While researching different methods of activity monitoring for my mom, I kept coming across the term “Telecare”. I wrongly assumed that it meant using video chats to have some kind of consultation with your doctor or nurses. In fact, it encompasses far more than that, and has greatly evolved over the last 20 years.
What does Telecare mean ? What does Telecare Do ? Telecare is the remote monitoring of individuals with fragile health, by the means of sensor and telecommunications technologies, with the prime goal of enabling them to maintain their independence in their own home and minimizing the risks they face there.
Contents Overview & Quicklinks
- #1 Establishing activity patterns and looking for irregularities
- #2 Sending real time notifications of the user’s activities
- #3 Panic buttons
How does Telecare work ?
Telecare systems use different kinds of sensors and other devices to constantly monitor the environment of the user and to transmit that data to some kind of hub or app, for different purposes.
Some systems may also incorporate the use of some form of smart device to add video calling, messaging, medical reminders and medical devices to monitor vital statistics such as blood sugar, or blood pressure.
You also have systems that along with monitoring they may incorporate panic buttons and medical alerts, which call monitoring centers if there is an emergency.
All of these systems can come with, or without, professional monitoring centers, which are manned by professional operators ready and waiting to respond to medical alerts.
If the system does not have a monitoring center, it is the caregivers and the family, in general, who will be receiving the notifications of medical alerts from their loved one’s system, and who will have to respond.
These systems can work in three ways, and these can be used together –
Establishing activity patterns and looking for irregularities
The first basic type of Telecare systems is ones which establish patterns in your loved one’s routine over a short period of time.
Having recognized the patterns, the system will red-flag situations that it sees as irregular – they break the established patterns.
The kind of activity or behavioral changes it may spot as “irregularities” would be things like wandering in the night, getting up out of bed more than usual, sleeping far later in the morning, going into the bathroom more than is normal, or maybe your loved one’s activity level over the day suddenly drops off dramatically.
These “irregularities” are red flagged because the system is programmed to spot changes in the pattern, which may be the precursor to, or the beginning of, a worrying health trend.
The software of the system is designed to spot these changes, and to then alert the caregivers, medical practitioners and monitoring centers to this.
This allows your loved one to get treatment early, and to maintain their independence.
The systems are generally accessible via an app, or a care portal, to the caregivers and the family members.
As well as receiving alerts when an issue has been red flagged, the data collected from your loved one’s activities is usually available in a timeline and in graphs, which often show when there is a behavior change, without actually having to receive an alert.
Sending real time notifications of the user’s activities
The second type of system is one which monitors your loved one’s activity all the time, but is not looking to establish a routine or to find any changes, but rather to let you know when your loved one has done a particular action.
You set “rules” for the system, and when you receive a notification, you can act if necessary.
For instance, you can set a sensor to tell you if the toilet has not been flushed by 10.00am, if the kettle has not been used by 8.00 am, or if the fridge has not been opened by 9.am – all of these will tell you if your loved one has not gotten up by their usual time.
You can also set the opposite type of rules – to send you alerts when your loved one has opened the fridge, or has gotten out of bed. With the use of door sensors, you can see when they go out and if they have returned.
This way of using the activity monitoring sensors lets you know what is going on in real time, and can send the caregivers and family, or monitoring centers, alerts depending on how serious the action is.
You may want to use this if you know your loved one wanders, and you just need to know they have left the house, and you can immediately go to find them.
Again, as with the first type of monitoring system, there is typically an app, and this will give the caregivers and any family members access to any data that the system makes available.
Because the system sends notifications of the broken “rules” set by the user, it will have a timeline with all the activities they did which triggered a sensor, so you will be able to see how active your loved one is.
You won’t receive any alerts to these changes, as you do with the first type of system, but you may be able to spot them anyway.
There are pendants with sensors which can detect a fall automatically, and will send an alert without the wearer doing anything.
There are other pendants which are worn and have a button which is pushed to send the alert.
Some systems may also have panic buttons which are on the wall in the bathroom or bedroom as well, which can be activated by pushing, or by voice.
These are monitoring systems which will immediately get emergency assistance in the shortest delay possible.
This is the method that the traditional medical alert, or personal alarm use.
Of course, it is not always an emergency, but the pendants are there for those moments when your loved one feels at ill or at risk.
What else does Telecare do ?
As well as working with sensors in the three main ways I have described above, Telecare can use video conferencing so that your loved one can talk with their medical team via a smart device, or with family or caregivers.
There are a range of devices that measure vital statistics for –
- Blood sugar levels
- Hypertension and hypotension
- Blood oxygen levels
- Asthma monitoring
- Cardiac monitoring
- Chronic lung disorder monitoring
which can be used and wirelessly or with Wi-Fi automatically update their data to the system for the attention of doctors or caregivers. And if “rules” have been set, the system can alert the caregivers, family, and or doctors when there is need.
Telecare systems can also set reminders for medications, which is one of the most common problems with elderly loved ones, and will let the caregivers know whether the medicine has been taken.
Any system can give a mix of the different types of Telecare services and approaches, all with the goal of helping to maintain the independence of your loved one in their own home, with as little risk to them as possible.
What about Telecare outside the home ?
Mobile Telecare is a fast developing service which has seen its rise since the emergence of state of the art mobile devices which have long-lasting batteries and roaming SIMS.
With these systems your loved one can go out of the home, be monitored 24/7, and have monitoring centers and operators, caregivers and family, all available to them when they need support.
These devices typically have GPS location tracking, two-way talk and automatic fall detection. As with the other types of systems, there is generally an app which ties the whole system together, and allows caregivers and family to see where their loved one is in real time, to be able to talk, to text and track them.
These devices are often used for GEO fencing – you can set the device to send you an alert when your loved one leaves a certain defined area, and then track them to see where they are – for elderly adults who wander and can get confused.
Examples of a Telecare systems ?
Here is an example of a company offering a number of different aspects of Telecare in their system –
- GrandCare is all based around a large touch screen, on which your loved one can make and receive video calls with family or doctors, set reminders, appointments, receive messages, watch videos, look at photos, and which will upload data from wireless devices which measure vital statistics – it’s a closed platform, so not just anyone can send messages or spam etc
- the system has a hub and sensors which are placed around your loved one’s home to monitor their activities, and which send the activities’ data to the “Care Portal”, where it can be viewed by any authorized caregivers, family members or doctors, in the form of graphs, activity timelines, instances of alerts and medical device results – this is not the type of Telecare system which analyzes routines and searches for irregularities in the routine, rather the caregivers set rules
- the family and caregivers will check into the “Care Portal” via the system’s free app on their smart devices to enter “rules” into the system so that it can send them alerts on their smart devices when their loved one gets up in the night, for example
- the system also has a medical alert button on the touch screen and a portable medical alert button, both of which will send alerts to the authorized family and caregivers
- the system does not have 24/7 monitoring, but as well as being available to private individuals and families, it is also available for residences for group living, where the system would be manned by carers and nurses
- this is an in-home system which does not offer any mobile monitoring
As you can see, GrandCare system uses real time notifications of alerts from the sensors. The alerts are either sent when rules are broken, or when a panic button is pressed – it does not attempt to establish patterns and then check for irregularities- it really relies on the family and caregivers to spot those by checking the activity logs and also setting “rules” which make it obvious that something that is not desired is happening.
There are also a number of Telehealth and telemedicine activities which are being performed using the screen and medical devices. All of this is working towards helping your loved ones to maintain their independence, and to remain in their own home, which as I said is the primary goal of Telecare.
What are the benefits/importance of Telecare for the elderly ?
Telecare has huge benefits to the elderly, their families and the State –
- for those elderly adults who have been receiving treatment in hospital and who wish to return to home, Telecare is a superb way of helping them do this – they can regain their confidence, continue to get better, and all the while knowing that the system is there supporting them and can be relied upon if they have an emergency
- elderly adults who are simply getting a little fragile, don’t have to worry about being forced to go into assisted living, but can stay longer in their home, and there is no doubt that it gives greater confidence and this in terms of improving health can never be underestimated
- from a safety standpoint, anyone who is fragile is safer to some degree with these systems
- people with chronic conditions can be easily monitored with wireless devices, the data can be transferred almost instantaneously, and their medical practitioners can be alerted if they are not getting good results – all of this leads to better and faster treatment, and means that these individuals can maintain their independence as long as possible
- the fact that the systems allow the elderly to get engaged in their own health management, for some, will mean that they become more proactive when they see how it can improve their lives and give them the possibility to live at home and not be afraid
- the financial side – as the population grows older, governments are looking for solutions to keep care costs from escalating, and all the advances in the technologies used in Telecare mean that it becomes more and more affordable, and these technologies will only get better
- having people in their homes managing their health conditions, being able to see health issues in advance, and being able to treat them at an early stage is not only a benefit for the elderly, but it also cuts costs for governments as well
- for the families of the elderly using Telecare there are all the benefits of less stress and worry about their loved ones, and the happiness of seeing their parents’ lives improved, hopefully a renewed confidence and zip in their step that comes from the support of the systems, and their continued independence in their homes
Is Telecare different from Telehealth and telemedicine ?
I found it pretty confusing trying to sort out the definitions of these terms.
Basically, Telecare the term used to encompass all the forms of treatment and care offered to patients at a distance, using sensor and telecommunication technologies as their means of providing that care.
Telecare, at its heart, is also the idea of making it possible for the people to maintain their independence in their own homes, and doing it by providing technologies to support the individuals, and those helping them, in that goal.
Telehealth and Telemedicine are terms for more defined areas within the treatment and care used in Telecare.
What is Telehealth ?
According to Health.IT.gov
“The Health resources Services Administration defines telehealth as the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications”
In layman’s terms, Telehealth is all the forms of transmitting the data relating to medical patients with the aid of telecommunications and electronic technologies.
What is Telemedicine ?
Again according to Health.IT.gov
“Telehealth is different form telemedicine because it refers to a broader scope of remote healthcare services than telemedicine. While telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services such as provider training, administrative meetings and continuing medical education, in addition to clinical services.”
To make it simple, Telemedicine refers to only remote clinical services, and is nothing to do with administrative services. This can be remote clinical consultations which involve the use of electronic and telecommunications technologies, such as audio or video, instead of an in-person visit to the doctor.
As technologies improve, and become cheaper, the systems used in Telecare will as well. The possibilities will also expand greatly.
One example is the latest innovation which is designed and used by Vayyar Home, a system of using radio waves which can detect falls with 4 times the accuracy of any other system.
At first the system was just for the bathroom, but it has now been developed for the whole home – no pendants to wear, nothing to press. It detects the fall, and immediately sends out calls to emergency contacts who have been pre-configured into the system, and the user has nothing to do.
But it is not just one technology which makes all of this work, it takes a few combined approaches, and of course human contact and warmth, but it can make life a lot easier and more enjoyable for both the elderly and their families, as independence and confidence can be restored, and in a lot of cases renewed health and vigor to their lives.
I’m Gareth, the author and owner of Looking After Mom and Dad.com
I have been a caregiver for over 10 yrs and share all my tips here.