Wearing a medical alert device might help your parents stay safe. You might be concerned about your parents’ safety at home if they are 65 and older. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of three people (who are 65 and older) falls each year, but fewer than half will inform their doctors about it. If your parent falls once, this doubles his or her chance of falling again, and one out of five falls causes a serious injury like a broken bone or head injury.

According to AARP, medical alert devices can help reassure adult children of their parents’ safety from falls (or a medical emergency like a heart attack or stroke) and help people maintain their independence at home. But what do you do if your parent does not like the idea of wearing a medical alert device? Here are some information and suggestions about medical alert devices.

What are medical alert devices or bracelets?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) refers to medical alert devices as “personal emergency response systems” or “medical emergency response systems.” According to the FTC, medical alert devices let you call for emergency help by pushing a button; because the transmitters are light-weight, battery-powered devices, your parent can wear one as a necklace, on a wrist band (a medical alert bracelet), on a belt, or in a pocket. In a typical system, when your parent pushes the button, the transmitter sends a signal to a console connected to the home telephone.

Most medical alert devices are programmed to call an emergency response center, who will try to find out what is the emergency and/or review your loved one’s medical history and whom should be notified.

According to AARP, the first medical alert systems were on the market in the mid-1970s, but since then, innovation and better technologies have made medical alert devices more sophisticated. Some medical alert devices may automatically detect a fall, according to Consumer Reports.

There are also medical alert devices that are compatible with cell phones and can even monitor a person’s daily activities and deliver voice messages to users and caregivers.

What if Dad or Mom doesn’t want to wear a medical alert device or bracelet?

The AARP says that that some people are embarrassed to wear a medical alert device, or feel they don’t need it. Their research shows that for most falls, the medical alert devices with push buttons are never activated, which can be because of forgetfulness, panic, trauma, or not wanting to alarm other people.

The newer technology for medical alert devices is designed to overcome the barriers mentioned above and any embarrassment, says the AARP. Some new medical alert devices may be sleeker and less noticeable, or resemble a cell phone or a pedometer. And, as mentioned above, some of these devices may automatically detect a fall and alert an emergency response center.

You might suggest to a resistant parent that wearing a medical alert device can help him or her to live independently as long as possible.

Mom says she can’t afford a medical alert device; what can I do?

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), you can buy, rent, or lease a personal emergency response system, or medical alert device; however, most insurance companies usually don’t pay for the equipment. There are some hospitals and social service agencies that may subsidize the devices for people who have low incomes.

Please note that if you do end up buying a medical alert device for someone, you’ll need to pay an installation fee and a monthly monitoring charge. The FTC says that rentals are available through national manufacturers, local distributors, hospitals, and social service agencies, and you’ll usually have to pay for the monitoring service. Please read the contract carefully before you commit and sign, and understand any extra charges, such as possible cancellation fees.

If you consider purchasing a medical alert device or bracelet for your parent, here are some questions (suggested by the FTC) you should ask the company:

  • Is the monitor center always open (24/7)?
  • What is the response time?
  • Who will be alerted?
  • What if my parent moves to another city or state?
  • What is the repair policy?
  • What are the initial and ongoing costs, and what kinds of services and features are included?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests that your local Agency on Aging may be able to tell you what systems are available in your area. Also, please be aware that in 2014, there were a series of illegal prerecorded sales calls from scammers who were advertising “free” medical alert devices to people older than 65; the scammers lied and said the devices had already been bought by a relative or a friend. It may be wise to check with your local consumer protection agency here once you make a list of possible agencies; they can tell you if any complaints have been filed against the medical alert device company.

What are some steps to prevent falls in the home?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are some steps you can take to prevent falls such as:

  • Talking to your doctor to evaluate your risk for falls, to review your medicines, and to see if vitamin D supplements may help
  • Doing strength and balance exercises
  • Having your eyes checked
  • Making your home safer, such as getting rid of potential items that could be tripped over, and making sure there is a lot of light

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