By Emily Curtis, Staff Writer
1990s, there have been a plethora of options on the market for
personal emergency response systems (PERS). Since there are so
many choices, the consumer can feel overwhelmed and make poor
decisions without realizing it.
What is PERS?
PERS offer a
choice for caregivers. Designed with primarily the elderly in
mind, PERS can link the individual in need with a monitoring
station to alert them of a problem in the home. In the case of
an elderly woman who falls, she may not be able to reach a phone
to notify her family. With a PERS, a simple button click can
link her with someone who can get an ambulance or notify a
family member almost immediately.
the National Center for Health Statistics, falls rank as the
leading cause of death for individuals age 65 and older, 32.7 in
every 100,000 persons. For this reason alone, a PERS often
provides peace of mind that their loved one is able to receive
help when they need it.
PERS is not
just for the homebound elderly person. According to the Centers
for Disease Control, there are an estimated 34 to 43 million
Americans living with a chronic disability. Caregivers, even if
they are not in the immediate area, can rely on PERS to help
them provide services to disabled family members.
Assessing the Need
deciding what type of PERS to utilize, families need to step
back and look at why they may need one. Senior Services of
Seattle/King County, Washington developed these questions to ask
when deciding whether or not a system can help in the household.
Are you in the home
Are you outside and need a
system like a necklace or a bracelet?
Do you go to a specific
Who is your emergency
Are you on a Medicaid
program that might pay for a system?
Is English your primary
Do you need medication
Do you have someone who
checks on you now?
Are you concerned about
falling or have fallen in the past?
will answering these questions determine whether or not a PERS
is needed. It can also help assess the type of PERS needed for
What’s on the
for Aging Services Technologies (CAST) brings together companies
(both non-profit and for-profit) to help create technological
advances to help the elderly. As technology advances at a rapid
rate, CAST helps keep a firm grip on the types of technology
developing and how it can benefit the elderly. Their vision is
to create “the foundation that will ensure technology solutions
attain their fullest potential to meet the needs of our aging
showcases many PERS products and can help with making the
decision concerning which system will be most effective in a
given household. Some of the products listed can be new to the
market, while others have been available for some time. When
deciding which products are needed, make sure you keep in mind
the issues addressed previously.
are developed for emergencies. These devices can be worn either
as a bracelet or necklace while others are a box attached to a
telephone with a speaker system. These systems provide peace of
mind to long-distance caregivers because the monitoring station
can be alerted with the push of a button.
these devices are now wireless, thereby limiting the number of
connections that need to be made in order to install the device.
Even if they must be hooked up to a phone line, they will not
interfere with normal functioning of the phone. In the event
that the system is activated, a two-way voice communication is
activated so that the monitoring company can talk to someone who
may have fallen or is not able to get to the telephone.
One PERS in
this category is Main Street Monitoring through Home Technology
Systems (www.hometechsystems.com). This system offers wireless
transmitter buttons worn by the person either around the neck or
on the wrist. A two-way communication system links into the
phone and can open a dialogue between the monitoring station and
the individual when it is activated.
There are PERS that will give reminders about when medicine is due.
“Medication buddies” can help those who have difficulty
remembering when to take medicine. Some systems, like American
Medical Alert (www.amac.com) can organize and dispense
medication at the appropriate time. Others may display a
reminder and beep to notify the person so they can take
a study published in PubMed (1999, Abstract indexed for
Medline), a variety of methods, including “pre-poured pillboxes,
automatic dispensers with voice-activated message, and regular
or video-telephone call reminders have been useful for enhancing
medication compliance.” In addition, the study noted that
advances in technology can reduce hospital admissions and costly
errors in medication management.
Activities of Daily Living
What if a
caregiver needs more information from the patient than the
patient is capable of providing? The Quiet Care System (www.quietcaresystems.com),
for example, uses small motion detectors throughout the home to
provide insight into how the person is functioning in their own
Some of the
areas that can be monitored include wakeup and bedtimes,
bathroom times, activity in the home, meals, and medication
usage. No cameras are installed and patient privacy is
protected. Family members and geriatric providers can receive
information as needed or at regular intervals through phone
calls, emails, or logging into a secure website.
Disease and other dementia related disorders cause a high level
of concern, even for the at-home caregiver. There are monitoring
devices that notify the family as soon as the person has
wandered past a specific point. HomeFree at Home (www.homefreesys.com)
offers a home-based system that is easy to use and unobtrusive
in its monitoring.
wears a monitoring device on their wrist, similar to a watch.
Caregivers can customize the range to allow flexibility while
limiting the distance someone can travel from the monitoring
device. Alerts can be given visually or audibly. Pager alarms
are also an option if the caregiver is not near the monitoring
system at the time of the event.
family determines that a PERS is needed, there are other factors
to consider. Cost may be the primary consideration. Depending on
the level of monitoring needed, the price can vary widely. Also,
there are monthly monitoring fees in addition to the
The range of
the monitoring equipment needs to be considered. If the
equipment only monitors up to 150 feet, yet the back yard fence
is more than 200 feet away from the door, this piece of
equipment may not be appropriate. Will too many wires in the
home be a concern? Sometimes seniors are reluctant to install
new equipment for fear that if it malfunctions, other appliances
or utilities could be affected.
will the family be notified if there is a problem? An immediate
phone call may be more comforting than an email or a website.
Are there others who can be listed with the monitoring company?
Some companies allow up to four phone numbers to be on file for
the patient. Assigning only one person in the family to receive
calls may be emotionally taxing, thus it may be helpful to have
others who can respond to emergency situations if needed.
PERS are not the only option. Nursing homes and assisted living
facilities use these as well. The information can be more
detailed and provide facility staff with in-depth information of
a patient or resident. If the decision to place someone in a
facility is made, monitoring can still be performed to keep
family members, staff, and physicians notified of immediate and
advances are providing more options with PERS today than ever
before. These systems have evolved into much more than a system
that only dials a monitoring station if a button is pressed.
Sophisticated systems can “learn” more about the individual
wearer and can notify someone faster than before.
are products on the market that provide not only the features
discussed previously, but provide several of these at the same
time. Finding a system that will adapt to the specific needs of
the family is crucial. Caregivers need to be content with the
choices they make when determining which PERS is appropriate to
their situation. The more comfortable the caregiver is with
their PERS options, the better families can adapt to the
decision to use one.