Many will recall the Life Alert commercial catch phrase “Help, I have fallen and I can’t get up!” This frightening situation becomes a real concern for the family of a loved one who remains in their home alone as they age. Everyone hopes to be able to stay in their home as long as possible; but for some, living at home alone can be a safety concern. Placing a personal emergency response system in their home has allowed more people to remain in their homes longer, while allaying many safety concerns.
When personal emergency response systems (or as they are often referred to as Medical Alert Systems) began to be advertised on television, it seemed as if there was only one option for an in-home alert system. This system tended to be a basic, wearable device with a button to call a response center in case of an emergency. However, today, there are so many different types of systems that can meet your needs or the needs of a loved one. The advancement in technology has allowed for these systems to include fall detection, in-home health and well-being monitors, fitness trackers, movement sensors, GPS, and more. Yet, how do you choose the right one? Determining the needs and abilities, now and future, of the person who the system will be helping is a good place to start.
The AARP has listed several things to consider next when looking at the different personal emergency response systems available today.
1. What you need the system to do – Call for help; fall detection or prevention; medical monitoring, including medication reminders and monitoring health vitals; GPS location detection and tracking; activity monitoring, including motion detectors and beacons that track movement in the home; daily check-in services via a live person or electronic check-in; fitness tracking; home security monitoring for fire, smoke and carbon monoxide.
2. What type of equipment would work best –
- Is it wearable? Is the device comfortable (beware of sharp edges or strap materials that may irritate fragile skin), and is it attractive or unobtrusive enough that your loved one will be willing to wear it?
- How waterproof is it? Can it be worn in the shower? Can it be fully immersed in water in the sink or bathtub? Many falls happen in the bathroom and kitchen, so this is vital.
- What’s its range, mobility and connectivity? Ask about the distance the device will operate from the base unit. Will it work in the yard or garage? Does it include GPS so that it works anywhere you go in the community? Does it connect to a smartphone or via Bluetooth?
- Is it high quality? Does the device have a good durability rating? Is the technology up to date?
- How’s the battery life? Also ask about the charging method and how you’ll know if the battery is low. Does it come with a second or back up battery
- Will it need technology updates? If so, ask how those are implemented (automatically or manually). Will you or your loved one have the ability to manage them?
- What are the logistics for setting it up? If there’s a base unit or console, will you need more than one to cover the entire home and yard? Should the unit sit on a table or be mounted on a wall? Does it require an electrical connection, or is it battery operated or backed up (in case electricity or phone service is lost). What type of phone service is required — cellular or landline, or both? Can you add stationary buttons around the home?
- Is it mobile? If your loved ones move, can the system move with them?
- Does it include a lockbox? Some companies offer to install a lockbox that emergency medical personnel can access if they need to enter the home when the resident is incapacitated.
- Can family members connect with the device? Can you check in using a smartphone, tablet or computer?
3. Details regarding response and monitoring –
- Response center. Average response time should be a matter of seconds, not minutes. Does the company operate its own response center or contract externally? Is the response center certified? How are the dispatchers or operators trained, and are they able to communicate in your loved one’s preferred language? Will your loved one be able to talk with a live person via their wearable device, or do they need to be close to the base unit to be heard? Is it certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a safety and consulting company?
- Call routing. Can you designate how you want various types of alerts/calls (urgent, nonurgent, emergency) routed, including to a response center, family/friends or directly to emergency services (police, fire department)?
- Customer service. Quality customer relations are key. There should be a live person you can call 24/7 with questions about the service. Other options may include email, live chat, an easy-to-navigate website and a comprehensive FAQ section.
- Cybersecurity. How does the company protect private information and prevent hackers from accessing your system?
4. Cost –
- Fees. Beware of complicated pricing plans and hidden fees. Look for a company with no extra fees related to equipment, shipping, installation, activation, or service and repair. Don’t fall for scams that offer free service or “donated or used” equipment.
- Contracts. You should not have to enter into a long-term contract. You should only have to pay ongoing monthly fees, which should range between $25 and $45 a month (about $1 a day). Be careful about paying for service in advance, since you never know when you’ll need to stop the service temporarily (due to a hospitalization, for instance) or permanently.
- Guarantee and cancellation policies. Look for a full money-back guarantee, or at least a trial period, in case you are not satisfied with the service. And you’ll want the ability to cancel at any time with no penalties (and a full refund if monthly fees have already been paid).
- Discounts. Ask about discounts for multiple people in the same household, as well as for veterans, membership organizations, medical insurance or via a hospital, medical or care organization. Ask if the company offers any discount options or a sliding fee scale for people with lower incomes.
- Insurance. For the most part, Medicare and private insurance companies will not cover the costs of a medical alert. In some states Medicaid may cover all or part of the cost. You can check with your private insurance company to see if it offers discounts or referrals.
- Tax deductions. Check with your tax professional to find out if the cost of a medical alert is tax deductible as a medically necessary expense.
5. Availability in your area – Many national companies offer medical alert services, but they may not all be available near you, so call and inquire about service areas. Local companies may be an option, as well. In addition to companies that have been in the medical alert business for decades, technology companies and home security companies are now increasingly offering these services, as well. Do an online search using keywords such as “medical alert systems,” “personal emergency response systems,” “fall detection devices” and “urgent response devices,” along with the name of your city or state to find companies that service your area. Contact your local area agency on aging and ask if it has a list of companies offering medical alert services locally. (Here is the list of Indiana’s Area Agency on Aging offices: https://www.in.gov/isdh/files/IAAA%20Map%20for%201-19-18.pdf) Check with your senior facility, if you or your loved one lives in a senior community or facility, it may offer an in-house or external medical alert system as part of its overall services. Beware of facilities that only have pull cords in a few places throughout the room or apartment. Too often people don’t fall or become ill within convenient reach of the pull cord. Investigate other options to find out if there are any services or discounts offered through local or national membership organizations, veterans groups or the Department of Veterans Affairs, hospitals or community organizations. Inquire to see if you can add medical alert services to a current home security system, but be sure to ask if there is an additional fee. Research quality of services by investigating consumers’ responses and reactions to the various companies and service options. Checking with the Better Business Bureau, local or national consumer reporting agencies and websites, the local Chamber of Commerce, your state attorney general and other organizations that monitor the quality of services and complaints can often be helpful as well. Getting referrals by asking friends and family members if they can recommend any medical alert systems they have used is sometimes the best way to find that perfect fit.
Finding the right personal emergency response system for you or your loved one can give you and your family the peace of mind knowing that there is an alert system in place that is tailored to their needs and abilities in the event of an emergency. Below you can find two websites that outline the different brands with a brief description of how each system can meet your needs and allow you to remain in your home safely.
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