Technology for independent living in later life

Caroline Cassidy
An elderly woman talks on a cell phone.
An elderly woman talks on a cell phone.

As we age, our health is often not what it once was, and for those that live alone it can make everyday life something of a struggle. But there is technology available that can help to take the worry out of living at home and help you stay independent for as long as possible.

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Telecare gadgets make it easier to perform everyday tasks, as well as keeping you safe and healthy at home. For instance, if you suffer from memory problems, a telecare gadget can remind you to do certain tasks, whether that's an appointment that is booked, or medication that must be taken at specific times, either via a talking device to let you know what needs to be done when, by message on a mobile phone or computer, or a simple alarm to remind you to take medication.

Many older people find a personal alarm helps to ease their worry about their safety. These consist of a button on a pendant or wristband that when pushed, raises an alarm at a response centre so that someone can come to your assistance if you have fallen or are unwell. Some even detect when you have fallen and automatically alert someone, either the response centre directly or a friend, relative or carer.

Similarly, an intruder detector will alert a response centre should there be any movement in your home when you are out or in bed, so that you can rest assured that assistance is on its way.

Even something as simple as bending down to reach sockets can be made easier with telecare, since there are remote control gadgets that allow you to control electrical items within the home without causing you discomfort.

Similar to telecare in that it is designed to allow you to remain living independently in your own home, telehealth gadgets cater for those with long-term health conditions. They can measure signs such as high blood pressure, asthma or breathing difficulties, and send the results directly to your GP, who can monitor the readings and call in if there are any problems. Similarly, diabetics may benefit from a glucose meter that checks the blood sugar levels for danger signs, or a low blood sugar alarm that can alert you if the level drops while you're asleep.

For more information about the types of telehealth technology available, speak to your GP or health visitor about items that may help.

Telecare for family members
Telecare isn't just helpful for older people living alone - it can also give family members peace of mind. For example, an activity monitor will alert a response centre if there has been no movement in a particular room for a long time, letting family members know that their elderly relative is eating regularly, or alert them if you fall and are unable to get up.

For those with relatives who become easily confused or have memory problems, a property exit sensor will send a message to the response centre if someone goes out at odd times of the day or night, and there are even GPS trackers that can let family members know where their relative is should they get lost while out and about. And telephones with large buttons, some with photos alongside the stored numbers of friends and relatives, can help elderly people to stay in touch easily.
Getting help
Telecare and telehealth products are available to buy, but if you or your relative is struggling financially, it is worth talking to the local council about help with payments or even free adaptations if necessary. Social services will usually carry out a care needs assessment to determine whether small adaptations can be provided free of charge. Alternatively, visit the Disabled Living Foundation or speak to your GP or healthcare professional about what products are available, and where you might get help financing the services.

Has telecare or telehealth helped your elderly relative to stay independent? Leave your comments below...

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