Caring from afar: A guide to remote monitoring

What options are there for the remote monitoring of an elderly relative to help keep them safe? In this day and age, the answer to that question is plenty. Wading through all the information on various remote monitoring devices like lifelines, movement sensors and mobile apps though can be time-consuming and confusing.

To make it quicker and easier for you, here you’ll find a breakdown of different types of remote monitoring for the elderly and their relevant pros and cons. It’ll help you decide which you want to know more about and put you on the right path for finding the remote monitoring service or device that will give you and the parent or grandparent you’re caring for the peace of mind you both need.

Types of remote monitoring

As you delve deeper into the subject, you’ll discover there are three main categories that remote monitoring for the elderly fall into and they are –

  • Telecare
  • Telehealth
  • Telemonitoring

What is telecare for the elderly?

In its basic form, telecare has been around for quite some time. Your parent will probably be familiar with it and call it a lifeline. With telecare your parent is given an alarm to wear which is connected to a response centre that’s manned twenty-four hours of the day seven days of the week.

When your parent activates the alarm, because they’re feeling unwell or have had a fall, the call centre will respond within minutes. The responding operator will either get in touch with a named contact or, depending on the type of service contracted, speak to your parent via the alarm and arrange for urgent medical attention if needed.

If your elderly parent is prone to falling, you may want to consider getting them an alarm that sends out a signal automatically if they fall rather than one they need to press to activate. As long as they’re wearing it, this type of fall detector will get them assistance a lot quicker especially if they’ve bumped their head and are feeling groggy or, in the worst-case scenario, have knocked themselves unconscious.

As technology has advanced, telecare alarms have evolved to include –

  • Automatic alerts for gas leaks
  • Unusual increases in temperature in the home which could indicate a fire
  • Drops in temperatures which could mean the central heating isn’t working properly
  • Sensors that can detect running water if a taps been left switched on
  • Some telecare services also provide sensors to be placed in the home that automatically set off an alarm when no movement is detected within a certain timeframe

Keep in mind that this type of remote monitoring of an elderly relative only works efficiently when your relative is in their home. It won’t advise you or the response centre of a fall if your parent or relative has taken a stroll to the local shops. It also relies heavily on the user remembering to wear their alarm so if your parent is forgetful or suffering from the onset of dementia, you might want to consider an alternative or extra back-up option.

M-health for the elderly – If your parent isn’t quite ready to consider having a lifeline that’s connected to a response centre, but you’re still concerned about them, you may want to investigate a relatively new type of remote monitoring called m-health.

M-health is a type of telecare which works by using the latest smart technology. It sends signals from sensors placed around your parent’s home to an app on your mobile phone. As well as being able to unobtrusively monitor their movements throughout the day, depending on where you install the sensors, the app can inform you:

  • When your parent gets out of bed
  • When they sit down or get up out of their chair
  • When they leave the house or come back in
  • If they’re in the bathroom
  • If they’re in the kitchen

Smart apps of this kind are also capable of storing information about your parent’s regular daily routine and can inform you if there’s any change in their habits that might indicate a problem or ill health.

Keep in mind that while using this type of remote monitoring for the elderly can work out to be very cost-effective, there’s no emergency back-up service. If something does go wrong, you or another family member will be the ones who will need to respond.

What is telehealth for the elderly?

Telehealth or telemedicine is a type of remote monitoring for the elderly that is not just beneficial if your parent has health issues, it can be a lifesaver. It can also save your parent the inconvenience of having to attend regular, but often stressful appointments with their doctor or nurse at their local surgery. That’s a huge bonus if they live in a rural area and are no longer fit to drive.

Smart patches or smart monitors, either worn or used by your parent, are designed to take regular readings and then transmit those readings to a doctor or nurse via an app on their phone or via a base hub in their home. Like an early warning system, they’re also programmed to initiate an alarm if they sense a problem and your parent is in need of medical attention.

The patches and monitors can be used to keep an eye on a range of health issues including:-

  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate
  • Glucose levels
  • Urine infections
  • Oxygen levels

To ensure telehealth smart patches and monitors are one-hundred percent effective, your parent will need to have access to a reliable internet connection.

What is telemonitoring for the elderly?

Telemonitoring of the elderly involves the installation of webcams in your parent’s home. Think in-house CCTV and you’re more or less on the right track. They’re often called nanny or grandparent cams and operate the same way a baby monitoring cam does.

There are indoor and outdoor models as well as some versions with sound and movement sensors. Once installed, you can view the cam recordings or livefeed on your smartphone. They can be a big asset if your parent is in the early stages of dementia and you’re worried about them leaving the house unaccompanied.

One thing to keep in mind is your parent must be happy to have the cams installed. You can’t just set the cams up without your parent’s permission. Not all elderly people are okay with having cams installed in their home even if it is for their own benefit. And, if your parent has dementia, hearing a voice suddenly chirp up over the cam’s audio could be frightening as well as confusing so think about installing cams in-depth before doing it.

Benefits of remote monitoring of an elderly relative

A lot of the assistive technology available today is still relatively new, but it’s already proving its worth in many ways. For example – the use of smart patches for elderly people with health issues means they get the medical assistance they need before any issue reaches the point where there’s a need to call an ambulance and head for A&E.

In a study published by the National Institute for Health and Care Research it was found that the use of this type of assistive technology reduced deaths in the elderly by 20% and hospital admissions by 29%. It also helps promote independence, reduces the need for carers and allows the users to remain in their home a lot longer than they otherwise might be able to.

How to choose a remote monitoring system

There’s a lot to take into consideration before you make a final decision and choose a remote monitoring system or service for your parent. What you’ll need to take into account are the following:

  • Your parent’s physical health
  • Your parent’s mental health
  • Their mobility or lack of it
  • The availability of a good internet or phone connection
  • Your parent’s feelings about and adeptness at using technology
  • The affordability of the assistive technology you’re considering
  • Your distance from your parent’s home and your availability to respond to an emergency
  • Can the system or service you’re considering be changed if your parent’s needs change
  • Is the system or service you’re considering compatible with others already in place or ones your parent may need in the future

Privacy and security considerations

You may find that one of your parent’s main concerns about telecare and other forms of remote monitoring revolves around the theft of their personal information. You can put their minds at rest because, the same as doctors or other healthcare services, telecare companies are obliged by law to comply with the rules set out in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) act of 2018.

Are there other ways you can help ensure their information is as secure as possible? Yes, there are and they’re simple ones you can implement easily. Always make sure any internet or wifi connections you and they will be using are secure and remember to activate firewalls on laptops and iPads.

Having a webcam in your living room and a ring cam on your front door is currently all the rage. How many videos of hilarious moments have you watched on social media that have been caught by cams like those? Probably hundreds. Many of the cameras used for remote monitoring record too, but the footage they record is not for public viewing. Post videos of your elderly parent or relative on the internet and not only are you violating their privacy, you’ll be breaking the law.

In summary

Not every remote monitoring device, system or service is going to be suitable for your parent’s needs. You may find it beneficial to get advice from a healthcare professional or accompany your parent, if they’re in agreement, to a doctor’s appointment especially if your parent has health issues that need monitoring.

If your parent is in full command of their faculties, you will need to discuss the subject of remote monitoring with them before deciding how to move forward. It is their life and their home and they need to be happy as well as comfortable with having and using remote monitoring. Not all elderly people are so you may need to use your powers of gentle persuasion to get them to agree.

Getting old isn’t easy for anyone and admitting you need help can be even harder when you’ve been independent all your life. But there’s no denying that remote monitoring of the elderly is an advancement in healthcare that not only provides peace of mind for the user and their carers, but chosen wisely can be a life saver too.

Common questions

  • Is there an app to check on elderly parents?

Yes, there are remote monitoring apps for smartphones that can be used in conjunction with sensors in an elderly person’s home.

  • Can remote monitoring technology help reduce the risk of falls for elderly relatives?

Remote monitoring technology can’t prevent someone from tripping over, but if a person is prone to falling because of health issues that make them dizzy, then it could. Smart patches that measure glucose levels or blood pressure can alert carers or medical professionals of a problem before it reaches a level that induces a person to fall over or pass out.

  • Are there any legal or ethical concerns surrounding the use of remote monitoring for elderly relatives?

Yes, there are ethical concerns that remote monitoring of the elderly may lead to increased social isolation and be a safety risk if not employed correctly. There are also legal concerns relating to the invasion of privacy and leakage of personal information.

  • What are some cost-effective options for remote monitoring of elderly relatives?

Two of the more cost-effective options for the remote monitoring of an elderly relative are personal lifelines contracted on a monthly subscription and m-health apps for smartphones.

  • How do you address resistance to remote monitoring technology from elderly relatives?

The best way to address resistance to remote monitoring technology from your elderly relative is to explain as fully as you can what it’s about and how it works, highlight the potential consequences they face without it, offer reassurance and if needed, seek advice from a healthcare professional.

  • Can remote monitoring technology replace the need for in-person care for elderly relatives?

Remote monitoring technology can never fully replace the need for in-person care for the elderly. What it can do is reduce the need for in-person care and prolong a person’s independence allowing them to stay in their home longer.

Terminology toolkit

  1. Remote monitoring – In-home care for the elderly which uses modern technology
  2. Telecare – A personal alarm service connected to a response centre
  3. Telehealth – Medical care conducted at a distance using technology
  4. Telemonitoring – Monitoring of an elderly person via in-home webcams
  5. M-health – Monitoring of an elderly person using in-home sensors and smartphone apps
  6. Lifeline – A personal alarm
  7. Fall detector – A sensor which can detect falls
  8. Smart patch – A patch worn by a person which transmits medical data to their healthcare professionals

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