This guest blog was contributed by Dr Maggie Mort, Reader, and Dr Celia Roberts, Senior Lecturer, of Lancaster University.
There seems to be an assumption everywhere that ‘doing more for less’ is in itself a virtue. Take telecare (the provision of home care at a distance by means of devices linked to a central call centre). It is said that this will enable economies of scale because large numbers of people (who may be chronically ill or frail) can be monitored in their own homes at the same time, making services more efficient.
There will be less need, it is argued, for home visits by paid carers and healthcare workers. Sensors placed around the home will detect problems such as gas leaks, falls or restlessness. It is claimed that these systems will give peace of mind and crucially enable older people to stay in their own homes for longer, rather than have to move into residential care.
Does this mean we need to have devices placed all over our homes and linked via a central hub to a monitoring centre? Crucially, if efficiency is the goal, will it mean reductions in face to face care? Our booklet, developed for those thinking of having telecare installed, aims to help users, carers and families clarify whether it will meet their needs.
Maybe this is not an either/or situation. For our research on telecare issues, we interviewed older people. Many told us that they valued their pendant alarms, but were less sure about sensors. Others had suggestions about designing devices to suit their own requirements such as a mobile alarm that would work outside as well as inside the home. While respondents were adamant that telecare should not be seen as a substitute for ‘hands on’, face to face care, we also learned that older people wanted to be involved in how systems were designed and who received information about their movements around the house.
And what of the other ways that we already create, or could create, peace of mind? One of the older respondents in our study came to a discussion group and afterwards gave us a handwritten note describing all the ways she and her neighbours and friends managed this:
Arrange things to give peace of mind: telephone in every room; key holders; my friend and I ring each other every morning; neighbours know I am around when my curtains are opened.
In our work we explored the social and ethical issues arising from installing home telecare systems which we felt were too long neglected by manufacturers and even care providers. This allowed us to develop a framework which can be used by older people and their families to help then decide how and when to engage with telecare at home.
Just because it’s technology doesn’t mean we can’t be critical of it, engage with it and shape it for our own needs.
Age UK aims to be a centre of expertise on ageing issues and a knowledge hub for all information relating to older people. Find out more about Age UK’s Knowledge Hub