Cambridge is to trial the very latest sensory telecare technology which will enable our elderly population to live independently at home by detecting any change in their regular routine which might cause alarm; it has an automated operation system which will alert family or friends. The scheme also includes a national care card to be used by volunteers and the project will be rolled out around the country later this year.
Called Care with Canary, the service is operated by wireless and will detect if someone is unwell by tracking a change in their usual behavioural pattern; for example, if they haven't got out of bed, if they are going to the loo too often, or if they are not moving around their home as usual, which would indicated that they have perhaps had a fall or even a stroke, and may be unwell.
The ingenious system works by placing a number of white boxes in the bedroom, the kitchen, the hallway and lounge and its sensors monitor the resident's movements, as well as body temperature, temperature and light. It is connected by wireless to a bigger box which sends the data via GPRS, the wireless telephone network, to the centre where the data is analysed by computer. If there appears to be a change of routine in their movements, it will alert the family or a friend by text, email or voice message, whichever is the preferred method of contact. It is a fully automated system.
"An elderly person living alone, that's what this is all about, people living alone that can either have a fall or a stroke, anything that otherwise might not be noticed, they need to be watched, but they don't want people watching them. Most of these people are old and on their own, they are usually women because they outlive their husbands, and most of these people are very, very at risk, even if they feel perfectly well." said Chris.
"This system if sold, would be around £200. We want to get it out for £20 and people will pay for the use on a monthly basis; a typical monthly monitoring cost of £10. Nobody likes paying recurring costs, that's the problem, but it's got to pay for the data, sending data across the network all day every day and it has to make a profit.
"The idea is that you also encourage people to volunteer. An elderly person living alone often just wants someone to call on them to say, 'are you alright?'
"The plan is to have this as a the national care card used by carers and people receiving care. It can be used by the volunteer to log in and log out, they just tap the card on the box when they get there and tap the box when they leave and that stores the fact that they have been there to visit for that period of time.
"You can do an awful lot with the card, you can do more just check in and check out. It has a secure ID, you can pay for things."
Chris envisages volunteers helping with tasks, perhaps doing some cleaning or tidying up, or even changing a bandage or helping somebody put their socks on. He would like to see schoolchildren sign up as volunteers, as well as retired people who have time on their hands, and incentive points will be awarded for care activity which will be converted into real value and traded either at supermarkets, restaurants or discount vouchers similar to those provided by Groupon.
"I think we are doing a collection of things that is a unique collection, the combination I think is unique. What particularly interests me is the fact that a lot of people don't realise yet what a big problem care for the elderly is. A lot of this fuss about reorgnaising the National Health Service is because Andrew Lansley has been stumbling with the enormous extra cost of looking after an aging population.
"The idea is that we can't afford more and more national health, more and more social services, so you've got to create lots of technology to look after people to make sure they are alright. The people that actually do it at the moment hate the idea of technology because they say, you can't possibly do it with technology, you've got to have real people with hearts and minds and friendly hands to go and see people that are not well enough to look after themselves.
"Yes, we all agree with that, but the numbers just don't add up, so technology has got to be created.
"The problem with this country is that everybody moves around, very few people no longer live in the same town as their parents and lots of people are so far away from their remaining parent that they hardly ever see them. In mediterranean countries, that doesn't happen, people stay with their family. In Germany people live with three generations in one house. In this country you have to get a house as soon as you possibly can because it's the only way to economically survive, a fault in the system of this country. We have separates families, it is worst in this country than almost anywhere else in world.
"Some sensor systems already exist, but most of the systems are not connected by wireless, but by Broadband which most elderly people don't have. Wireless connection means you can stick it on the wall as it has a sticky back, switch it on and it goes, there is no installation at all. The present ones are mostly about home security and energy management."
The scheme will be trialled in Cambridge first with some of the city's elderly population. Care with Canary will run alongside five schemes to be selected by the Technology
Strategy Board's DALLAS project- Delivering Assisted Living Lifestyles At Scale - aimed at supporting assisted living at home by using high technology. Chris sits on its Standards Committee and Strategy Committee. The Technology Strategy Board is the UK's national innovation agency which seeks to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation.
Chris is confident that his telecare system will succeed, having survived the latest devastating banking scandal, and there will be no repetition of his previous bad fortune when Black Monday saw the collapse of his innovative tele-shopping scheme. Future models of this system will be even more sophisticated, with sensors that can tell if someone has high blood pressure even, which I find quite astonishing.
"Canary is an essential thing because if we don't find ways of making people's lives better in their old age and making it cost the state less, then the economy is going to get steadily worse, we have got to find ways of reducing the cost of maintaining an elderly population."
I think it sounds absolutely brilliant and will provide much needed reassurance for elderly people living alone, as well as their families. It's almost like having a guardian angel watching over.
Critical Data Ltd is a sister company of General Information Systems which specialists in smartcard products.