AS WE AGE: Alert devises offer family peace of mind

Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare (

One of the biggest concerns for families of  elderly folks who continue to live alone is the fear that a fall or some kind of medical issue will put them in a dangerous situation with no way to contact anyone.

This is particularly risky if an elderly person lives completely on his or her own and is a shut-in, or at least doesn’t have someone checking in on them.

There are some simple, partial solutions to this problem, everything from a daily house visitor, to check-up phone calls in the morning and evening, to a cell phone on a belt carrier that goes everywhere, to a pendant or bracelet alarm that works through the home phone system to call for help when it’s activated or when it senses a fall.

There are always circumstances that limit both technology and human interaction, so there’s no single system that is foolproof.

I suspect that will change in the not-too-distant future. Someone is going to put together a fashionably wearable alert button with blue tooth technology and a cell phone so that if an elderly person has any emergency, day or night, a series of phone calls will be initiated to family, friends and finally 911.

I did a quick scan of the internet and saw many systems similar in concept, but none that used a cell phone specifically. Most were attached to a home base phone line, which limited their use to a range that might include the house and yard. But what if they are walking around the block or out to a grocery store?

To me, the ideal system would have two parts. The first would be a medical alert device that could be worn around the neck or as a bracelet. It would have two-way communication capability (a small speaker and microphone), a sensor that would recognize a sudden change in body positioning that might be caused by a fall, and a GPS device. When activated by a wearer, or activated automatically, it would dial two or three contact numbers and allow each to ring a set number of times before hanging up and going to the next number. If answered, there could be a two-way conversation to determine the status and needs of the individual.

Should no contacts be available, a 911 call would be the final option with a preprogrammed message giving the name, address and GPS tracking number so that emergency services could locate the person wherever he/she might be.

To transmit these calls, the second part of the unit would be a cell phone so that connectivity is possible wherever someone is, as long as the cell phone is carried with him/her. This would require the development of a routine for an elderly person to be sure the cell phone was, close at hand at all times.

To charge the units, they would come with a pad that requires them to be put on the surface to recharge. Both the cell phone and alert device could be set on that unit beside the bed at night so the alert device is reachable before getting out of bed or in the event of an emergency.

I know that most medical alert systems currently use a company operator to touch base and make calls. The cost for this service is close to what a cell phone costs, but the limitation is that it is only serviceable in or near the home.

There are a lot of options in this field, but knowing that there is some kind of device that can alert family or medical services to an emergency is a huge peace of mind to others and an important tool in helping an elderly person maintain independence.


Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare  (

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