2 Types of assistive technology
There is a wide variety of assistive technology available, which can be divided into:
- Memory aids
- Telecare and telehealth systems
- Safe walking devices
- Accessible mobile phones
- Technological home adaptations.
Some memory aids are fairly technical, others less so – but all are designed to help with remembering important and safety-critical everyday tasks.
Please note that although these products can help your relative manage their memory problems, they cannot cure any underlying issues and nor should they be seen as a replacement for the appropriate medical care or attention. See How to get the best hearing aid in the staying independent at home section of the Which? website for further information on such items as:
- Medication dispensers and reminders
- Memory aids for bathing and other daily living activities
- Key locators and other locator devices
- Automatic calendar clocks and electronic voice memos.
Telecare and telehealth
Personal alarms and home activity sensors are known as telecare systems and are especially valuable for people with dementia.
The range of sensors that could be provided by most telecare services is listed below. Not everyone would necessarily have all of them in place, but all can usually be provided on one system. The options for configuration to suit individual circumstances are variable, and it is important that they are tailored to suit the individual’s personal lifestyle.
- Fall detectors
- Bed or chair occupancy sensors
- Movement detector
- Flood detector
- Property exit sensors
- Enuresis (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).
Setting up a base unit is a straightforward procedure, and it will need a power point close to the telephone socket. The sensors are 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 their lifestyle and needs. Once it is operational, the base unit receives messages from the sensors around the home. For more information about monitoring and responding to telecare, see step 3 of this guide.
Telehealth projects are generally not as advanced as telecare services. However, they are increasingly being set up to support people with chronic health conditions and are becoming more available as GP practices start to see the benefits of people becoming more involved in their health management.
Telehealth is intended to complement rather than replace traditional health care, and to empower the individual to self-manage. It can reduce the frequency of check-ups at a doctor’s surgery, ensure that issues are dealt with quickly and prevent escalation of problems that may otherwise result in hospital admissions.
The person is given equipment to monitor vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, body weight or blood sugar levels. They are taught how to use the equipment and how to send the information via the telephone line. The information is monitored at the centre and a clinician is alerted if there is any change to the person’s condition. This will generally mean that there can be earlier intervention, and often a quicker resolution, to any health changes.
We explain how to choose these systems in our Choosing telecare and tracker systems guide in the staying independent at home section of the Which? website.
The Telecare Services Association (TSA) is the industry body for both telecare and telehealth. Many service providers are members of the TSA, meaning they have signed up to, and must follow, its code of practice. The TSA provides a directory of its members to help you find a service provider in your area. See Useful organisations and websites for contact details.
Accessible mobile phones
It seems as if nearly everyone has a mobile phone these days, used for an increasing variety of purposes. This presents a real opportunity for designers of both hardware (the phone itself) and software (the applications) to reach out to older users, offering solutions to daily problems and opening doors to new possibilities. For further information on the different products that are available, see Accessible mobile phones and digital apps on the staying independent at home section of the Which? website.
Which? also has information about buying the best simple mobile phone and easy-to-use cordless phones. See also technological home adaptations and the all-important business of how to buy assistive technology.