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Personal Emergency Response System:
The Future of In-Home Monitoring
By Hilary Gibson, Staff Writer
(Page 1 of 2)

No two caregivers are alike, and neither are their situations, yet there is one commonality which exists among all of them, whether they are caring for someone within the home, or as a long distance caregiver, and that is the constant worry about a loved one falling when they are alone. Injuries caused by falls are a common occurrence among the elderly. Studies report that 30% of people who are over the age of 65 (about 35 million Americans) fall every year, and that these incidences increase to 50% for those over the age of 80. Itís been estimated that at least 60% of all falls occur in the home, with another 30% happening in public places, and 10% taking place in healthcare institutions. There are also 26 million people with neuromuscular or cognitive diseases such as Parkinsonís, Alzheimerís, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, ALS and even diabetes who fall even more frequently. The data reported about those over 65 is probably quite conservative, since many of these falls go unreported, because many people may think that falling is a normal part of aging process, or because they may be unable to realize what has happened to them due to a condition such as Alzheimerís. They may also not report a fall due to being embarrassed, or because they fear that if others know that they have fallen, their activities and independence may then be greatly restricted.

Whatever the reasoning, the danger still exists for someone who has taken a fall, especially if they are elderly and alone. For those who are unable to get up from a fall, the amount of time they spend immobile will greatly affect the outcome of their health and rehabilitation. In other words, a fall that results in a serious injury may signify the beginning of declining health that may become an irreversible, downward spiral. Even 90% of the falls that donít result in injury may have a detrimental impact on the health and well-being of a loved one. While the best strategy for caregivers can be found in forms of prevention, itís still nearly impossible to know whatís really going on with a loved one when they are on their own. The next-best-thing to help caregivers in their struggle to prevent falls may be found in technology. While a computer or a machine may not have the physical prowess to stop someone from falling, they can be used to determine when someone has fallen, greatly reducing the amount of time the person may have normally spent on the floor, with their health situation rapidly declining while waiting for help.

The latest in ďelectronicĒ caregiving technology can be found with the advent of the personal emergency response system or PERS. The way in which a typical PERS works is a person wears an electronic pendant, either around the neck or wrist, which they press immediately upon any type of emergency, whether theyíve had a fall, think that they may be suffering from a heart attack, or fear that an intruder is on the premises. When pressed, the pendant works as a transmitter contacting a regular telephone system, automatically dialing emergency agencies such as the police department, fire department, or even a family member or neighbor. This works well when a person isnít unconscious and has the ability to communicate what their particular emergency is, but what about those who may fall and lose consciousness, or for those who may be having some other physical problem which renders them unable to speak and explain what they need? Some PERS companies are testing the potential for a new device which would actually detect the physical action of a person falling. Currently being utilized is a small, pager-like device worn around the abdomen and clipped to a pair of pants, or attached to a velcro belt that has a special pouch. The device must be worn around the torso in order to pick up the accelerated signals the body will produce when it is at an awkward angle, such as in the case of a fall.

If youíre unconscious or unable to send the signal on your own, it will work the same way as if you had pressed the button on an emergency pendant: the belt clip device detects a fall, or the user can press the button for help, even if they have not fallen; the signal is then sent to the base unit in the home; the base unit calls the monitoring center; two-way communication between the base unit and the monitoring center will be attempted; the monitoring center will then call someone on the contact list; if none of the contacts can be reached, emergency services in their area will be dispatched. Still in its infancy, these devices have areas that are already being studied for improvement, such as the life of the battery, which has a short life- span presently, trying to somehow create the device to be waterproof so that it may be worn in the shower (one of the most common places to have a serious fall), and to also decrease the amount of false-positives (times when the device reports a fall that hasnít really occurred).

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