activity monitoring sensors – ‘passive telecare’ – sensors around the home
Both of these can be connected to a central ‘base unit’. These hubs are connected via broadband to a monitoring call centre that is open 24/7 and ready to call the base unit if alerted to a problem. These hubs are easy to install and normally will just require a power socket near to a telephone line socket. Sometimes telecare systems will use the mobile network. Telecare systems can be set up with one or both options in mind, depending on what suits you.
There is also a form of telecare that relies more heavily on smart home devices and assistants, and doesn’t include 24/7 monitoring services. These options are usually cheaper however, they rely on you or a nominated person being available and accessible at any time to respond to an alarm or alert.
In its most simple form, telecare is made up of a pendant (personal alarm) with a single button that, when pressed, alerts someone in a 24/7 monitoring centre. A ‘base unit’, or lifeline unit, is set up and synced with the pendant, and links via landline to the monitoring centre. When the button is pressed a trained staff member will attempt to contact the user through the base unit to find out what’s wrong.
The base unit has a strong speaker and microphone system that should carry through the house. The next step the responder will take is to contact someone to help. This might be a neighbour to check in, a family member with a key, or the emergency services – the responses will be decided ahead of time in a conversation between you and the provider. Setting up the base unit is easy and should only require a plug socket near a telephone line port. Pendants can also include extra features like fall-sensors, GPS, and speed-dial buttons for preset contacts.
Activity Monitoring Sensors – Passive Telecare
Pendants can be complemented by passive telecare. Various sensors, placed around your parents house, are used to monitor activity levels. Updates are sent to a monitoring centre, where, if anything seems wrong, a member of staff takes the same course of action as with the telecare alarm – ringing the base unit and/or a predetermined contact.
In passive telecare, everything is cleverly monitored unobtrusively and sensitively. The system can even learn routines, for example, when someone normally gets up, or how long they leave the house for extra. Passive telecare can add another level of reassurance, in that it doesn’t rely on your relative being able to sound the alarm but instead relies on sensors and changes in routine. Read more about the types of passive monitoring sensors.
Choosing a Telecare Monitoring Service
The first step is to determine whether your relative would benefit from telecare products, and if so which features. Care needs assessments or Occupational therapists from your local authority can help advise on all things ‘safer independent living’. In addition to advice on telecare, these assessments can include advice on home adaptations and steps to help prevent falls.
Some local authorities also provide personal alarm and monitoring services as part of care packages. Your elderly relative may also be available to have telecare funded as part of NHS Continuing Healthcare.
If your relative is not eligible for funding (or you would prefer to find one independently), we have found some great options for you to choose from. Some home monitoring services are monitored 24/7 by professionals, whereas others allow you to do the monitoring yourself.
The Types of Passive Telecare Sensors Used
Sensors monitor activity in different ways. Some providers won’t offer all options below. Your relative may not need or want all the options, so it is well worth researching for the preferred option. You can always add more later. Internet-connected smart devices and assistants can also complement a telecare system. These devices can help make some daily living tasks easier, without being too difficult for elderly people to use.
Telecare Products for Dementia Care
Not forgetting the forgetful, telecare sensors are particularly useful for people living with dementia. If someone is prone to wandering, sensors can record when they have left the house (e.g. at an odd time) and how long they have been out. Pendants can also include GPS trackers to keep track of where they are. This approach can help find someone with dementia well before a friend or carer might even notice they’ve gone!
Telecare can make living with dementia much safer. For example, telecare systems can also remind people to turn of the gas or tap when they leave the kitchen.
The Alzheimers Society recommends that if you are considering using telecare to help someone with dementia, that you introduce monitoring as early as possible. This allows your relative to get used to wearing the pendant or GPS tracker, and answering the monitoring service.
The Benefits of Telehealth
Telehealth is health specific telecare. Telehealth helps to reduce journeys to a GP and unnecessary hospital admissions, and to catch health changes earlier. Sometimes called TeleMedicine or mHealth, telehealth monitors vital signs instead of movement and activity. People who might benefit from telehealth include those with:
- Chronic Asthma
- Lung Conditions
Telehealth relies on remote, self-recording of physiological measurements. This might include blood pressure, heart rate, weight, blood glucose levels and more. These results are sent electronically to a healthcare professional who monitors these levels and will get in touch if anything changes. Talk to your elderly relative’s GP if you think they might be a good candidate for telehealth.
Making Telecare Services Work For Your Family
There is a lot to consider when it comes to telecare and whether it is right for your family. One thing that might put some people off is that it sounds a bit too much like ‘Big Brother’. While the idea is unavoidably for someone to be monitoring, you can customise telecare in many ways to suit your family’s needs and wishes. If your elderly parent is put off by passive telecare initially, starting with a simple pendant, where they have to set the alarm off themselves, might be a good idea.
We bought my Mum a pendant which she refused to wear and kept in the kitchen drawer for a couple of years. When she did finally wear it, it was literally a lifeline, for her and Dad. He felt more able to leave her on her own just to go to the shops. Mum quite often inadvertently pressed the alarm button, and had lovely conversations with the ladies in the call-centre, even when she hadn’t fallen over.
You can customise the telecare option you choose by deciding:
- Which sensors to install and where
- What is considered abnormal behaviour or activity
- Who the monitoring service calls in each instance
- Whether you want passive telecare or a user-triggered alarm approach
Passive monitoring is particularly useful for someone who is unsteady on their feet. If an older person falls over in the kitchen, is unable to get up and is not wearing their pendant, a sensor can pick up the inactivity and, after a small amount of time, will trigger the alarm to the call centre.
Even with full monitoring, it is impossible to see live inside a telecare-connected house, or even access much of the activity data unless something is set off. The only exception to this is if you specifically install live-feed cameras. The movement sensors just detect motion or in the case of a fall, an absence of motion. The monitoring team will only be alerted when there is a problem and will not be able to see into the house.
Having been very sceptical about technology and telecare before researching, 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.