Taking up Assistive Technologies

The Guardian printed an article earlier in the week about a poor take up nationally of telecare. Telecare (assistive technology)  is the system of various automatic alerts that are often used in local authorities for the care of older people.

The most familiar might be an ‘remote alarm call’ system – perhaps a pendant worn around the neck or wrist with a big red button to be pressed in case of a fall. At which point (at least with the systems I’ve worked with) a disembodied voice echoes from a small box-like device asking if any assistance is required. If there is no response or a call for help (because sometimes the button is pressed accidently or sat upon by visiting social workers.. yes, I’ve done that more than once) people will attend (they have keys) and respond appropriately.

image red at Flickr

But the world of ‘Telecare’ has expanded exponentially – or at least, I thought it had.

We have fall monitors which can test the pressure on ‘usual’ chairs or beds and alert the appropriate team if there isn’t anyone on that particular chair/bed for a programmed period of time (and it can be set so that the bed monitor is only active between certain hours and the same with the chair monitors).

We have gas detection monitors, C02 monitors, smoke detectors and heat monitors and flood detectors which all report back to a central office in case the person in question is not able to alert anyone.

There are, as I have actually been directly involved in recently, have ‘door monitors’ that can detect if someone ‘wanders’ out of a front door at night.

And probably lots of other types of equipment that I haven’t even begun to explore.

I was surprised at the poor take up because as the article notes, a lot of money has been thrown at the project – it’s certainly been very evident in our local authority. Perhaps the poor take up is related to seeing it as a ‘replacement’ service for home care workers. I’ve never considered that but more of an additional service – a kind of safety net.

Again, in my own Borough, the funding provided by central government has been used to provide the service as free on demand so we are able to offer these services to users at no current cost (although we have to explain that this may change in the future as the funding runs out). Perhaps that is why we have been more successful in rolling out the services than some.

And I have not personally known anyone considering reducing face-to-face care as a result of Telecare being implemented. Sometimes it is a more of a case of peace of mind for the carer who might not live in the same house, as much as needed for the user. I have certainly used that line as persuading factor, you know, ‘get the gas detector for your daughter’s sake, not because you wouldn’t know exactly what to do if you smelt gas during the night’.

So why the low take up, the Guardian presents a concerning but unsurprising conclusion.

In 2006, the government made £80m available in grants for English councils to pilot telecare and other forms of assistive technology…But there is uncertainty about how much of the £80m, which was not ring-fenced, was spent on telecare, as opposed to other uses

Of course the main worry has been that these new technologies will lead to a decrease in care visits but I haven’t seen it used in that way yet, and I hope it never will after all, the needs that are met are very different.

I am actually rather glad that I work in one of the authorities that seems to want to take this forward though as I’ve seen a lot of direct benefits  – in fact, someone I work with currently managed to leave the gas on and this was alerted through exactly this system. It might have been a lot longer if there had been no electronic trigger.

I can’t see it being anything other than an integral part of the packages that are delivered increasingly in the future. Technology does not have to be our enemy and it does not have to replace people.