Telecare is a very topical buzzword, but in fact the basic concept has been with us for many years. Put simply, telecare involves using technology to monitor a person's well-being, and summon help if required.
Many local authorities and private companies offer simple telecare services in the form of an alarm system connected to the telephone, with a special button to press if you need help. More than 1.5 million people in the UK already have access to this type of service, which is called by various names, such as community alarm, careline, lifeline, social alarm, etc.
As technology progresses, the possibilities of telecare increase. At the same time, the government is encouraging measures which enable people to live independently in their own homes, rather than going into residential care, and these factors have resulted in various new developments in this area.
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Designed to work alongside the landline phone system, a community alarm provides reassurance that help can be summoned quickly if required. Wearing a call unit on the wrist or around the neck, a person can continue to live independently at home with confidence. Services may also include a regular "friendship" call, to make sure that all is going well.
Monitors and Sensors
Monitors and detectors can also be linked to a telecare system. These could be triggered when, for example, a person falls or has a seizure; or when gas or smoke are detected, so that appropriate help can be provided. Sensors can also detect such problems as intruders or bogus callers, and summon help. Technology can also help to prevent problems: for example, a spoken reminder to turn off the cooker can help prevent a kitchen fire; or a bed sensor could turn on the light when it detects a person getting out of bed in the night, thus helping to prevent a fall.
A service that is often referred to as "lifestyle monitoring" can be incorporated. Tailored to suit individual circumstances, the system relies on a series of movement sensors in strategic locations around the home which build a log of the user's movements as they go about their daily routine. Carers can then quickly identify any changes in habitual behaviour which may be indicators of deteriorating health or increasing mental confusion.
A client's medication regime can be monitored remotely: for example, the PivoTell automatic pill dispenser has an integrated interface that enables it to link with the call centre-based services, as part of a telecare package.
You can read further on this subject by visiting our page of case studies from the Automated Pill Dispenser Project
A further development of telecare is telehealth or telemedicine, where the user's vital signs (such as blood pressure, pulse, blood sugar levels) can be monitored remotely, often with their collaboration. This development is important in terms of earlier hospital discharges; better management of long-term medical conditions without the need for hospitalisation; earlier warning of problems with a change of medication, for example.
Anybody who needs support to live in their home is entitled to a care assessment by their local authority. If they have a carer, their needs are also entitled to be assessed. The assessment will generally be carried out by a suitably qualified person, such as an occupational therapist or a social worker.
A care assessment involves finding out what a person can and cannot do for themselves and whether their home provides a suitable environment for them. If there is a carer involved, their need for support in their care duties as well as their need for a break from them, will also be assessed.
Support may be recommended in the form of visits from carers to help with particular tasks and/or it may involve making adaptations to the home so that it is more suitable to the needs of the occupant(s). Telecare services have a clear role to play in supporting independent living, and should routinely be considered by local authorities as part of the care package that can help an individual to remain safely and confidently in their own home.
In fact, the lifestyle monitoring aspect of telecare can be a useful part of the assessment process itself, by establishing patterns of behaviour over a period of time, and thus identifying areas where support is required. This is particularly helpful in the case of individuals with conditions such as Alzheimer's, who may not be able to give an accurate account of their needs.
Extra care housing is a way of living independently, but with extra support on site. Individuals live in their own appartment, equipped with the sort of assistive technology that makes life easier for them, and with access to home and health care staff, and various communal facilities, that may include library, laundry, cafeteria or restaurant, shared lounges, hairdressing, a shop, etc.
There is more support available in extra care housing than in traditional warden-assisted schemes, so it makes independent living a realistic choice for people who might otherwise move into residential care.
People choosing extra care housing have a wide variety of needs. They may have a physical or sensory impairment that limits their mobility or ability to manage daily tasks. They may have learning difficulties or moderate dementia, making them more prone to forgetfulness and accidents. It may be social isolation that prompts the move into a more communal environment.
In all these situations, the appropriate telecare package can improve services to the individual, making them more reliable, and often more economic.
Anybody over the age of 16 who has been assessed as needing support services, either as a client or a carer (see above, How is a person's need assessed?) is entitled to receive the money from their Local Authority to pay for the services themselves.
Direct Payments can be used to pay for all the support services that are assessed as being necessary, or just part of them. As part of the care package, telecare services can be bought using Direct Payments.