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Let’s Talk About It: Personal alarm systems are not foolproof

Photo: Diamondmagna

Photo: Diamondmagna

Many of us worry about parents living alone and their ability to get assistance should an emergency situation occur, such as a fall. If you look closely you will see many seniors wearing help buttons around their neck or on their wrist like a watch.

While these alarms only work in the home where the main unit is, it is recommended that seniors wear them at all times so they won’t forget to put them on. These alarm pieces are waterproof, so unless it won’t match your sequined gown when dancing away at a wedding, it’s best not to remove them.

Before choosing a personal alarm system, it should be determined that the senior has the capacity to press the emergency button. There are seniors living alone with some degree of dementia who still have the capacity to make decisions on their own behalf but they might not remember or understand to press a button when in an emergency situation.

However, with new technology there are systems that detect when a person falls even if the button is not pushed manually. This technology did not exist when my family ordered a system for my mother; when my mother recently collapsed in her home, she was not able to press the emergency button, either because she was not conscious or because it was stuck underneath her. By the time her worried granddaughters discovered her, she was in bad shape. Had she been equipped with the device that detects a fall and if we had instructed the alarm company to call 911 directly (rather than a family member or neighbour), my mother’s story would have unfolded differently. Fortunately, she is in rehabilitation and making progress toward recovery.

If a person is well enough to press the button, certain systems will have a response agent communicate directly with the individual. The situation will be assessed to determine if immediate medical attention is needed or if the person is well enough to wait for a family member. For example, an older person might have difficulty getting out of a chair, is unable to reach for the phone, but needs someone to help them. Response agents have access to the person’s individual file with information provided by the family.

Before subscribing to an emergency provider, I suggest investigating the following:

  • Will the person understand how to use the system? If not, the fall detector should be considered.
  • Alarms can be bought or rented, and come with monthly fees. With technology becoming more sophisticated, your purchase may be outdated, so consider the cost of upgrading.
  • Providers must be instructed on who to call. If you choose 911, you will need to think about access to the home. Should assistance not warrant emergency medical help, and 911 is the chosen as the first contact, think about which family member, friend or neighbour is the most accessible.
  • Remember to alert the company when emergency contacts go on vacation.

A personal emergency system will serve you best when you do your research and make informed decisions.

It does not prevent falls, but provides protection in case of emergency.

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