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Telecare and assistive technologies

There are 10 million over 65s in the United Kingdom, and 1.5million of those are over 85. The number of people aged 80 or older is expected to double by mid-2037. According to recent research, almost three quarters of elderly people can be expected to be in need of social care. This can range from relatively simple support, such as help with preparing meals, to full-time care in a residential home. At the same time, the number of younger adults with a physical disability is also set to rise, and medical advances mean many people with disabilities are living longer. This will significantly increase the demand on health and care services offered by local authorities.

Councils have been applying telecare, tele-health, and assistive technologies for at least two decades. This technology helps support elderly and physically disabled residents to continue living independently in their own homes while receiving the care they need.

Telecare refers to the use of sensors and alarms. They are used to signal when someone is in distress and needs assistance, either automatically or when triggered by the user. Personal alarms are supplied as pendants, wrist straps, or belt units and linked via a base unit to a telephone line and a help centre. This technology has now been supplemented by a range of sensors and alarms, some linked by mobile phone, including activity, door, and bed or chair occupancy sensors, detectors of falls or epileptic seizures, medication management systems, and detectors of household hazards including fire, smoke, carbon monoxide, domestic gas, floods etc.

Telehealth refers to the use of electronic sensors or equipment to monitor vital health signs remotely, so that trained monitors can assess health in real time without being present. These monitor pulse, blood pressure, and glucose, and include scales for daily weighing. Assistive living technology refers to equipment and systems that help people with disabilities with their functional capabilities. This can range from wheelchairs and chairlifts to hearing aids, walking frames and simpler approaches such as elastic bands used to increase grip on jars or mugs. The term includes adaptive technology, equipment specifically designed for the purpose, and rehabilitative technology, specifically designed to help rebuild capabilities.

With councils required to make further budget efficiencies, continuing to provide good value social care has become a key challenge. The goals of maximising independence and the ability to function as part of the community are continue to be valued in their own right. Therefore telecare, telehealth, and assistive technologies have an increasing important role to play.