By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website
With the number of people over 65 predicted to rise from just under 10m to almost 17m in the next 50 years, experts are predicting a crisis in social care. To what extent can technology be used to bridge the gap?
The Burtons' bed sensor makes all the difference
Most people are now familiar with predictions of an increasingly older population - and as age rises so too does the likelihood of having an impairment or long-term health condition.
To compound the situation, it is reckoned that fewer and fewer of these older people will be part of a close-knit family unit that would normally provide some or all of their care.
The "crisis" stems from the fact that there will not be sufficient fit, working-age people to provide the support.
Part of the answer could be to use technology to monitor people's health, check their whereabouts, ensure that they are not exposed to risk and help them to communicate using video phones.
The collective term for this home-based technology that is linked to monitoring centres is telecare.
Cut hospital admissions
Used correctly - say its supporters - telecare can postpone or avoid altogether a move into costly residential care.
What is more, by keeping an eye on a person's health and taking preventative action, hospital admissions can also be avoided.
Wally and Edna Burton - a couple in their late 70s - employ the technology to enable Edna to manage Wally's care.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease while he was in his 50s and needs a lot of support to stay at home.
A sensor placed under his mattress provides an alert in case he rolls out of bed.
If Edna is unable to help her husband, a call centre is on hand to summon further assistance.
Without it, she thinks that residential care would be a distinct possibility which would mean the couple no longer being able to live together.
The Burtons' telecare solution has meant an end to sleepless nights and has encouraged Mr Burton to stay in bed.
"In fact I think the bed sensor has been a good thing," Mrs Burton told the BBC.
Telecare now includes video phones for people with learning difficulties
"He knows that the alarm will go off and he doesn't actually want to get out of bed."
The equipment that was installed in the Burtons' house was thanks to a partnership between Aragon Housing Association and Bedfordshire County Council.
Local authorities in England have - for the past two years - been able to tap into an £80m grant from the Department of Health to encourage the take up of telecare.
A good deal of the equipment is supplied by a Yorkshire-based company, Tunstall.
The company's technical director, Steve Sadler, says that telecare is increasingly being used to help social services to manage risk:
"You might find someone with a chronic disease or a learning disability or simply the risks associated with ageing; the care team - and the person themself - will identify a set of risks," he said.
"The simple thing about telecare is that you can put together a set of sensors to detect those risks and hopefully manage them, link the event to a remote carer so they can intervene and manage the situation before it degrades still further."
In some cases telecare has gone beyond risk management and has enabled and encouraged communication.
Sharon Carden - a woman in her 50s with learning difficulties - lives in her own flat in Littlehampton.
She is supported by a charity called United Response which has installed video phone technology into a number of homes to assist people with daily living - helping to compile shopping lists or advice on how to cook a basic meal.
The technology also has a social networking function: while Ms Carden has difficulty dialling telephone numbers she can easily point to a picture of her friend Emma on the screen which will start a video call.
The two women used to live together and now stay in touch via their video screens.
Some campaigners fear that local authorities will be seduced by the potential savings that telecare offers at the expense of older and disabled people.
"As there's more and more pressure on community care budgets, social services are going to be looking for options that are much more cost effective," according to Wendy Gross of the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL).
"What we're going to have to do is make sure that these cost cutting exercises are not disempowering the individual to make sure that disabled people are being supported effectively and that they're not being isolated because of budget cuts."
NCIL says it will be looking at the roll out of telecare to make sure that the technology does not increase people's isolation.
To hear more on telecare tune in to Radio 4's You and Yours at 1204 on Wednesday when Geoff will be reporting on the growth of telecare as part of the BBC's Care in the UK season.