Jim Miller, an advocate for older Americans, writes “Savvy Senior,” a weekly information column syndicated in more than 400 newspapers nationwide. Based in Norman, Oklahoma, he also offers a free senior e-news service at SavvySenior.org.
Helping an aging parent or other loved one to remain independent and living in his/her own home has become much easier in recent years, thanks to a host of new or improved products and services.
Some of the best…
One of the most common concerns is that an elderly loved one may fall and need help when no one is around. For this danger, a medical-alert device—also known as a personal emergency response system (PERS)—has long been the tool of choice. New versions of these devices overcome past shortcomings.
The devices, which rent for around $1 per day, provide a wearable “SOS” button—typically in the form of a necklace pendant or bracelet—and a base station that connects to the home phone line. At the press of a button, your loved one could call and talk to a trained operator through the system’s base station receiver, which works like a powerful speakerphone. (Two base stations often are used in large or two-story homes.) The operator will find out what’s wrong and notify family members, a neighbor, friend or emergency services, as needed.
Concerns about the old versions of these devices include seniors falling and becoming disoriented and forgetting to activate the device. Older devices also have range limitations and will work only if the senior is in or around the house.
To overcome some of these challenges, Philips, maker of the Lifeline, the most widely used home medical-alert service in the US, offers an Auto Alert option that has sensors built into the SOS button to detect falls. When triggered by these sensors, the device automatically can summon help without your loved one having to press a button. The Lifeline with Auto Alert generally costs $48 a month, and the standard medical alert service without Auto Alert runs $35 per month. (800-380-3111, www.LifeLineSys.com)
A more sophisticated technology for keeping tabs on an elderly loved one at home is a monitoring system. These systems will let you know whether your loved one is waking up and going to bed on time, eating properly, showering and taking his/her medicine.
They work through small wireless sensors (not cameras) placed in key locations throughout the home. The sensors track movements and learn the person’s daily activity patterns and routines. The system will notify you or other family members via text message, e-mail or phone if something out of the ordinary is happening.
For instance, if your loved one doesn’t open the medicine cabinet at the usual time, it could mean that he/she forgot to take his medication…or if he went to the bathroom and didn’t leave it, that could indicate a fall or other emergency.
You also can check up on your loved one’s patterns anytime you want through the system’s password-protected Web site. And for additional protection, most services offer SOS call buttons that can be worn or placed around the house.
One reliable company that offers these services is BeClose (866-574-1784, www.BeClose.com), whose system costs from $400 for three sensors to $500 for six, plus a service fee that ranges from $70 to $100 per month.
GrandCare Systems (262-338-6147, www.GrandCare.com) adds a social connectivity component to go along with the activity monitoring. It does this through a touch-screen computer that provides your loved one with easy access to Skype for video calls and to e-mail, photos, caller ID, games and brain exercises, as well as a calendar to keep up with appointments and events.
If your loved one doesn’t want to use a computer, GrandCare can set up a dedicated channel on his television set so that he can see pictures, e-mails, calendar events, news, weather and more. The contents of the channel can be changed remotely by a caregiver through a Web site.
GrandCare Systems typically run between $950 and $1,500 for a one-bedroom apartment, with a monthly subscription fee of $30 to $50. Leasing options also are available.
To deal with falls or health emergencies outside the home, there are a number of new mobile-alert products available that work anywhere. These pendant-style devices, which fit in the palm of your hand, work like cell phones with GPS tracking capabilities and can be carried in a purse, worn on a belt or attached to a key chain.
To call for help, your loved one pushes one button and an operator from the device’s emergency-monitoring service is on the line to assist him. The devices allow your loved one to speak and listen to the operator through the pendant, and because of the GPS technology, the operator knows the exact location, which is critical in emergency situations. These alerts, however, do not have fall-detection sensors.
Top products in this category include the 5Star Urgent Response from GreatCall (800-733-6632, www.GreatCall.com) for $50 plus a $35 activation fee and a $15 monthly service fee…and MobileHelp (800-800-1710, www.MobileHelpNow.com), which offers a duo system that includes a mobile device, an indoor base station and pendant buttons for home use—$37 per month if paid a year in advance with no activation fee to $42 per month with a $100 activation fee.
To help loved ones keep up with medication regimens, there’s a wide variety of pillboxes, medication organizers, vibrating watches and beeping dispensers that can help them stay organized and be reminded. To find these types of products, visit www.EPill.com (800-549-0095), where there are dozens to choose from.
One popular option is the Cadex 12 Alarm Medication Reminder Watch for $100. It provides up to 12 daily alarms and displays a message of what medication to take at scheduled times throughout the day.
And there is the monthly MedCenter System ($80), which comes with 31 color-coded pillboxes, each with four compartments for different times of the day and a four-alarm clock for reminders.
There also are a number of Web-based services that can notify your loved one when it’s time to take a medication.
Examples: MyMedSchedule (908-234-1701, www.MyMedSchedule.com) and RememberItNow (925-388-6030, www.RememberItNow.com) offer free text-message and e-mail reminders. OnTimeRX (866-944-8966, www.OnTimeRX.com) provides phone call reminders in addition to text messages and e-mails for all types of scheduled activities, including daily medications, monthly refills, doctor appointments, wake-up calls and other events. These charge between $10 and $30 per month depending on how many reminders you need.
Another option is CARE Call Reassurance (602-265-5968, extension 7, www.Call-Reassurance.com), which provides automated call reminders to your loved one’s phone. If he fails to answer or acknowledge a call, the service will contact a family member or a designated caregiver via phone, e-mail or text message. The cost is $15 per month if paid in advance for a year.
If your loved one needs a more comprehensive medication-management system, consider the MedMinder Automated Pill Dispenser (888-633-6463, www.MedMinder.com). This is a computerized pillbox that flashes when it’s time for your loved one to take his medication and beeps or calls his phone with an automated reminder if he forgets. It will even alert him if he takes the wrong pill.
This device also can be set up to call, e-mail or text a family member and caregiver if the loved one misses a dose, takes the wrong medication or doesn’t refill the dispenser. The MedMinder rents for $40 per month.
Another good medication dispensing system is the Philips Medication Dispensing Service (888-632-3261, www.ManageMyPills.com), a countertop appliance that dispenses medicine on schedule, provides verbal reminders and notifies caregivers if the pills aren’t taken. Monthly rental and monitoring fees for the Philips service run $75 with an $85 installation fee.