A growing number of families are using home monitoring services to help keep their loved ones with dementia safe. Unforgettable spoke to one of the UK’s most popular service providers to find out more

If you’re constantly worrying about someone with dementia who lives on their own, you might already have considered using a monitoring service to keep an eye on them. After all, you can’t be with them 24 hours a day, so enlisting a bit of extra help could be a sensible idea. ‘Many families get in touch after an incident such as a fall or accident in the home,’ says Rita Bhullar, Customer Service Manager for Eldercare. ‘It’s often sons or daughters who contact us.’

It’s easy to see why the younger generation might find Eldercare - and services like it – attractive. They offer a variety of ways to keep vulnerable loved one’s safe. Eldercare for example has services ranging from pendant alarms that can even be worn day and night (even in the shower) to bespoke assistive technologies and emergency mobile response teams who can be with your loved one within 20 minutes, if necessary.

Then there’s the call handlers themselves, providing calm, friendly support and reassurance. ‘Sometimes a bit of reassurance is all that’s needed,’ says Rita who’s been answering calls for eleven years and has spoken to ‘thousands’ of people. ‘All staff are very experienced and have received dementia awareness training,’ she explains. ‘If someone with dementia calls up, or presses their alarm, their details will immediately show up on our system and the person they speak to will know they have dementia.’

Telephone staff don’t just listen to what’s being said (and call an ambulance if it’s needed) they listen to how it’s said. ‘We’re trained to pick up on little details. For example, if a person sounds guarded, or talks in a way they wouldn’t normally, maybe they’re feeling afraid. We’ve had cases where someone has let an unwanted caller into the house by mistake and don’t know what to do, so they press their alarm. I dealt with a call like this myself and the person just fled when they heard the alarm. We’re used to background noises too, such as TVs and radios so that isn’t usually an issue.’

One of the nicest parts of their job is making ‘birthday calls.’ ‘We phone up everyone on their birthday to wish them a happy birthday,’ says Rita. ‘We also use it as an opportunity to check that their alarms are working.’ Milestone birthdays occur frequently ‘We’ve wished lots of people a happy ‘100th’ birthday. We even had someone celebrating their 110th birthday – that was a call everyone wanted to make!’

Yet whilst the benefits of services like Eldercare may be obvious to relatives, persuading a person with dementia to embrace the idea might be a little more challenging. Rita admits home monitoring services still carry a certain ‘stigma’ and that older people can be ‘reluctant’ at first. ‘

So how might you broach the subject with a loved one who treasures their independence and insists they can manage on their own? Rita and her colleagues – who answer around a million calls each year - have found one approach that seems to work almost every time.

‘Just try saying something like, ‘it’s not for you – it’s for me. If you use this alarm/pendant/ monitor you will give me peace of mind,’ she says. ‘Most older people don’t like the idea of their family worrying about them. So even if they don’t consider home monitoring necessary, they’ll probably agree if it’s presented in this way.’

Did you know?
Around 85 per cent of people with dementia would prefer to stay in their own home – and it can make perfect sense because many manage better in the home they’ve lived in for years than in a new environment, even if it is better equipped and more ‘suited’ to their needs.