1 Introducing assistive technology

There are many electronic products and systems that use technology to promote health and wellbeing in the home, by monitoring activity, managing risks, increasing security, helping the person manage the important tasks within their daily lives, and bringing support more quickly when things go wrong. Memory aids, telecare and safe walking devices, mobile phones and digital apps are examples of assistive technology that offer invaluable opportunities to help your relative stay safe and be more in control of their own life for longer.

There are forms of electronic technology that are linked to centres with trained staff who initiate a response to an alert or information generated from the person’s home.

Telecare systems

A 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 is not available). It is sometimes called a lifeline unit.

If a problem occurs and is detected by the sensor, the base unit triggers an alarm via the landline to the monitoring centre's trained staff or a carer, who will then activate the appropriate response.

The systems cover many risk areas, from falls, inactivity, fire, floods and gas leaks to unwanted callers and can be tailored to suit the needs of the individual.

Telehealth systems

Telehealth is about supporting people with health conditions to manage their health in a more proactive way. As with telecare systems, a base unit sits in the home and is connected via the landline phone to a computerised database at a nominated centre (in most instances for these systems, the centre would work very closely with the person’s GP’s surgery). Telehealth devices monitor physiological activity remotely, transmitting the readings to a healthcare professional in a hospital or help centre who then decides when or if intervention is needed.

Telehealth devices are useful for people with heart conditions and hypertension, as well as patients with chronic asthma, diabetes, lung problems or epilepsy.

Safe walking devices

There is now a wide variety of safe walking technologies aimed to assist people who may have memory lapses when out and about. Personal locators generally use GPS data to identify a person’s precise whereabouts. This technology can work with an existing mobile phone, or could be a separate device worn like a  wrist watch. Many devices double as a kind of personal alarm, allowing the user to signal for help if they get lost or feel they are at risk.

Standalone technology

If you or your relative do not feel ready for a telecare/telehealth service linked to a call centre, then there are plenty of standalone options to help make life easier, especially if remembering items is a possible issue.

Standalone devices will help your relative manage his or her daily life, providing prompts and reminders at intervals during the day to remember such things as medication or a key when leaving the house. Many of the alerts that are useful can also be delivered through mobile phone technology.

Other technology is available to help with managing lighting at night time if there is a risk of falls when moving around in the dark, and allowing access to the property if your relative should have difficulty managing locks.