You’re an older adult but you’re active and agile from regular workouts, you eat healthy, your doctor’s happy with your important numbers (cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, etc.), and everyone tells you that you look and act decades younger than your age.
Then one of your grown kids suggests – in that concerned tone – that, because you live alone and are getting older, that you’d be safer if you had a PED. Suddenly, you feel like the ancient Mariner. But you don’t need to. A PED is not just for the frail elderly – let me tell you why.
Think you’re Too Young and Healthy for a PED? Think Again…
You’ve likely seen those TV commercials with those older ladies lying helplessly on their kitchen floor after they’ve fallen and no one is around to hear their cries for help. They’re also too far away from a phone and cannot move to call for help themselves. And, as they live alone, no one will be arriving home anytime soon to help them either. You feel sorry for their predicament but you dismiss that it could ever happen to you because you’re in great shape and can take care of yourself, right?
Well, you could be wrong this time. The truth is, accidents of any sort can happen to people, of any age, living alone, or frequently out alone, even people in good physical shape and health. In fact, being as active as you are can put you at even higher risk for a fall accident. For example, you could fall while riding your bike, you could trip and fall, or just become ill, while running/walking or taking a hike through the park alone, you could fall off a ladder cleaning your gutters or painting your house, or you could trip going downstairs carrying a basket of dirty laundry.
And, if a neighbor, friend, family member, or bystander doesn’t happen by, you could lay unconscious, or badly hurt, where you fell for days. What might have been a treatable fall, head injury or fracture, may become something much worse laying immobilized on the floor, or on a secluded park trail, for days. You could become dehydrated, lose a lot of blood, and even die there. Sounds depressingly dramatic, I know, but it can also be terribly true.
The CDC reports that falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in older people. They account for 1 in 3 fractures or head injuries in adults 65 or over. The most common injuries include wrist and forearm fracture, hip fracture, mid-spine fractures, concussions and other head trauma. So, how’s a personal emergency device going to help these statistics?
Well, for one, personal emergency, or medical alert, devices can’t prevent you from falling. But, if you were wearing, or carrying, one of these devices on your person when the fall, or other injury, occurred you could immediately summon someone just by the touch of a button. And if you were unconscious, many of these devices have fall detection sensors that self-activate and call for you. They could mean the difference between getting immediate treatment with a faster recovery time and having a devastating outcome.
Here are some of the top personal/medical alert devices available:
1. Non-Monitored Alerts. These include products like Telemergency or LogicMark that will store several of your personal phone numbers (911, your next door neighbor, your nearby kids, police, etc.) and dial all until someone answers when you activate them. They do not connect to a professional monitoring service but they allow you to speak to whoever is on the other line through the pendent (a mini phone receiver inside). These types of PED’s can be useful if you stay around your home more and neighbors, kids or friends, are frequently around to get hold of in an emergency. These range in cost from $190-$300.
2. Monitored Alerts. These are pendant-type systems like ADT, LifeFone, Phillips Lifeline Medical Alert Services, Life Station, et al. These products connect to a 24-hour professional monitoring service that you can connect to when you need help. They connect into your home, land-line telephone via a base station. They come with waterproof SOS buttons that will work should you get them wet in a fall in the shower or bath. You can even get the Auto Alert option that has a fall detection sensor that, once sensing your fall, will call your monitoring service immediately.
These services are staffed by trained and certified emergency professionals who can assess your situation and get you the help you need quickly. These systems typically run from $35 to $48 a month in addition to about an $82 setup fee. A possible drawback of this system is that the range is only about 300 feet from the base station in your home. If you’re hearing impaired, you may not hear the directions given you, at which point help will be sent to your home, which may or may not be what you need at the moment. Also, if your land-line telephone goes out, the alert’s battery backup works for only 12-20 hours.
3. Mobile Alerts. These are for people who are active, frequently exercising, or visiting public places that may be secluded. These devices are pendant-like which allows you to talk through the speaker to the monitoring company. They also have a GPS tracking device in them that can locate you wherever you may fall and/or become injured.
Products like this include, SafeGuardian (also has a fall detector sensor), 5Star Urgent Response, and MobileHelp. They run anywhere from $15 to $42/mo and may also require a startup fee. These PED’s have the advantage over a land-line system in the event of power/line failure. A word of caution though, researchers say these types should not be relied on as the primary medical alert at home as the connection, like regular cell phone use, can be spotty. Use as a back-up system.
4. Cell Phones. You can always use your cell phone as a medical device IF you have it on you at the time you need it, and you’re conscious enough to use it. Simply dial 911 and an operator will assist you. Jitterbug One-Touch cell phone can both be used as a regular cell phone with regular-dial numbers on a large pad, or an emergency caller just by hitting one button.
When checking out which models to purchase, I feel it’s best to have both a primary in-home system as well as a mobile backup that you can take wherever you go. Many companies who offer these services offer both as part of their package. Though these systems are not perfect and cannot address every emergency situation that comes up, having them in your back pocket, so to speak, could possibly save you medical complications from a fall or injury, or even your life.
Mark Bromson, M.D.