The Need for Emergency Response Systems
Older adults have the highest risk of falls and complications from falling. Over 30% of seniors over 65 fall each year and that statistic rises to 50% for seniors over the age of 80. Most falls in this age group will have some impact on a person’s health and that impact is larger if the person lays stranded for a length of time before getting help. Many seniors also fear being alone in the event of some other type of health emergency such as a heart attack, stroke, or other injury.
“Help, I’ve Fallen and Can’t Get Up!”
This tag line from a famous 1980s TV commercial became the pun in many jokes and comedy shows. But, the advertising was effective in getting the word out that seniors may need some type of emergency medical alert system. Created in Germany in 1970, the first alert systems were a pendant with phone numbers and a pre-recorded message to get help for a senior in trouble.
Today, these systems are generally called “PERS” – which stands for “Personal Emergency Response Systems.” These systems are constantly evolving, but most of them contain the same basic elements. Most PERS services are some combination of the following three elements:
- A portable, wearable device (necklace or pendant) that is a radio transmitter
- A Base Station connected to the senior’s land phone line
- A Call center manned with live operators who help dispatch help.
First, there is a device of some kind worn by the senior – like a necklace or bracelet. The worn device typically has a button to press in the event of an emergency. This button may trigger a “base station” in the home to dial a number and the person can talk to the base station through a speaker to get help from a live operator. Some newer systems have a built in speaker and microphone so that the worn device itself can be used to communicate directly with a live operator in a call center.
Most of these services utilize a live call center so that an operator gets involved with making a decision about whether to get emergency help or simply notify family or neighbors of a need for help. Most services offer some choices in how emergencies are to be handled. Some more basic services just offer the senior a way to call a pre-set list of phone numbers easily to notify family or others of a need for help and no live operator is involved.
Most services that use a base station have a range of 200-400 feet. The devices that use cell-towers for communication can be used anywhere there is cell phone coverage. Most services that use base stations have battery back up on the base stations in the event of a power outage.
Some exciting new advances in technology are emerging that do not use the land line for phone service, but rather the worn device communicates like a cell phone so that the user does not need to be near a base station in the home to communicate.
Some have automatic fall detection so that if a person is unconscious, help can still be sent. Many services now also allow for family caregivers to be notified regularly to let them know a senior is ok throughout the day and some can even tell if the senior is not wearing the device.
Most devices today also are water-proof so they can be worn while bathing and showering.
Many services also come with a key “lock-box” so that you can keep your home locked and the emergency response team knows a combination to get a key if paramedics need to open your door to help you.
More advanced systems have monitors placed throughout the home to detect motion and learn daily patterns. If there are changes in gait or activity levels, these changes are communicated to family and friends for follow-up. Door sensors and GPS trackers are often also utilized for Alzheimer’s patients who may wander away from home and not be able to find their way back.
Purchasing the System
There are a wide variety of options out there for PERS contracts. Some make you purchase or lease the equipment, while others offer the equipment for free with a contract for a certain number of months’ service. Some also have installation fees. Most have a monthly service fee. Insurance typically does not cover the cost of PERS, but many states offer waivers through governmental Office of Aging centers that may help reimburse them for some of the costs.
Most are easy to install and come with simple instructions. They are often tested at the time you receive and install the device so that you can be certain it works.
Deciding on Which System is Right for You
For people who are in the home a lot, a classic system with a base station can work well. For those who go outside more often or leave home more often, a cell-phone based system or a wearable unit with more range and the ability to talk through the pendant would be more appropriate.
You will want to be sure to understand the service contract and what can be expected in the event of an emergency. Some services offer many options for the types of help they will summon, and others will only notify an ambulance to be sent. It is important to understand what will happen before an emergency occurs. Also, make sure you understand the level of commitment you are making. For instance, can you quit at any time and get your money back or will the contract make you pay for a certain number of months even if it is no longer needed or wanted?
Checklist for Selecting a PERS
Check out several companies before deciding. Here is a good list of questions to consider when comparing options:
- What are all the costs – upfront installation, “sign-on” fees, monthly fee, equipment purchase or lease price?
- What are the terms of the contract and cancellation policy?
- What is the range of the device worn?
- Is the device water-resistant?
- Can the device be worn in different ways (on belt, as a necklace or bracelet?).
- Who mans the call center? Do they have any special qualifications?
- Is there technical support – how easy is it to access?
- Do they periodically test the service and equipment?
- What are the notification options? Can family members be notified in addition to others?
- Is there a free trial period to test the service?
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