ERCIM News No.28 - January 1997

Security Alarm System supports Independent Living of Demented Persons

by Jaana Leikas

It is possible to support independent living and home care of demented persons with the help of technical devices. The use of the security alarm system may remarkably decrease the typical safety risks at the home of demented persons (wandering and becoming lost, forgetting to turn off the stove, forgetting to eat, etc.) and diminish the anxiety and worry of the relatives and the care persons. With the help of this system it is possible to increase the quality of life of the demented persons by enabling living at home and by postponing institutionalization.

VTT Information Technology and the Alzheimer Federation in Finland carried out a 3-year research project that aimed to evaluate technical feasibility of a security alarm system for demented persons. The emphasis of the evaluation was in automatic alarms that will call out for help in dangerous situations without the person's own effort or activity. The project was carried out in close co-operation with the Tampere University Hospital and VTT Chemical Technology. Five pilot studies were carried out in real home environments of persons with mild or moderate dementia. The usability of technical devices in eliminating safety risks was evaluated in each home for 6 months.

The central unit of the system is a safety telephone. Each apartment was also equipped with different detectors that reacted if there was smoke or heat in the apartment, if the person left the apartment in inappropriate time, if she fell and could not get up, if she had not moved around for a long time, etc. The set of equipment must be adapted individually according to each person's needs. The detectors transmitted the emergency alarm to the central unit as a radio signal. The central unit transmitted the alarm call further to a telephone of a relative, a home care person or a service centre. After the call had been received a direct line from the receiver to the demented person's home was connected automatically via a loudspeaking telephone. The service centre also contacted a care person who made a visit to the apartment.

The security alarm system operated reliably and decreased dangerous situations at home. However, the system is mostly developed for the needs of the persons with normal memory. When developing technology for demented persons there are special features that have to be taken into account. The devices should, for example, contain nothing that is difficult for a demented person to comprehend, for example operating sounds or lights. At best the presentation and operation of new technology should remind those old devices that the demented person has used before starting to lose her memory.

The demented persons felt differently towards the devices. The equipment had little meaning for some of them and they hardly noticed it, although the small lights of the detectors and operating sounds of the safety telephone caused anxiety and feelings of insecurity at the beginning of the trial. Some of the persons felt that the devices increased their safety. The relatives and the home care persons experienced without exception that the equipment eased their burden and stress, because now they did not have to be on the alert against accidents all the time. However, the security alarm system does not necessarily ease the life of all the relatives. When planning the system it must be considered, for example, if it is appropriate that the receiver of the alarm calls is a relative of an old age.

Please contact:
Jaana Leikas - VTT Information Technology
Tel: + 358 3 3163 111

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