More and more elderly people are able to live independently in their own homes thanks to sophisticated surveillance devices, reports Health Editor Barry Nelson.

WHEN Madge Teesdale went into her kitchen she was surprised to find four burly firefighters.

Completely deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other, the 78- year-old great-grandmother, from Redcar, east Cleveland, hadn’t heard her smoke detector sounding the alarm. “I had a chip pan fire. I had left it on the cooker on a very low light. I thought it was off. The next thing I knew there were these firemen in my kitchen,” she says.

People like Madge, who live alone and are not in the best of health, can be prone to all sorts of potentially life-threatening incidents at home.

That’s why a service called Telecare is being rolled out to elderly residents living in the Redcar and Cleveland area.

It is part of a major trend in the region which has seen the homes of hundreds of mostly older residents wired up with a variety of sensors designed to alert the authorities to potential problems.

The overall aim is to ensure that elderly people who want to continue living independently at home can do so with the peace of mind that help is just a phone call away.

The best thing is that if the individual is recommended for Telecare by a social or health care professional in Redcar and Cleveland the service is free.

“After the fire, they came out and put lots of electronic sensors in my bungalow. It means that if there is a fire, or if I leave the gas on or if the heating breaks down, I will get a call through my intercom to see if I am all right,” says Madge.

Apart from her fright over the chip pan – she now has an electric pan which is much safer to use – Madge has also suffered a number of falls, including one which was so severe she ended up in hospital with a broken hip. As someone who is prone to falling, Madge was given a pendant alarm to wear at all times, as well as an under-mattress pressure pad which is activated if she gets out of bed during the night.

Cleverly, it will only sound the alarm at HomeCall’s 24-hour control centre, in Dormanstown, if Madge does not return to her bed within a set time.

Joanna Caton, an official from HomeCall, the Redcar company which provides the Telecare service in the Redcar and Cleveland area on behalf of the local authority, says the bed sensors play a vital role in ensuring that falls are dealt with promptly. “In the past, we have had customers lying on the floor all night until the morning, when the carer goes in and finds them. With the mattress sensors, at least it means we can get someone there quickly,” she says.

Apart from the mattress sensor, Madge’s neat little bungalow is positively bristling with technology. On the ceiling of her kitchen is a sophisticated smoke detector that not only sounds an alarm but automatically rings Home Care control.

The controllers then ring the customer’s home and try to establish contact through the intercom. If they are unable to make contact the next step is to send out a HomeCare warden. If a fire is detected the controllers ring 999.

There is also a little box sitting on a wall which monitors temperature.

Any rapid rise in temperature – which might be caused by someone forgetting about a cooking pot sitting on a hotplate or any sudden drop in temperature – which could suggest that the heating has failed or is simply not on when it should be also triggers a response at the command centre.

JOANNA says that last winter a number of clients were contacted because they had turned off their heating and their homes were very cold.

“It turned out that they were worried about being able to pay for their heating bills. We were able to put them in touch with local authority officers and charities which were able to help them deal with their fuel poverty,” she says.

Yet another sensor on the wall will sound an alarm if it detects a buildup of gas. Appliances left on inadvertantly can cause serious hazards and this is aimed at reducing the risk.

So far, HomeCare has installed Telecare in about 500 homes in the Redcar and Cleveland area. The company has another 5,500 customers on its books who have a basic electronic neck pendant linked to an intercom box.

Recently, the value of Telecare was proved when a blind resident was guided to safety via intercom instructions from a warden after a fire was detected.

“The lady did not realise it was an actual fire, but the smoke alarm rang through to us and we were able to get her safely out of the property,” says Joanna.

Eating well...

ACTRESS Wendi Peters, who starred as the infamous Cilla Battersby-Brown in Coronation Street, describes how she’s finally beaten the snack habit that kept derailing her healthy-eating programme.

Wendi says: “My downfall is a tendency to put on unnecessary extra pounds by picking at snacks, particularly if I’m bored or away from home working – and it’s not easy to find healthy food. I’m a great one for thinking ‘I’ll have a cup of tea, now what can I have with that...”

She’s currently appearing in London theatre production Grumpy Old Women Live 2, and finds a Bach emotional eating kit, using flower essences, effective in curbing her cravings for sweet snacks.

She says: "I’m healthy and happy with my weight so I never weigh myself. My clothes tell me if I need to cut back. And at a size 14 to 16, I represent the average size of a woman in Britain."

Wendi, who never drinks alcohol and gave up smoking 14 years ago, says:”I am quite a sensible, levelheaded sort of person and very active.

I walk our two dogs every day and go to the gym regularly, but what I really enjoy is swimming five mornings a week. That helps me keep my mood stable.”

■ Bach emotional eating kit is £9.95, available from health-food and pharmacy stores including Boots and Holland and Barrett. For information, call 020-7079-1288 or visit

...smiling well

WITH the news this week that failing to clean your teeth twice a day increases your risk of heart attacks, it’s a sharp reminder of the importance of meticulous and regular brushing.

From a cosmetic point of view, an attractive smile is an undoubted asset and discoloured teeth certainly aren’t appealing. However, teeth whitening done by a specialist or dentist can be expensive.

New toothpaste White Glo promises to lift stains and discolouration using micro-polishing particles. Our tester says: “I’m a heavy smoker and have used this every day for two weeks and certainly noticed the difference. It doesn’t affect dark brown patches but did generally lighten my teeth.”

■ White Glo extra strength whitening toothpaste professional choice, £3.99, from Boots.