Panic button scheme to give frail OAPs vital independence

THOUSANDS of panic buttons and fall alarms will be fitted in the homes of vulnerable and elderly people in Scotland following the success of a pioneering Lothians pilot project.

Communities Minister Malcolm Chisholm was today set to unveil an 8 million roll out of the "telecare" technology during a visit to a sheltered housing project in Armadale, West Lothian.

The move means that pensioners who would once have been forced to go into care will be able to live in their own homes.

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The measures will also help tackle the problem of bed blocking as people are allowed home from hospital rather than having to wait for a suitable residential place.

Mr Chisholm said: "Telecare can help Scotland's increasing number of older people to lead fuller and more independent lives.

"The number of older and vulnerable people in Scotland is predicted to rise significantly in the coming decades, and we need to plan for this. Telecare is an excellent example of how services can be redesigned in more integrated and imaginative ways by using the latest technology to complement traditional, one-to-one support from trained, professional staff.

"Older people who may otherwise have gone into full-time residential care can feel more secure at home, giving them the confidence and reassurance that help is at hand if they need it."

In West Lothian, where the technology has been piloted, 2600 homes are already fitted with sensors which trigger an alarm if the resident falls or if a flood or abnormally high temperature is detected.

One of those who benefits from the scheme, Mamie Wallace of Colinshiel Court, Armadale, welcomed the move.

The 82-year-old, who had a lower leg amputated eight months ago, has sensors fitted in her home and can open her front door by remote control.

She said: "I am less wary about moving around and about because I know that help is there if I need it.

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"It's now easier for me to let visitors in and out of the house because I don't have to go to the door every time.

"Living here has enabled me to live more independently and made me feel safer."

Local authorities will now be invited to bid for their share of the 8m investment which is expected to benefit an estimated 75,000 people.

Deputy health minister Lewis Macdonald said: "Research has consistently shown that people want to stay at home as long as possible and we are committed to enabling that to happen where appropriate.

"The successful development of the service in West Lothian has delivered a number of benefits including a reduction in the number of patients staying in hospital longer than necessary, a cut in the average length of stay in care homes, and most importantly, improved the quality of life for both users and carers."

The technology was first introduced in West Lothian five years ago as part of a 1m project funded by NHS Lothian, the Scottish Parliament and a housing association.

Councillor Bruce Ferrie, convener of West Lothian Council's health and care committee, said: "From the outset, the discreet sensors proved to be a success.

"Now we are leaders in this field in Europe with around 2300 vulnerable people being successfully supported in their own homes.

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"Our target for this year is to increase this to more than 3000, and add to the range of sensors and equipment."