“Alexa – please play some Frank Sinatra”. “Alexa – what’s the weather going to be like today?” Questions to a non-existent person, answered almost immediately by said non-existent person. Welcome to the new tech-savvy world. A world which makes technology for older people and their families and carers a blessing, and something of a curse.
GPS trackable phones, shoes and people; online scams, voice recognition, surveillance and monitoring. You may feel anxious about technology and how it impacts upon the lives of your elderly parents or relatives.
We’ve researched a whole range of tech solutions and gadgets, some of which fall into the category of Technology Enabled Care (TEC) and include Telecare, Telehealth and technological aids for people needing dementia care. In this article we concentrate on Telecare and aspects of Telehealth.
Telecare – keeping safe at home
The official definition of telecare is support provided at a distance using information and communication technology. It is the continuous, automatic and remote monitoring of people in the home by means of sensors.
This may all seem a bit Big Brother, but we have tried to demystify the subject by outlining here the key products you might want to consider, how they work, and where you can get more information about them.
1. Falls Prevention Monitors
One of the most useful products in the world of telecare is a falls monitor or personal alarm – such as a pendant or wristband – which the wearer can activate, should they take a tumble and can’t get up. They do of course depend on the wearer being able to activate the button, and to wear it in the first place and not “keep it safe” in a kitchen drawer.
The most basic falls monitor will sound an alarm when activated - it therefore assumes there is someone within hearing range to come to the rescue.
You may prefer to have a pendant with 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 and your parents agree with the call-centre operator what their responses might be – to phone a relative or neighbour to go round, or worst-case scenario, call out an ambulance. 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, different services available, and a range of prices as well. You might want to consider a local one with local resources and access.
Your parents’ Local Authority may provide a telecare service which they may qualify for, or they may be eligible through NHS Continuing Care, or as part of their care package - so well worth checking these out.
What do you do if the person wearing the pendant can’t or 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 they register “out of the normal” behaviour. So, if someone falls over and is unable to get up, or activate the monitor, the sensors register the lack of movement within a set time, and will raise the alarm.
2. Telecare Lifestyle Monitoring
During our research, we found that telecare offers all sorts of monitoring: from kitchen activity, which could tell you if someone is eating regularly (opening the fridge door at a set time each day for example), to gas, water and carbon monoxide monitoring.
More sophisticated telecare and telehealth solutions can monitor individual health concerns, such as providing daily medication for example, or monitoring movements outside the home if someone goes wandering.
Here is a guide to other kinds of monitoring available:
Video call devices: portable devices such as SuperCarers Go enable people to make or receive video calls with their carers, as well as family and friends. Seeing a friendly face on a regular basis can significantly reduce feelings of isolation for those living alone, and give peace of mind to their friends and family. Short daily visits from professional carers can be replaced by calls, allowing limited budgets to be put towards less frequent but more meaningful long visits.
Smart shoes: with a built-in sensor, these innovative shoes (available from various providers) 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: 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: this 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, 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.
There are also a range of products designed to alert you if, for example, the kettle hasn’t been boiled at its usual time of the morning, or the bedside light hasn’t been switched on. Simple gadgets that are very unintrusive whilst giving you peace of mind. Find more information on these and other products and services to make life better in the “life” section on Age Space’s website.
3. Safe outside the home: GPS tracking for wanderers
GPS location devices use a mobile network to raise an alert to a carer or monitoring centre. There are also products that use their roaming SIM to provide text commands if someone has got themselves lost but is able to get home with some instructions. These devices may be in shoes, on phones or as watches, wristbands and pendants, and are extremely useful if someone has a tendency to wander.
Telehealth covers a wide range of services from online GP appointments via Skype, to pill reminders and heart rate monitors. It is worth exploring this area for solutions that might work for your parents or elderly loved ones. You can contact the Telecare Services Association to ensure you find a good provider.
Specialist Dementia Telecare and Telehealth
There are a number of useful products specifically for people living with Dementia. These include LCD calendar clocks that not only give the time, but also the date and time of day (for example “10am, Tuesday 18 August, Afternoon”).
If you’re concerned about “spying” on your parents or elderly loved ones, fear not: there are plenty of ways to be sure they’re safe and well without being intrusive. What we would say however, is that no amount of technology replaces human contact, nor should it. Hopefully Alexa will never be asked to keep an eye on mum for the afternoon.
Find more information about Telecare, Telehealth, home adaptations and aids.
This post was written by Annabel James at Age Space. Annabel James is the founder of Agespace.org: a one-stop online resource for anyone caring about or supporting elderly parents and relatives. The website signposts to some of the best local services and solutions for all aspects of elderly care.