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Telecare systems are designed to give warning to a call centre or carer if there is a problem in risk areas such as a fall, inactivity or fire, floods and gas leaks and can be tailored to suit the needs of the individual. They are especially valuable for people with dementia.

The range of sensors that could be provided by most telecare services include:

  • fall detectors
  • bed or chair occupancy sensors
  • movement detector
  • flood detector
  • property exit sensors
  • incontinence alert
  • smoke detector
  • heat/temperature analyser
  • gas detector
  • nocturnal epileptic seizure detector
  • hypothermia alert
  • medication dispensers
  • door opening sensors (to detect someone leaving the property, or a door left open).

On this page we tell you about:

1. Installing a telecare system
2. Monitoring telecare
3. Responding to telecare

Installing a telecare system

Each telecare system generally consists of a base unit and a range of sensors that are placed around the home. The base unit is linked to a monitoring centre or carer through a landline telephone (or to a mobile phone, if a landline isn't available). It is sometimes referred to as a lifeline unit.

Not everyone would necessarily use all the sensors, but they can all usually be provided on one system.

Setting up a base unit is straightforward and it just needs a power point close to the telephone socket.

The sensors are then installed at various points in the home by an installer following a conversation with you and/or your relative to establish how best to programme the base unit and sensors to meet your relative’s lifestyle and needs.

Monitoring telecare

If a problem occurs and is detected by the sensor, the base unit triggers an alarm via the landline to a call centre or to the pager or mobile phone of a carer.

  • Call centres are by far the most common option for home users of telecare, their primary advantage being that a call centre is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  • Alerting a carer is used sometimes in care homes or if there's a family carer or careworker living with your relative. It's suitable for supporting a partner, but would only be practical if the nominated carer(s) or relative(s) were able to respond at any time of day or night and on any day of the year.

Responding to telecare

Assuming that the telecare system is monitored by a call centre, the following is an overview of what might happen if an alarm is triggered by one of the telecare sensors:

  • When an alarm is received by the call centre, the call centre operator will look at the agreed procedure to follow for the individual in question, and based on which sensor has triggered the alert.
  • The action(s) they then take will vary. For example, if the alert has come from a smoke detector, the first action will almost certainly be to call the local fire brigade.
  • In another example, if the alert has come from a flood detector in the bathroom, the operator might decide to call your relative and ask if they're aware that the bath is overflowing. The telecare system’s base unit has the ability to provide a two-way communication channel; it contains a loud speaker, so the operator’s voice will carry over long distances. Even if the person at home has fallen in an upstairs bedroom, they should be able to speak to the call centre directly (the operating distance of the communication function is normally checked when the system is first installed).
  • If further help is needed, the operator could call a nearby relative or neighbour.

However, there are other situations where it wouldn't be appropriate for the call centre to be alerted. For example, if your relative’s bedsheets needed changing during the night, it would be more appropriate for a message to be sent to a relative or carer who lives with, or near to, the person.

If you're interested in finding our more about a telecare system for your relative, arrange an assessment with an expert. It’s important that you work together to establish what's best for your relative’s needs.

More information

  • How to buy assistive technology: practical advice in Which? product reviews for staying independent at home from the top 10 questions you should ask to how to get financial help.
  • Personal alarms for older people: personal alarms for when your relative is out and about can give you peace of mind.
  • Financing home alterations: your relative might be eligible for local authority support or a grant to help pay for equipment to help him or her stay at home.

Page last reviewed: November 2016
Next review due: May 2018