#AD This post is a review of the Welbeing Personal Alarm Service.
One of the big challenges for my generation is balancing childcare with the needs of our elderly parents.
It’s easy to find yourself pulled from pillar to post and, if your parents are still mobile and living independently, you may find yourself making numerous unscheduled trips to check that they are OK or to help with chores and tasks they are no longer able to do for themselves.
Generally, we all get by, don’t we – until the point at which illness or a long-term medical condition enters the picture.
When that happens, your parent may experience a loss of independence and rely on you more for help and contact with the outside world.
Nobody wants to put their parents into a home or few have the funds to move immediately into sheltered accommodation.
But there are times when, with the best will in the world, you can’t be there or rather, you can’t get there quick enough.
Similarly, if one parent is in the role of carer to the other, their own personal freedom is likely to be vastly curtailed and they won’t want to venture far on their own in case something happens to their beloved partner.
My parents have been married for 56 years and are now both in their 80s with a variety of health conditions between them.
Last year, mum fell and broke her hip. She has made a full recovery but her mobility has been affected and she is not as speedy on her feet as she once was. She also suffers from temporal lobe epilepsy which generally gives her mild seizures but, on occasion, these are large, lengthy and severe enough to require hospitalisation.
It’s fair to say that the family copes as best it can from the different parts of the country in which we are situated – and I’ll bet our family set-up is replicated right across the country.
We have been trialling the Welbeing Personal Alarm Service which is a quick and simple way of getting help at the touch of a button in case of accident or emergency at home.
Welbeing is a Doro company so you can expect simple to understand and user-friendly technology.
The service offers 24 hour, 365-day a year monitoring to allow independent living to continue as long as possible. The service costs from £15.96 per month.
The service is not just for the elderly. It is designed to offer reassurance and immediate assistance to anyone living alone – whether they are suffering from medical conditions such as dementia or heart disease, a long-term condition or are just vulnerable and worried about safety and security.
The service can even help those suffering from epilepsy if their seizures are of the tonic clonic type.
The actual alarm is a piece of wearable technology which connects to an alarm unit linked to your home telephone landline.
The alarm comes in the form of a pendant which can be worn around your wrist or neck.
With the touch of a button, the wearer is able to contact a call centre with trained staff who will talk to you via the alarm unit.
The alarm unit is similar conference call technology where at two-way conversation can be held without needing a phone handset.
The operator will then contact either a designated family member (a keyholder) on their mobile or the emergency services – depending on the circumstances.
Setting up the pendant was incredibly easy. You complete a basic sign-up form explaining who the user is, their general medical requirements and who will be the emergency contacts.
There are no intrusive questions to answer – just a general outline of the types of medical condition that the emergency services or the family doctor would need to know about.
Once you have completed the form, you receive your alarm unit and your pendant.
You will need to complete the direct debit form as the pendant is paid for on a monthly subscription of £15.95 per month and return it to Welbeing.
The alarm unit plugs into an electrical socket and a landline telephone socket. All the cables you’ll require are supplied in the neat little box. There’s a full instruction booklet that is easy to understand.
You can connect the box to a landline or also to your home WiFi but as I’ve never managed to persuade dad to get this, a landline was the only choice!
Then you press the button on top of the unit to connect to the call centre so that they can do a test call.
Extra services are available at an additional cost. For example, the alarm unit can work with a range of wireless sensors in the home to detect gas, smoke, flood or a person falling. You can even have a local audible alarm – in addition to alerting the key holder or emergency services.
For the purpose of our trial, however, we just tested the basic service and the response aspect of the pendant.
The pendant itself is a simple oblong unit with a push button which, when pushed, telephones the call centre remotely from up to 150m away.
It can be worn via a belt clip, around the wrist or around the neck and you simply slot the relevant pieces supplied into the pendant.
The unit is solid and functional to withstand daily wear and tear and it has a large central button for the wearer to press quickly and easily.
Mum’s type of epilepsy cannot be identified by the sensors offered as part of an additional service offered by Welbeing mentioned above and we focused our trial on mobility issues such as slips, trips and falls.
My parents’ house is topsy-turvy in that the bedrooms are downstairs and the living rooms upstairs. It was considered all the rage in the ’70s.
As an example of how the personal alarm service works, we asked mum to push the button from her bedroom downstairs and, reassuringly, the operator rang mum’s landline 5 times whilst calling her name via the loudspeaker.
This particular test was carried out around midday on Easter Sunday.
The speaker volume, incidentally, is very loud – as it needs to be – but you can ask for it to be reduced somewhat. Welbeing also advises that you don’t place the alarm unit right next to the telephone as this may result in high pitched interference.
We obviously explained that mum was fine and the operator explained that if, after 4 or 5 attempts to contact mum direct there was no response, she would escalate the call to the first emergency contact (me) and, if she couldn’t reach me, would telephone the emergency services.
It is important that whoever is the designated emergency contact has keys to the house on them at all times.
The operator, a lady, had a lovely soothing voice and was very gentle in her approach. Important if someone is scared or in distress.
Aside from the practical aspect of knowing that, if dad or I leave the house, mum can contact us at the push of a button, the reassurance that the Welbeing Personal Alarm Service gives both wearer and their carers or family members is considerable.
When you are caring for a loved one you are never entirely off duty which is not necessarily a good thing for the health and stress levels of the one in the role of carer.
And, in the event that the emergency services are needed, the call centre will be able to at least give some guidance as to the other medical conditions the wearer may suffer.
We thought the Welbeing Personal Alarm Service was a brilliant idea for relieving the anxiety and stress often experienced by both wearer and the people who care for them.
Having help on hand at the touch of the button is particularly freeing for carers like my dad who can do their daily errands without feeling as if they have to rush back in case something has happened.
I think the system would work to optimum effectiveness, however, with the input of the wearer’s GP and/or medical team particularly if the wearer suffers from different medical conditions and is treated under different consultants.
Mum’s particular medical conditions are too complex to rely solely on the personal alarm for the simple reason that some of these are unpredictable and happen out of the blue.
That said, for most of the time, we found her wearing of the pendant was a massive weight off our minds.
I felt the monthly subscription fee was reasonable and I think you have to adopt a pragmatic approach to caring for your elderly relatives. There will be costs involved to ensure that independent living can continue for as long as possible in terms of all sorts of mobility aids.
Personally, I would prefer to keep going along this route for as long as possible so that mum and dad can stay together in our family home.
For more information on the Welbeing Personal Alarm service visit www.welbeing.org.uk. You can also call them on 01323 644422 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can connect with them on Facebook @welbeingtelecare and on Twitter @wel_being.