My elderly parents live alone. How can they get help in an emergency?
You might try one of the new emergency signaling devices. Specially designed for seniors, personal emergency response systems (PERS) are fast becoming part of the growing home-care services industry. They are a great way to help elders stay in their own homes and be just a button-squeeze away from help.
Older people simply wear a device that allows them to summon emergency services should they take a fall or otherwise require immediate help. Typically these systems consist of a signaling unit in the form of a pendant, beeper, or wristwatch-like device, wired to a central response center.
Trained personnel at the center take the calls and can immediately contact fire department, police, or ambulance services -- then stay on the phone until help arrives. On file at the center are the subscribers' medical history and the names and telephone numbers of family, friends, neighbors, hospitals, and home health agencies to be notified in a crisis.
Some systems provide additional services, including medication reminders. A senior who might be forgetful about taking his pills is helped with a friendly phone call or a pre-timed beeper alert. Because loneliness is a key issue in aging, some companies offer telephone reassurance -- even though the people they serve might be miles away, or in another state altogether. Debra Okins, director of Interim In-Touch in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., says, "We found most of our clients were homebound or lived alone and needed more than just emergency care. Our clients send us pictures of their pets and children at Christmas -- we're part of the family."
There are now more than 30 such systems on the market serving half a million adults nationally, according to the AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons. Most services include a one-time installation charge and average $30 a month. Here are four of the most popular:
Lifeline Systems Inc., 640 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA 02139; (617) 679-1000 or 1-(800)-543-3546; Web site: http://www.lifelinesys.com. The Lifeline Response Center staff receives training in gerontology, stress management, and call handling, and they are recertified annually. Staff is also multilingual.
Interim In-Touch, 2050 Spectrum Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33309; 1-(800)-900-8208; Web site: http://www.interim.com. In-Touch offers four services: PERS, social contact, PERS and Careousel (medication notification), and social and Careousel packages. System functions even if phone is off the hook or someone else is on the line in the home.
SOS Wireless Communications, 11 W. Cooke Road, Suite 8, Columbus, OH 43214; 1-(800)-259-8327; Web site: http://www.sosphone.com. SOS is a mobile emergency response system that operates on the existing national cellular network. The phone features a hearing aid-compatible speaker and simulated dial tone. Services include 24-hour personalized operator service, local and nationwide roadside services, and free 911 calls.
ResponseLink, 6101 Lake Ellenor Drive, Orlando, FL 32809; 1-(800)-894-1428; Web site: http://www.responselink.com. ResponseLink is a two-way medical alert system that summons help for falls or illness, protection against intruders, medication management, and smoke detection.