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Your guide to care and support

Telecare and alarms

Telecare in our lives - Tracey and Lynette's story

Media last reviewed: 10/09/2015

Next review due: 10/09/2017

Having a personal alarm fitted can be very useful as they can help you safely remain in your own home. They can help avoid the costly upheaval of moving into sheltered accommodation or a care home.

Alarms are worth discussing with your local authority social services department if you are having an assessment of your needs.

It may view an alarm as community equipment necessary to meet your assessed care needs, and provide them free of charge after an assessment by an occupational therapist.

Alternatively, it should ensure you are left with enough money to pay for any community alarm system after care and support charges have been deducted.

If you are going to buy an alarm yourself, you need to consider the many options available to choose from.

Some alarms will alert a carer or neighbour. These include:

  • portable alarms – these are battery-powered or use pressurised gas and can be bought from high street shops or online. They are worn or carried and make a high-pitched sound when triggered, which can be heard from a limited distance.
  • fixed position alarms – these have a fixed transmitter and receiver and are operated by a pull cord or similar trigger, which sends a high-pitched sound to alert anyone within a limited distance. Some systems can be designed to release door locks automatically if activated to allow a neighbour to enter the home when the alarm is triggered.
  • portable alarms with a fixed-position receiver – these are worn around the neck or wrist, and the alarm can be triggered by the person wearing them. An alarm is sounded from a receiver mounted on a wall or other fixed position to alert someone within earshot. 
  • portable transmitters and portable receivers – these are worn by carers and the people they are looking after, making it easier for the carer to be aware of when the alarm is triggered.

If you're living with someone else who looks after you, you may want systems that can alert people if you need help when you're in separate rooms, such as an intercom system. Other typical alarms include:

  • fall alarms – this is a portable device that is activated when the person wearing it falls to a 20 degree angle or more and lies without moving for eight seconds. A signal is sent to a portable pager or an autodial alarm telephone is activated.
  • movement monitors – these are mainly used at night and can alert a carer to epileptic seizures by detecting movement or monitoring vital signs. An alarm is triggered if the sensors notice something is wrong.
  • wandering alarms – most often used to alert a carer when a person strays, this alarm is activated by pressure sensors located in a bedside mat or doorway, or when someone gets out of bed. Some alarms are worn and trigger a warning alarm if the person goes through a door fitted with an antenna.
  • a hypothermia alarm – this is used to monitor room temperature. An alarm is triggered if the temperature falls below a designated level.

Gas detectors and smoke or fire detectors are also worth fitting to keep you safe.

Telecare at home

Telecare systems can help you continue to live independently by allowing someone else – typically a relative who lives elsewhere – to make sure you're safe.

A telecare system is typically made up of a network of sensors that are fitted all around the home. These sensors can be linked through a telephone line to a call centre.

Telecare is different from a personal alarm system as you don't need to do anything to trigger the alarm. It is also different from telehealth systems, which can be used to remotely monitor your health signs, such as blood pressure.

Depending on what is needed, the telecare system can also include prompts – for example, giving a reminder to take your medication. Some systems can turn off the electricity or gas mains in the home if they detect danger.

If you think you might benefit from a telecare system, contact your local authority's social services department. Social services can provide telecare system to people who are assessed as needing them and deemed financially eligible for these services.

Alternatively, your local NHS trust may pay for a telecare system as part of a continuing healthcare or intermediate care package, if you are eligible. Find out more about NHS Continuing Care.

If you can't get funding from the NHS or your local authority, you may have to pay for a telecare service yourself if you feel you would benefit from it.

It's a good idea to see what telecare systems are available and which are best suited to you and your home. There are telecare demonstrator sites you can visit to see the systems in operation.

The Telecare Services Association can help you identify telecare or telehealth services for yourself or your family, friends, or people you provide care for. Which? Elderly Care also has a useful guide to telecare and telehealth systems.

Page last reviewed: 15/01/2015

Next review due: 15/01/2017

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