The original fall detection devices have evolved over the years. As technology has advanced, the range of options has grown tremendously. As a result, it can take hours of research to figure out which one is best for the person you are caring for. At Elizz, we did this research and offer some tips to guide your purchase of a falls detection/medical alert system.
The importance of falls detection
Falls are the number reason for ER visits for older adults and injury-related hospitalizations. Between 20 and 30 % of older adults experience at least one fall each year. And if you have had one fall, you are more likely to have another one in the future. Cognitive impairment also increases the risk of having a fall.
Falls detection/medical emergency systems are a great safety net. They can provide independence for older adults and peace of mind for both older adults and caregivers.
The different language used can be confusing, even when the systems provide pretty much the same service:
- Fall Detection Systems
- Personal Emergency Response System
- Medical Emergency Response System
- Medical Alert Systems
How do falls alert/medical alert systems work?
Devices were originally a bracelet or pendant, with a system that connected to landline phones. These devices are installed in a central location in the home (usually by the landline telephone). They have a speaker and microphone so that communication can take place anywhere in the home.
It is no longer necessary to have a landline phone as they can work with a cell phone. The most recent development has been fall detection watches.
The premise of each system is the same: if there is a fall or other medical emergency, the device has a call button that connects you with someone at a 24/7 dispatching centre and/or contacts someone you designate, such as a family member or friend.
What features are needed/ ‘must haves’
Some features are critical to be of value and some features are for certain needs. More isn’t always better. A GPS system isn’t helpful or even needed, for example, if the person you are caring for never leaves their home alone.
- Waterproof, or at least water resistant. Falls happen most often in the bathroom so having a device that can work in the shower or bathtub is essential.
- Automatic fall detection. These are devices that sense when someone has a fall and automatically calls the dispatch centre. If the person who has fallen is unconscious, for example, or for some reason cannot push the call button, this is obviously a critical feature.
- Be sure to consult the person who will be wearing the device about their preference-typically pendant or bracelet or a smart watch. I have witnessed too many well-meaning caregivers making this decision themselves and the person didn’t end up wearing it or would wear it only periodically. How you communicate about the benefits of a medical alert system can make all the difference in whether its usage is embraced.
- Hassle-free return policy. If it doesn’t work as expected or as hoped (say for example, for someone cannot hear well enough with this system), you want a straightforward return policy.
- No contract or no financial consequences for broken contract. Inquire whether there is a contract or if the system can be operated on a month-to-month basis. If the person being cared for unexpectedly goes to hospital or moves to a retirement or long-term care home, the system may no longer be needed. If there is a contract, ask if there is a policy to break the contract early without penalty.
Other system options
- Mobile systems/wireless technology. In the ‘olden days’, these systems were designed to work inside your home with your landline telephone. There are systems now that work with a cell phone. And sometimes you want a medical emergency alert system to expand beyond the home. If this is the case, then you want a service that operates over cellular networks and has GPS technology. You can get this with these system options or you may want to consider a smart watch with fall detection.
- GPS Feature. The GPS feature is especially valuable for people who leave their home alone and are at risk of a fall or other medical emergency AND for people with a diagnosis of dementia and may get lost if they leave the home (commonly referred to as wandering ‘though it is more accurate to refer to it as disorientation).
Note that the sales person for this system will likely refer to how many square feet the device will cover, so it is good to have a sense of the distance you need the device to cover prior to contacting them.
There will be a range of costs for the system. There is the cost of the equipment itself (buying it outright or paying a monthly rental fee), installation and activation fees, and fees for monthly monitoring.
Be prepared to negotiate the cost. I have found that companies are willing, WHEN ASKED, to reduce the costs, usually by waiving the installation fee. Tell them you are exploring other options with better pricing.
If the person being cared for is receiving home care services, you may want to contact the Case Manager and ask for a list of local providers of medical alert systems. Some local areas and hospitals have medical alert systems at competitive prices.
It is better of course to prevent a fall in the first place and there are many things that can be done, such as exercises, to prevent a fall in and around the home. By the way, November is Falls Prevention month.
Is there a falls detection/medical emergency system in place for the person you are caring for? How has it made a difference?