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Medical alert systems can be a vital tool in maintaining a frail elderly parent’s independence.  Many people’s only knowledge of a medical alert system is Lifecall’s “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” catchphrase.  It has become a catch phrase for memes and GIFs.  However, in the late 80s Lifecall’s commercials made the medical alert system an integral piece of discussions about keeping elders safe in their homes.  While “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” is now a part of our pop culture fabric, medical alert systems have helped countless seniors cope with falls, accidents, and other health emergencies that are often life-threatening?

Medical alert systems monitor seniors both in and out of the home for emergencies.  These devices send an emergency signal to emergency responders or to caregivers when the senior triggers them.  These devices can be trigger by the touch of a button on a wearable device, such as a lanyard or bracelet.  Some systems are triggered when a senior’s position suddenly changes such as a fall.  Some systems can even track the location of a senior when a senior is traveling.  These systems can be part of a support system that keeps a senior more independent as they age.

When to use a medical alert system

Determining if a parent or loved one needs a medical alert system begins by determining if they need a little help.  Some warning signs include:

  • A decline in mental alertness
  • Increasing forgetfulness or confusion
  • Vision problems
  • Balance issues
  • Frailty
  • Changes in physical health, like a surgery
  • Home hazards, such as clutter and broken steps
  • A recent fall or near-fall

If a parent or loved one is or has been experiencing one or more of these, then it may be time to discuss medical alert system safety options.  It is important to approach a parent or loved one with respect and care when introducing the subject.  Losing independence is terrifying.  Begin the conversation by focusing on safety and maintaining independence.  This should reduce some of the initial resistance. For instance, discuss how the medical alert system can help them stay in their own home or apartment.  Ask what safety features they think they need.  Review the various options for the systems with them.

It is important that this discussion focus on the different aspects of the system.  It is also important to discuss the safety network the parent or loved one believes they currently have and how a medical alert system can enhance it.

Explaining how they work

Will the parent or loved one have to wear a bracelet or lanyard?  Will this be connected to a cell phone or land line?  What triggers the emergency response?  What happens if it is accidentally triggered?  Will it be available in bad weather or when the utilities go out?

Identify several ideal options or systems that would support your elder loved one’s needs and budget.  Walk them through how they work. Quality medical alert systems are specifically designed to be senior-friendly, and there are many choices to accommodate different lifestyles and health needs.

Discuss the dangers falling and other medical emergencies 

There are plenty of unsettling statistics about falling and the resulting complications of falls, broken hips, surgeries, and head trauma. Medical alerts systems can provide a parent with some sense of security for these situations.  If a parent or loved one has a specific illness or injury, discuss how one or more of the systems can help with that illness or injury.  It may be helpful to ask a parent’s doctor to explain more.

Emphasize that a mobile phone is not enough

Often older parents or loved ones believe their cell phone is enough to help them during a medical emergency or fall.  However, if a parent falls in her bathroom at 3 a.m. while her cell phone is charging on the nightstand, the cell phone is of no use.  There is nothing wrong with carrying a smartphone. Mobile and in-home alert systems, however, are better suited to calling for help. They automatically send emergency signals when the wearable call button is pressed.  They can even send emergency signals when fall motion-sensors or heart monitors are triggered.

Discuss the costs of the system

Finally, discuss the money.  There are costs associated with these systems.  Depending on the medical alert system and the features, there may be a set up fee for the equipment.  In addition, there will be a monthly fee.  Those fees can range from $20.00 to $150.00 a month.  While Medicare Parts A & B do not cover the costs of these systems, some Medicare Advantage plans may.  In addition, some Medicaid programs for the elderly will supply basic systems.

Maintaining a senior’s independence and autonomy is essential to their health.  Sometimes, something as simple as a medical alert system can mean the difference between living at home or having to move to an assisted living facility.  If you would like more information on how your family can develop a plan to maintain your elderly loved one’s independence and safety, call our office for an appointment.