Telecare — a choice between safety and violating privacy?
Thanks to technological development, more and more solutions that enable the monitoring of the elderly, dependent or those living alone are available on the market. The more we care about their safety, the more we violate their privacy. Where do we draw the line? Is telecare a cure for loneliness?
We live in an aging society. The elderly and those who live alone generally have two options: either to live in single-person households, or to be taken into the care of family, living together with their children and grandchildren. However, because of the fast pace of living, even that second option might not be a beneficial solution to them, as in spite of living with relatives they spend their time mostly alone when the caregivers are at work, at school, shopping or performing other duties. In this case telecare can act as a placebo that ensures that despite actual solitude, someone is constantly watching over the elderly and is ready to help in case something goes wrong.
Remote technology as support for a caregiver
At Sensinum we are constantly looking for new technological solutions that enable caregivers to remotely monitor their dependents. We test apps and modern facilities designed for the elderly. At the same time we are trying to verify our own ideas to develop an “electronic guardian” — a computer system that comprehensively improves the health care sector in the field of telecare. Particular attention is being paid to the utility of the product, intuitive UI and the privacy of those monitored.
There are now many modern devices that can effectively assist the health sector with telecare and their purpose is always the same: calling for help in emergency situations. The solutions offered by this industry are constantly being developed and refined. There are tools for automatic monitoring of vital parameters such as heart rate or breathing that are able to send a signal immediately when it detects a life-threatening situation. The elderly or sick may also independently call for assistance through the “life buttons” worn by them in the form of a watch or pendant. A special database contains information about past illnesses, about prescribed medications and people who should be informed in the case of an emergency. Another, similar device that can request help immediately is a fall-sensor that activates when someone wearing it faints or falls down and is not able to stand up on their own.
Statistics show that life-threatening situations very often occur in bathrooms — by using beacons we are now able to locate individuals who stay too long in a given room. Also, patients with Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia can become safer thanks to geolocation technology. Thanks to automatic alarms that signal when a person leaves a particular zone, caregivers instantly know when their dependent gets lost and a proper service helps them to find the missing person — it can indicate the current position and a history of their location.
Our homes are becoming more and more safe not only by the already widely used smoke detectors. Due to the automation of household appliances, we can detect a situation in which, for example, someone forgot to turn off the iron. There are also remote door-opening systems, therefore a person in the vicinity of our house or apartment will be able to enter it, see what happened and react accordingly.
Technology is not everything
Smart devices are already a big step in improving the safety of the elderly and sick. Pushing a button to call for help or to trigger an alarm, however, is not enough. It is necessary to respond properly to all requests, as it happens in the case of calling for an ambulance. For this purpose it is necessary to build monitoring centers that will coordinate the provision of assistance by all services that telecare consists of, from medical transportation and municipal police to the caregivers, neighbors and volunteers. Operators in the centers will have to respond rapidly to the needs of people in distress, inform the family and call the appropriate emergency services as well as provide any data on the people being rescued. A well-organized telecare system can save a lot of lives!
Methods of telecare financing and necessary legal changes
A significant problem that prevents the widespread usage of telecare is the lack of good methods of financing. In 2014 a draft law on aid to dependent people was developed, but this is only the beginning of much needed, long-term changes in this area. There has been no final decision yet as to whether telecare will be funded from a local government unit’s budget or be available “on demand”, such as in Sweden. Unfortunately, in Poland any device that may assist in caring for the elderly still has to be financed independently by the dependents or by the people that look after them.
Telecare — a fine line between safety and violating privacy
There is no doubt that the technological progress that allows us to monitor the elderly and dependents significantly improves their safety, but does it violate their privacy? The answer is no, if these solutions are responding only to life-threatening situations and the monitored person does not feel observed 24/7. The problem therefore lies not in the telecare itself, but in the way it is conducted and how the data collected are used.