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  • Writer's pictureMeg Pemberton

The 411 on Medical Alert Systems for Seniors

If you are one of 43.5 million or so family caregivers nationwide, you are likely struggling with keeping your loved one(s) safe. If you’re lucky, somehow or another you’ve figured out how to provide a 24 hour presence. On the other hand, if you’re the average family caregiver, a baby boomer mom with children of her own to care for, you need help! There are options and they are as varied as each family’s unique needs are. We’ve covered some of these in a prior blog. Here’s the 411 on medical alert systems for seniors.

Your Loved One has Fallen

And, as the commercial goes, they can’t get up. When my husband and I cared for his mother in her last months, this was a real concern for us. She carried her portable phone in her pocket pretty much all the time. We worried that this wasn’t enough. What if the phone flew out of her pocket when she fell? What if she couldn’t reach it? We chose a medical alert button; a pedant that hung like a necklace around her neck. The thing is, you actually have to wear it in order for it to work. My mother in law did not like it.

Technology is a Wonderful Thing

Of course, falling is not the only concern family caregivers have. Are they taking their mediations, eating enough, getting out of bed? My dad began wandering in the later stages of his Alzheimer’s journey. He wore a device that looked much like a watch which alerted staff to his location when he did wander. Wi-Fi, GPS, and innovative wearables have increased the options for medical alert systems significantly. One can still press a button if they fall. However, caregivers and care providers can track much more.

Beyond the Fall

Today, a family caregiver can check in remotely, via mobile apps, to see how and what their loved one is doing. Here are some of the options available:

  • Activity level: how often are they getting up, how far are they moving?

  • Health status: Is their heart rate ok? Blood pressure?

  • Diet and nutrition: How often do they open the refrigerator or pantry?

  • Medication management: Did they take their medications?

  • Changes to routine: Did they go out the wrong door? Are they staying in one place longer than usual? How well are they sleeping?

  • Activity on the go: Mobile and wearable technology (think iwatch) make it possible to track where your loved one is via GPS.

  • Video monitoring.

Sensors can be placed in a variety of places to alert the family caregiver of most anything they’d like. Alerts can be sent via email and mobile technology. The possibilities may seem endless and yet as technology grows, even more will be possible.

Peace of Mind

Is a medical alert system appropriate for you and your loved one? If the system provides you peace of mind then yes. They may not be appropriate as the sole source of monitoring if your loved one requires physical assistance in order to remain safe. However, they can be a supplement to your safety plan. In order to understand what you should look for, start by asking yourself and your loved one what you need the system to do for you. The AARP recommends asking if you need the following.

  • Emergency call for help.

  • Fall detection or prevention.

  • Medication reminders and monitoring health vitals (e.g.: blood pressure, heart rate).

  • GPS location detection and tracking.

  • Activity monitoring and/or fitness monitoring.

  • Home security monitoring.

Other things to consider include the following.

  • Mobility: Do you need something that is wearable? What is the range of the device?

  • Quality: Customer service, device and system servicing.

  • If your loved one is in a facility, what do they offer? Can you provide a different system?

  • Comfort of and with the system. Will your loved one agree?

  • Cost

Options, Options, Options

Once you identify what you want to monitor and what you’d like to be alerted for, it’s time to start shopping. A quick internet search will reveal no shortage of systems to choose from. There are quite a variety of systems available with many companies offering multiple systems to choose from. Finding the system that best fits your needs may require some research. Start by eliminating systems that won’t fit your unique needs. Identify a budget. There are different cost structures. Carefully consider the “extras” offered at discounted prices. Be clear on what you’ll be paying for.

Safety is Caring

Medical alert systems and their ability to monitor most every aspect of your loved one’s life may indeed seem a bit like “Big Brother” is truly watching. However, in a world where the family caregiver has competing priorities (e.g.: caring for their children, their grandchildren, and their parent(s), remaining productive at work, maintaining financial stability, and yes, caring for themselves), such monitoring can be enormously helpful. Despite taking her pendant off frequently, my mother in law never needed to use it. Yet, it gave us peace of mind. My Dad never wandered beyond his safe boundaries likely because his care team was alerted when needed. Again, we had peace of mind. Medical alert systems for seniors can be life savers in more ways than one.


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