Options in PERS
By Emily Curtis, Staff Writer

Since the 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.

According to 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

Before 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 frequently?

  • Are you outside and need a system like a necklace or a bracelet?

  • Do you go to a specific hospital?

  • Who is your emergency contact person?

  • Are you on a Medicaid program that might pay for a system?

  • Is English your primary language?

  • Do you need medication reminders?

  • Do you have someone who checks on you now?

  • Are you concerned about falling or have fallen in the past?

Not only will answering these questions determine whether or not a PERS is needed. It can also help assess the type of PERS needed for someone.

What’s on the Market?

The Centers 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 society.”

The CAST Clearinghouse (http://www.agingtech.org/Browsemain.aspx) 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.

Voice Monitoring

Some PERS 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.

Some of 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.

Medication Management

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 medication.

According to 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 home.

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.

Wandering from Home

Alzheimers 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.

The person 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.

Now What?

Once the 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 installation fee.

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.

Finally, how 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.

Home-based 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 long-term needs.

Technology 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.

Also, there 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.

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