Technology can help vulnerable people maintain independence and wellbeing and can also provide a lot of peace of mind to those supporting them. The umbrella term for many of the products and services is 'Telecare' but this term is more of an industry buzz word and we encourage you to explore outside of this. Simply ask yourself and your loved one: 'what problems are we encountering?'. From here you will discover the many ways that technology can help.

What is the best approach to take?

Remember: Everybody is different. Your loved one may respond very well to one solution but less well to another. Luckily, many of the solutions either come with a trial period or can be returned so it is fine for you to experiment and see which things stick. It may take some time to find what suits you both but be patient, it will be worth it.

Where do I find solutions?

We have included a couple of recommendations for each common problem, but we encourage you to explore further options as they all differ in features, price and quality. In this article we have included products and services which you can access and pay for directly but there may be equivalent services which are offered by your local authority. Often a great way to inform your decisions is by:

  1. Requesting a free 'needs assessment' from a social worker or occupational therapist. Not only will they recommend solutions based on professional experience and qualification but they will identify any eligibility for funding

  2. Visiting a Disabled Living Centre or Independent Living Centre (search online to find out if there are any centres near you). These centres are essentially fake houses that exhibit various products and services so you can see how they work in situ.

Once you have done this you should be in a much better place to make an informed decision on which technology to use.

What are the common challenges and how do I solve them?

To make this easy to understand, we have organised solutions according to which problems they solve (some solutions may appear more than once).

1. Reduce the chance of an accident in the home

This can be facilitated by a wide range of solutions such as carpet tacks, chair lifts and grab bars. and by making sure each room has adequate lighting. This is a problem that is best solved by seeking the help of an occupational therapist, but there are also specialist shops such as NRS Healthcare which have a huge range of products.

2. Spot an accident in the home

Sensors around the home

Sensors around the home can log activity, for example, how often a person uses the kitchen or gets up at night. If the vulnerable person exhibits unusual behaviour It can alert family members to say there may be an issue.

Pros: Fastest reactive way of noticing a problem

Cons: Expensive

Suggested providers

Canary Care: £84 - £298.80 initially then £31.20 a month

Howz: £149 initially then £9 per month

Smart cameras

These are designed for security needs, but are sometimes appropriate in common areas of the house and may be useful when combined with other solutions. They record video & audio continuously, can be panned around remotely, enable you to project your voice, will alert you of movement and can be viewed and panned using a smartphone app.

Pros: Cheap, show exactly what is happening, provide a means of communication.

Cons: Invasive, can only warn of movement (not a lack of)

Suggested providers

Victure 1080p - £25.99 then £3 - £5 per month for cloud based recording

Wansview Wifi IP - £21.59 then £3 - £5 per month for cloud based recording

CareCalls alerts

CareCalls provides a 'Check-in' function where by calls need to be answered and acknowledged else family members will be informed by text, phone or email. The calls can be at whatever times suit best and can also be used to prompt a task. For example: Someone with diabetes could receive an inulin reminder to help manage their condition , if a call is not answered, it may suggest a seizure and family members are informed.

Pros: As many check-ins as suits (at no extra cost), Can be paired with reminders (at no extra cost)

Cons: May not alert to an issue as quickly as a sensor

Read more at CareCalls.co.uk

3. Enable a call for help

Specialist pendants & watches

Specialist pendants & watches enable your loved one to press a button in case of an emergency, this then puts them through to a monitoring centre (think 'private 999') who will assist them. These devices are also able to track location (good if someone is prone to wander / has an emergency out of the home) and, in some cases, are also able to act as a means of communication for reminders / check-ins via the CareCalls service.

Pros: Reasonable pricing, can be discreetly carried

Cons: Easily lost, need charging

Personal alarm watch - £54.98 initially then £17.99 a month

OwnFone - Initially £85 then a low monthly charge (unknown)

4. Prompt important tasks

Reminder phone calls

CareCalls delivers reminders and check-ins via landline or mobile. We can deliver as many phone calls as are needed 24 hours a day 7 days a week. When a call is answered we play a message reminding the listener to do important tasks, such as taking medication. If they don’t answer the phone at any time, other people can be informed. You can also see reports of which calls have or have not been responded to and it comes with a 14 day free trial.

Pros: Intuitive and familiar technology, provides both reminders & safety checks, personalised message can provide time dependent & precise instructions, 9-5 phone customer service

Cons: Does not organise pills & medication (we recommend partnering CareCalls with a pill box or a prescription delivery service, see below).

Apps

There are many Smart phone apps (including those that come with the phone) which can be used as a reminder. There are many options available on the app and play stores.

Pros: Free or cheap

Cons: No feed back, cant be personalised, unfamiliar and potentially confusing technology, Mobile phones can be lost or left uncharged, can not be heard throughout the house.

5. Make it easy to identify and take correct medication

Pill boxes

Pill boxes are a tried and tested tool to help organise medication, they vary in shape, size and functionality and each dose can be labeled according to day & time. They pair very well with our reminder service as CareCalls can specify the day & time when prompting the dose.

Pros: Cheap

Cons: One size does not fit all and the most appropriate box may vary depending on volume of medication, can he challenging for those with hand dexterity issues or poor vision.

See a range of pill boxes on Amazon

Prescription delivery services

These services enable you to have prescriptions delivered, pre-packed, directly to the door. As well as saving you a trip to the pharmacy they also package the prescription in sachets to make it easy to track the time and day of each prescription.

Pros: Free beyond the NHS £9 per item, Saves time and money traveling to the pharmacy

Cons: None, as far as we can tell

Pharmacy2U - Free

Wells Pharmacy - Free

6. Make sure phone calls are heard

Specialist landlines

There are a range of phones specifically designed for older and vulnerable individuals, big buttons make them easy to dial out and some have large buttons which will dial a pre-set number and show the face of the person being called. These phones are also designed to ring much louder so are perfect for those who are hard of hearing.

Amplicomms BigTel 40 Plus - £29.16

BT4600 - £45.82

7. Block nuisance calls and unwanted calls from scammers or salespeople

Nuisance calls and unwanted calls calls can be blocked by using a 'Call guardian'. These systems force the caller to state their name so that the call receiver can check who is calling before they answer. These are great at warding of unwanted calls and you can add trusted numbers to a 'whitelist'. Please note if you are intending to try the CareCalls system you will also need to add our number to the whitelist system (more information given when setting up the service).

Call guardians are provided with most of the major phone service providers and, in the case of BT, can be managed via compatible phones or by calling a special number via the phone line in question

Set up BT call guardian

8. Find lost things

If your loved one is loosing small objects, such as keys or the tv remote, you can buy special devices which will emit a loud sound when triggered. They do require a smart phone to trigger but if a family member is available, this can still save a lot of time and effort. They even provide a GPS location so if the item is lost outside the house it can be easily found.

Tile - Starts from £15 for one Tile

9. Observe finances to make sure no one is taking advantage of a loved one

This is a less trodden path, but for those with power of attorney or otherwise, you may wish to look at the new app banks available. These can be especially useful  if your loved one is at risk of fraud or poor spending decisions. Many apps will show a very clear and categorised breakdown of spending and will send your phone a notification each time money is spent. Setting up an account is much easier than a traditional bank and you can either get a joint account or set up their account on your phone.

Monzo - Free

Revolut - Free

10. Detect floods, fires, gas and dangerous temperatures

There are a range of sensors which can be used to detect dangerous environments. These can send an alert to your phone in the case that a problem is detected. These are quite expensive but traditional models (which may still be appropriate) will not send a message to you and will only sound an alarm within the house itself.

Nest fire detector - £86.67

Eachen Water detector - 33.44

11. Facilitate easier access to information, entertainment and facilities

Smart hubs can enable older and vulnerable people to perform many tasks with their voice, this can be especially effective for someone who has mobility issues. Smart hubs can control lights, temperature, tv and radio and can act as a phone or an intuitive source of information for things such as weather or news. The key is to understand that, especially for older people, there will still be a learning curve and some reservations (but a much smaller one compared to a laptop or tablet). If you decide to buy one of these, we encourage you to dedicate time to teaching and familiarising your loved one with the device. Below are the starter options for both of the main brands (Amazon Alexa and Google Home) but both companies offer more elaborate products depending on your needs.

Amazon Echo dot - £25.99

Google Nest mini - £49

In conclusion, technology should be seen as a ‘tool to make things easier’ rather than a replacement. Care will always require a human element and one should never seek to replace this with technology, only to make things easier or more effective. We encourage you to experiment with technology and to keep the discussion open and equal with your loved one in order to find solutions that best suit you both.

Additional links

Getting a needs assessment

NHS Continuing Healthcare

Use the gov.uk website to find your local council and social services.

Alexa for seniors: A guide