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Assistive technology at home

How to buy assistive technology

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How to buy assistive technology

Practical advice on buying assistive technology, from the top 10 questions you should ask to how to get financial help.

 

Assistive technology helps many people to stay independent in old age or with a disability, and can form part of a wider package of home care. Some gadgets are very simple but, if your relative has complex needs, it may still be worth getting advice from a professional. 

For example, a simple stove alarm is unsafe if your mum doesn't understand that the beeping of an alarm is telling her she’s left a saucepan on the hob, or she is unable to act on it because of her dementia.

We asked assistive technology and telecare experts to select and review the pros and cons of a range of gadgets and devices. You can see their top picks on our pages on memory aids (gadgets for people with memory loss, Alzheimer's or dementia), telecare and GPS tracking devices and home security.

10 questions to ask when choosing assistive technology

  • Does the person who will be using it understand its purpose, and are they happy to use it?
  • Do I need to change batteries or charge them, and how often do I need to do this?
  • Will the product be suitable for the person I'm buying it for - for example, does it require fine finger movement, need good eyesight or hearing?
  • What are the limitations of the product - for example, does a pager system cover the distance you expect it to?
  • Does the assistive-technology device require someone to remember to wear it or carry it with them? Is this realistic?
  • Does the gadget require a power socket? Is there one near where it will be used, or will it leave a trailing cable?
  • Is it likely to be fully effective if the person lives with other people or pets, for example, who might trigger the system?
  • Does it need someone with DIY skills or a professional person - such as an electrician - to install it?
  • Is it robust enough - for example, could it be dropped and carry on working?
  • How much will it cost, is there only an initial cost or an ongoing charge, and what happens if you fall behind on payment?

Getting expert advice

If you need a specific care package, which might include telecare, it's also important to make an appointment with a specialist such as an occupational therapist (OT). You can ask for a telecare assessment through your local social services department (council). 

Council telecare provision varies by area, but ask about the waiting time for an assessment, a charge (if any) for the equipment, and the ongoing monitoring charge (each council sets its own).

However, if you would prefer to find an independent OT in your area, contact the College of Occupational Therapists.

If you are specifically interested in telecare, you can also visit the website for the Telecare Services Association (TSA), the UK representative body for the telecare industry. You can search for providers, and get advice on different products and services available. The TSA can also give you more information about the large telecare providers, such as Tunstall, Chubb and Tynetec.

Financial assistance 

Assistive-technology systems can be funded as part of a local-authority care package. However, this involves a financial assessment to determine whether or not you qualify. You will need to contact your local social services department, which will arrange an assessment with a social worker or occupational therapist (OT), depending on your needs. Note that different local authorities organise their assessments and provisions in different ways, and that GPS-based products are not normally provided by social services.

Which? Elderly Care can offer further guidance on seeking financial help for home care, including assistive-technology products and services.

VAT exemption

If you are registered disabled or have a chronic health condition, you can claim VAT exemption on a range of assistive-technology products, which can save you a significant amount of money. Visit the HM Revenue and Customs website for further details.

Buying assistive technology

Councils have provided emergency or ‘community’ alarm systems for many years but, with an ageing population and cash-strapped local authorities, other options have become necessary. There are now many more products available to buy – and more solutions that can send alerts directly to relatives and call centres.

Assistive technology includes a whole range of different products, some of which are relevant to a wide variety of different people, so it's no surprise that many devices are now bought privately.

Many of the suppliers listed here are members of the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA), and follow its code of practice. Always be cautious about buying assistive-technology products from pushy sales people.

Note that many telecare systems require you to sign up to a monthly contract, where the telecare devices are linked to a help centre (sometimes referred to as a ‘community alarm system’). You can expect to pay around £6 a week for a basic pendant alarm - but, if you get this through your local council, be aware that each one operates its own charging system.

Also, some assistive-technology systems, such as gas sensors that can switch off your gas system, may require the services of an engineer.

Where to buy assistive-technology products

Commercial websites – including well-known sites such as Amazon and specialist sites such as EasylinkUK and Econogard – are a common source. 

High street shops such as Robert Dyas or Argos may sell some of the more straightforward items, such as memory aids and accessible mobile phones. 

The organisation Mi (More Independent) is another handy place to find assistive-technology gadgets, and Telmenow is a newer website with its own accreditation system. 

The Disabled Living Foundation (DLF)’s Living Made Easy website is a useful source of impartial advice on a whole range of daily living equipment (not just assistive technology) for older and disabled people. Although you can't buy equipment from the website itself, it has information on products (including prices) and links to suppliers' websites.

Age UK and the Alzheimer’s Society can also provide help and guidance.

And on Which.co.uk we have plenty of other advice on disability aids that will help make life easier, including mobility scooter reviews.

Care and maintenance

The assistive-technology products covered in this guide are examples of electronic assistive technology, which is normally battery powered. Most telecare systems also work through radio signals, although some may also need a working landline phone.

If you have a telecare package, you won’t normally need to change the batteries yourself – this will be done by the telecare provider, either through routine maintenance visits or through the equipment automatically signalling to the help centre when batteries are low. Batteries for telecare products often last for more than a year. 

However, if you suspect a fault with your equipment, you will need to call the helpline number, which should be given to you when you sign up to a telecare package.

For standalone assistive-technology products, it's important to check the functioning and battery power of your devices yourself, ideally monthly.

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