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Maintaining Independence with a Personal Emergency Response System – Keystone Elder Law – Mechanicsburg, PA

Last week’s article about falls and older adults may have some people who live alone wondering what will happen to them if they fall and can’t get up. I’ve worked with seniors who have had varying plans in place as safety nets in case of an emergency, from carrying a portable or cell phone in their pocket at all times, to scheduled daily or twice daily telephone calls from loved ones, to one who would turn on his porch light in the evening for his neighbor to see and turn it off in the morning.

Another plan that many people find helpful is a personal emergency response system. These systems often consist of a pendant worn around the neck or on the wrist and a unit which acts as a two way intercom when activated.  Activation is achieved by pushing a button on the pendant when an emergency occurs. A live person will respond and determine a course of action based on what the individual reports. Monitoring is available 24/7. Variations can exist in the services offered by different companies.  These systems make it easier for an individual to summon assistance, especially if their mobility is impaired. Following are just a few of the options which are available (in no particular order):

Life Alert:  This company trademarked the well-known statement “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”  In addition to the standard pendant, they offer a cell phone app and a water proof help button which can be mounted in a shower or placed wherever the individual desires.  A land-line is not required for service.  Call 800-920-3410 for additional information.

Philips Lifeline: Phillips offers an additional service option called AutoAlert, which will detect a fall automatically and trigger a call for help, even if the individual is unable to push the emergency button. Wireless and GPS service is available.  Call 800-959-6989.

ADT:  Known for home security systems, they also offer personal emergency response services.  Their units work up to approximately 300-600 feet, and contain sensors that will trigger an alert if unsafe temperatures (hot or cold) are detected within the home.  Fall detection and mobile services are available. Call 800-706-0769.

Automated Security Alert, Inc.: Offers both standard services and fall detection technology.  Coverage works for 800-1,000 feet, depending on the service chosen.  Call 800-338-7114.

Great Call: Their 5 Star system uses GPS technology, so the pendant can be used nationwide to call for assistance even when an individual is not at home (as long as wireless service is available). Agents who respond to calls are certified by the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch.  An agent can conference in a family member on the call, or the individual can choose to bypass the agent and call 9-1-1 directly.  Call 800-650-3951.

When evaluating any personal emergency response system, fees are a primary consideration. Most services offer a choice of several plans with different monthly fees.  Some companies charge for the equipment, as well as activation and/or cancellation fees.  Service contracts may be month-to-month or for a longer period of time.  Most companies utilize waterproof devices, but the size and style of the pendant or wristband may be important to the individual.  Some devices which allow 2-way communication may require the use of more than one button, requiring an evaluation by the consumer as to ease of use. An additional consideration is whether or not routine testing procedures are available to be sure that equipment is working properly.

Personal emergency response systems are not foolproof. In order for them to be effective, people need to wear the device (if it is attached to a walker or wheelchair it may not be able to be reached in an emergency), be willing to admit that help is needed, and remember to push the button.  While the potential for falls is one of the primary reasons that people may choose one of these systems, the risk of sudden illness due to one or more chronic disease conditions should also be considered as an appropriate rationale for the use of these safety devices.

Karen Kaslow, RN. BSN