What is telecare?
Telecare systems are designed to send a warning to a call centre or carer if there is a problem in the home – in risk areas such as falls, inactivity, fire, floods or gas leaks. By remotely monitoring an older person’s activity and other factors in their home, the technology helps to keep them safe and independent. It also provides reassurance to family and friends who may not be able to call in as often as they would like.
Telecare devices can prevent a problem before it occurs, or send a timely alert if something does go wrong.
From personal alarms that are operated by the individual if they need to call for help to sophisticated activity-monitoring systems that alert a call centre when sensors in the home detect potential problems, there's a wide range of options that can be tailored to a person's individual needs. Many are especially valuable for people with dementia.
How does telecare work?
Telecare systems generally consist of a base unit and a range of sensors placed around the home, or worn on the person. The base unit is linked to a monitoring centre or carer through a landline, mobile phone or internet connection. It’s sometimes referred to as a lifeline unit.
Setting up the base unit is usually straightforward and it just needs a power point close to the telephone socket. Sensors are then installed at various points in the home by an installer, following a conversation with you and/or a family member to establish how best to configure the system to meet your lifestyle and needs.
The sensors can detect various kinds of activity in the home (movement, falls, temperature, and so on) and send signals to the base unit. Information or alerts are then transmitted to a monitoring centre operated by the service provider, or directly to a relative or carer.
Depending on your needs, you can choose a system that send alerts to a professionally staffed monitoring centre or directly to family members. Read more below about the pros and cons of the two options in Telecare systems: the two main types.
Some telecare systems claim to ‘learn’ your daily routine. They identify regular activities, such as what time you normally get up, go to the toilet or boil the kettle. This information can be used to help manage your care needs or detect a potential problem if there’s a change to your routine.
Some systems incorporate cameras to enable a relative or carer to see how you are doing, even if they live miles away. Read more about using security cameras in the home in our article on smart technology and security.
If you install a telecare device, it’s also a good idea to get a key safe fixed to the outside of your home, in case someone needs to enter the house in an emergency.
How telecare can help to keep you safe
Telecare systems use various sensors and other gadgets with a wide range of practical applications. When choosing telecare, focus on the features that will be genuinely useful and ignore anything that you don’t really need. Aim to customise the system so that it fits well with your own or your loved one’s individual care needs.
Telecare features and gadgets
- Movement sensors: detect if someone falls out of bed or if they are immobile for too long.
- Door sensors: let you know when someone leaves or enters the home. An alert could be sent if this is happens at an unexpected time of day, if someone leaves and doesn’t return after a set time or if the front door is left open.
- Wearable alarm pendants: pressing a button sends an alert to a monitoring centre or carer. (Read more in Personal alarms.)
- Fall detectors: send an alert if they sense a sudden jolt or downward movement.
- Bed or chair sensors: positioned over or under a mattress or on the seat of a chair, they can detect if someone moves or falls from their bed or chair, or fails to get out of bed, for example.
- GPS tracking devices: keep track of someone when they are out and about. They can be attached to clothing or even built into a pair of shoes.
- Flood detectors: sensors in the kitchen or bathroom can spot if water is overflowing or a tap has been left on. They can send an alert or even turn off the water supply.
- Smoke or gas detectors: like standard household alarms these emit a loud alarm if triggered, but can also be set up to transmit an alert to a monitoring centre.
- Incontinence sensor: provides a warning if a person urinates or vomits while in bed.
- Heat/temperature sensors: by detecting extreme temperatures in the home, they can spot a fire hazard or avoid the risk of hypothermia.
- Epileptic seizure alarm: detects the symptoms of a seizure.
- Medication dispensers and reminders: help to remind someone to take their medicine, dispense the correct pills and keep track of what they’ve taken.
Telecare systems: the two main types
Most telecare systems work in one of two main ways. Each system has its advantages, and the right option will depend on your individual situation.
24-hour call centre
Sensors in the home communicate with the base unit via radio signals. Alerts are then sent to a professional 24/7 monitoring centre via a telephone landline.
- The primary advantage is that a call centre is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
- Call centre staff follow an agreed procedure to decide on the best response in the circumstances. This could be to call a nearby relative or neighbour or, where appropriate, to alert professional care staff or the emergency services.
- Alerts are usually sent via a landline, which is less prone to disruptions due to power cuts or broadband problems.
- The base unit often has the ability to provide a two-way communication channel, so in the event of an emergency support staff can speak directly with the person who is in trouble.
- Does not provide family members or carers with ongoing information about their loved one's activities.
- Call centre monitoring can be a more expensive option.
Smart home monitoring
Sensors and smart devices in the home connect to the base unit using a wi-fi signal. Alerts are then sent directly to family members or a carer via a broadband or mobile phone connection.
- Activity around the home can be easily monitored on a smartphone or tablet by family, friends or carers.
- The technology can learn about your daily routine, and raise an alert if something changes.
- Some systems do not require a landline or an internet connection.
- It may be a more affordable option than 24-hour call-centre monitoring.
- Some systems depend on a reliable wi-fi signal and broadband connection.
- It may only be appropriate if the nominated carer(s) or relative(s) are able to respond at any time of day or night.
For more on this type of system, see Smart telecare devices below.
Telecare with 24/7 monitoring
The following are some of the larger private providers of telecare systems with 24/7 monitoring and a dedicated call centre:
You can also find details of retailers who specialise in telecare and other kinds of assistive technology in our list of independent living retailers.
Smart telecare devices
Smart technology – which allows you to remotely control internet-connected devices around the home – is increasingly also being used as a form of telecare. This enables families to monitor what’s happening in a loved one’s home using computer software or a smartphone app that receives signals from sensors in the home.
Smart devices such as internet-enabled thermostats, voice-controlled virtual assistants or wireless cameras can be used to keep track of what’s going on in an older person’s home. You can receive updates about what time your loved one gets out of bed, when they leave or return to the house, or when they put the kettle on.
This type of smart telecare is sometimes referred to as mHealth or mobile health.
Some popular providers include:
- Canary Care: uses sensors in rooms and on doors to log activity – for example, how often a person uses the kitchen or gets up at night. It can alert family members to problems via a text or email, such as the person not moving in the morning. Visitors, such as paid home carers, can also use swipe cards when arriving and leaving. It has its own built-in mobile connection, so a landline or internet connection is not required.
- Howz: this smart home monitoring system was developed in partnership with EDF Energy. It uses easy-to-install sensors and smart plugs to track an older person's routine and send alerts to family members or a carer if problems are detected. The system requires wi-fi in the home.
- Hive Link: was developed in partnership with Carers UK, and is operated in partnership with British Gas. Like the other systems listed above, it uses smart plugs and sensors to get to know your loved one’s routines and detect any changes.
Each of these systems includes a dedicated smartphone or tablet app that gives family members or carers ongoing updates about what’s happening in their loved one’s home.
Read more about how smart home technology enables you to remotely control central heating, lighting, security systems and more in the home.
How to get telecare
If you need a specific care package, which might include telecare, it’s important to make an appointment with a specialist such as an occupational therapist (OT). You can ask for a telecare assessment through your local council’s social services department. 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).
Local councils may provide some telecare services as part of a care plan or they may give guidance on what type of service would work best for you. Depending on your circumstances, there may be a charge for a council-supplied service, or it could be free. Start the process by asking for a free needs assessment.
If you're eligible for NHS Continuing Healthcare, this may cover the costs of telecare services.
You could also talk to an expert about your telecare options at a local Disabled Living Centre or Independent Living Centre – search online to find out if there are any centres near you.
Paying for telecare
If you are paying for the service yourself, you’ll usually encounter an initial set-up cost followed by a monthly subscription fee to use the service. Costs vary enormously depending on the individual package. Monitoring systems that provide information to family members via an online app can start from around £10 per month (after set-up costs), while a system with professional, round-the-clock monitoring may cost from £80 to £200 a month.
Make sure you work out the real costs in advance. Calculate how much it would cost to set up and operate for one year, two years and so on. Also find out if any extra charges could arise – maintenance costs, upgrades or replacing batteries, for example.
Remember, telecare systems are not fail-safe and correct maintenance of products, including checking the batteries regularly, is vital. Read more about the pros and cons of assistive technology, including care and maintenance issues to be aware of.
Closely related to telecare, telehealth devices monitor your physiological activity remotely, transmitting the readings to a healthcare professional in a hospital or help centre, who then decides whether intervention is needed. These devices are useful if you are living with certain ongoing medical conditions, such as heart conditions or hypertension, chronic asthma, diabetes, lung problems or epilepsy.
Read about how personal alarms can help older people feel safer at home and remain independent for longer.
Today there are many clever gadgets and tools available to help older people stay safe and independent at home.
Telehealth devices can support people with certain health conditions, such as chronic asthma, hypertension and diabetes.