Helping the aged

A mobile phone device that could be a lifesaver for the elderly and infirm has been developed. While most young people carry a mobile, uptake among older people is much lower because they can be complicated, the buttons too small and the screens difficult to read. The new device avoids these problems, making emergency calls simple. It has the added advantage of providing location detection.

Using EC funding, the device was developed by a consortium of six firms: Empirica, Recontrol and Attendo Systems from Germany, Spain‘s Telehealth and FASS, and Attendo Response in the UK. Help the Aged and the Parkinson Self-Help group also had an input.

‘The devices are basically for older people and those with chronic illnesses or disabilities, to enable them to trigger an emergency call from anywhere,’ said Empirica’s MobilAlarm project manager Stefan Lilischkis. ‘It’s very simple to use. It uses common technology — the GSM mobile phone network and GPS technology for locating the device.’

It has just five buttons. Two large ones on the side of the device, when pressed simultaneously, call a service centre, where the operator will see the caller’s details on screen. Another button allows a pre-programmed number to be called — a relative, friend or neighbour. There is also a cancel button, and it need not be held to the ear. Its battery will last for five days between charges, and the device is small enough to be worn around the neck. It was tested last year in around 100 elderly people in Germany, Spain and the UK, and got a positive response from users.

The GPS data is sent through the voice channel using Attendo’s care phone protocol, which is said to be more reliable than competitor systems that use SMS to send the data, as these can take some time to arrive. The GSM connection was robust, and in many cases enabled calls to be made where a mobile phone could not find a signal.