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Medical Alert Emergency Response System for Elderly Parent

Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,

My 89-year-old mother has fallen down a couple of times, nothing serious, but my sister and I are worried about her being alone. My sister lives about 5 hours drive away, and I live out of state, so we don't see her that often. We saw the medical emergency necklace on television. Would that be a good thing to get my mother or do you think that a retirement place would be best?


Concerned daughters

Dear Concerned daughters,

Moving to a retirement center is a very personal decision. If your mother has never expressed an interest in selling her home, then she most likely would prefer to not do so. The reports that 95% age 75 and older want to stay in their own home (Saltzman & Walker, 2008).

In case of an emergency, if you feel that your mother would not be able to get to the phone in order to call you or dial 911, then a medical emergency response system or PERS (personal emergency response system) could be helpful.

An electronic medical alert wristband, pendant, or belt clip has a button that if pressed sends a radio signal to console connected to the telephone, which automatically dials the phone to an emergency response center operator. The operator will speak to the person and if necessary, notify 911 or a designated person (i.e. family member, neighbor, doctor). This assumes that the person is close enough to the console to speak to the operator. This also assumes that the person is wearing the electronic device or will use it when needed.

According to Mark Beghtel,

"...only 50 percent of them actually wear the pendant, and only half of those will actually use it when an emergency occurs. So, that's only 25% that use it when they need it. Reasons for non-use were embarrassed to wear the device, inability to press the button, or not wanting to admit there was a problem for fear that they would be put in a nursing home" (2009).

An emergency response system in the home could bring peace of mind for elderly persons living alone or people with serious medical conditions.

However, just because something is advertised on TV does not mean that it is a good product. There are dozens of PERS from which to choose. The best first step is to get recommendations from people you know that have emergency response systems in their home. Also, hospitals and local service agencies may have recommendations as well.

Make sure the contract states that it can be canceled at any time without penalty, there are no hidden fees, low or no activation fee, and the monthly payments are not unreasonable. Narrow down your choice of companies to two or three. Then, contact the state Attorney General's Office and Better Business Bureau see if any complaints have been filed.

The FTC (U.S. Federal Trade Commission) lists these recommendations for purchasing a PERS (2008):

1. Shopping Checklist

To help you shop for a PERS that meets your needs, consider the following suggestions:

a. Check out several systems before making a decision.

b. Find out if you can use the system with other response centers. For example, can you use the same system if you move?

c. Ask about the pricing, features, and servicing of each system and compare costs.

d. Make sure the system is easy to use.

e. Test the system to make sure it works from every point in and around your home. Make sure nothing interferes with transmissions.

f. Read your purchase, rental, or lease agreement carefully before signing.

2. Questions to Ask the Response Center

a. Is the monitoring center available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? b. What is the average response time?

c. What kind of training does the center staff receive?

d. What procedures and how often does the center use to test systems in your home?

3. Additional Considerations

a. The pendant or bracelet should be waterproof because to be effective it should be worn 24 hours a day. Showers and bathtubs are areas where falls commonly occur.

b. How often will the batteries in the pendant, bracelet, or clip-on need to be changed? If the person living alone is not capable of remembering or able to change the batteries, then arrangements will need to be made to get someone there to change them.

c. Range protection: system should protect not only throughout the home, but also the yard.

d. Lifetime warranty: will faulty equipment be replaced at no charge?

e. Battery Back-Up: if power fails, does the console unit have a built-in back-up battery, and how long will it last during a power outage?