AKTIVE2014 conference

Tunstall’s Richard Farrell-Smith talks about how insight and learning obtained from the AKTIVE (Advancing Knowledge of Telecare for Independence and Vitality in later lifE) project can help people to live better lives.

Led by CIRCLE at the University of Leeds, with partners at the University of Oxford, Inventya and Tunstall, the AKTIVE project explored how telecare can be developed to enhance people’s independence. AKTIVE began in May 2011, announced its findings in April at a conference held at the University of Leeds, and has now published its final set of Working Papers.

The findings from AKTIVE’s study of 60 older people, notably people who are prone to falls or who have dementia, is useful to anyone with an interest in technology enabled support services and ageing in place.

What did we discover?

Telecare helped many participants in the study to retain aspects of their identity, notably their independence, as well as the ability to remain in their own homes, and to maintain positive family relationships. Still, some participants found telecare stigmatising, especially when it was associated with other ‘aids/adaptations’ perceived as badges of older age, when people felt it had been ‘imposed’ upon them, or if it was perceived to be unattractive or troublesome. Some people saw the installation of telecare as a way of reassuring their families and reducing the so-called ‘burden’ on carers, families and friends. Others felt telecare provided an alternative emergency response or gave their families and friends ‘peace of mind’ between visits. Interestingly, several participants distinguished between ‘proper’ falls, when they needed to use their alarm, and ‘slips’ or ‘trips’, when they did not. Many participants, particularly those living alone following the loss of a spouse or recovering from falls or injuries, came to view telecare as a sensible and rational option. Telecare was a positive experience for many people as it provided the ‘back-up’ to feel confident or to be ‘allowed’ by others to continue living independently. However, not many of the participants had sought out telecare actively and independently of their own choice; most thought it had been suggested by a family member or a professional in the health and social care system. Before telecare was introduced many had little idea what telecare was, what it could do, or how it worked.

For many people some areas of their homes and gardens were inaccessible as a result of injury, illness or disability – defined as ‘risky’ or ‘out of bounds’ areas by some, these ‘high risk’ areas included gardens, staircases and the upper floors of houses. Telecare helped people manage these risks and played a role in making the inaccessible accessible.

What can we learn?

There appears to be a requirement for holistic assessments of all aspects of older people’s lives, and some could benefit from more regular and timely re/assessments of their situation. Older people who reported not using telecare during a crisis gave a variety of reasons – mostly relating to their desire to remain independent, concern about bothering the response centre staff and/or their nominated telecare responders, as well as misunderstandings about what would happen. We now understand more about how telecare equipment should be designed and introduced with holistic support for older people in mind, including their caring networks, to realise its potential. The study also reinforced views that shifting the image of telecare from a source of stigma could enhance older people’s ability to ‘be themselves’ and to retain their dignity as they age.

These challenges can be overcome by early, strategic implementation of telecare, by developing a shared understanding between older people and those who support them about telecare usage, and by clear information about how telecare systems work.

The research has generated a wealth of information which will support learning and the improvement of telecare services for many years to come. Really, the research has been fantastic and I’d like to thank the AKTIVE team, funders and partners for helping to advance knowledge of telecare across all sectors.

Richard Farrell-Smith is Group Product Manager at Tunstall Healthcare and a member of the AKTIVE consortium.

Read the AKTIVE Working Papers

Find out more about AKTIVE