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My Aging Parents: Emergency Button

“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” It was a great marketing line and we all joked about it because of the low budget commercial.

Years ago I remember the TV Commercial “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”  It was a great marketing line for the “Emergency Button” seniors wear and we all joked about it because of the low budget commercial.  Many comedians and comedy shows had some fun with the line, but it did bring awareness to the situation, maybe not in the best of light.  However, now I do not find it a joke anymore, it is reality for my parents and a great tool to address safety in their house.

My mother-in-law and both of my parents have had falls that have brought a keen awareness to this situation.  Obviously as you age your balance skills along with medical issues lead to the high potential of a fall, add this to the aging body ability to recover and a fall is a real serious situation.  The best strategy is a two pronged approach.  First, what can we do to prevent the fall?  Second, when the fall happens how they can get help?

Thankfully my wife is an Occupational Therapist in the medical field and has a keen eye on the dangers of a fall and what contributes to it.  In the hospital environment where she works when a fall happens a team assembles and analyzes what happened and see if any changes need to take place to prevent it from happening again.  Based on this experience she is very helpful in continuing to assess their homes for potential problems that could lead to a fall.  Basically the removal of clutter and throw rugs, then adding assist handles in key areas in the home with a focus on the bathroom and stairs.  When we visit their home we keep an eye on these items, these are great ways to proactively prevent a fall.

However, we must accept the fact that a fall is going to happen.

My mother-in-law lives by herself on a lake in Traverse City where many of the neighbors do not live there year round. Two years ago she was outside in February filling the bird feeder and slipped on some ice and broke her hip.  Thanks are to God it was a warm sunny winter day, it took her three hours to drag herself into the house to call for help.  If God was not watching out for her that day it would have been a tragic story.

My mother had a fall in the landing by the front door, she called out for my dad for help and he did not hear her for about an hour.  Once he found her he tried to help her get up, but struggled.  Thanks are to God that a neighbor was walking by the house and my dad got his attention and he immediately came in to help them out.

My dad had a fall in his bedroom, he did not remember the fall and was unconscious for a while, it probably was an hour or two until my mom found him.  She helped him get up and he hurt his hip which has now really restricted his walking as his body slowly recovers, it was a setback to his ongoing medical condition.

In every case these falls could have been prevented, but life happens and we cannot prevent all bad things from happening.  By God’s grace each of these falls were not deadly outcomes, but they could have been.  I trust in God, but believe we also have to put things in place that proactively address the situation and it is a personal responsibility issue with me.  What do we do when a fall happens?

In our situation the answer was the Emergency Button.  Two years ago we put it in place at my mother-in-law’s house, in Traverse City the senior community helps with a subsidy to pay for this service.  Two months ago I put a similar system in place at my parent’s home at an initial cost of $90 and then $24 per month with a three month contract commitment.  This has given them and all the kids a piece of mind about increasing the safety in the home as they live independently.

There are many great products out there that address this important need with different options that address situations differently.  We found one that meets our specific needs that we liked; your situation may be different.  We chose American Senior Safety www.seniorsafety.com for my parents and have been very impressed with their system and service so far.  American Senior Safety directed us to the Vial of Life Project www.vialoflife.com which is a non-profit that helps address safety issues for seniors.

Here is how the Emergency Button system works:

My parents both wear the “Emergency Button” on a necklace at all times, it is water proof.  When they are in or outside of the house (within 300 feet) they can communicate with the box tied to their phone line.  In an emergency they push the button, within seconds a voice tries to talk with them through the box and ask what they want them to do.  When we tested the box I could communicate with the box verbally in every room on the main floor and at the bottom of the basement stairs.  It was very important my parents watched me test the system and where in the house they could be heard.

If there is no verbal response, they call an ambulance to come to the house, and then call my sister and me to tell us of the situation.  When the ambulance arrives, if no one answers the door, they use the key lock code (given to them by the service) to obtain a key to get in without damaging the door.  They see the “Vial of Life” sticker on the front door and then know to go to the document package hanging on the refrigerator to obtain medical information about each of them.  This allows the medical personnel to know their current medical conditions along with a picture to identify them and the “Patient Advocate” disclosure form.  We are communicating with the emergency personnel through these important documents without anyone being there.

They encourage us to test the system with my parents monthly, this is for validation that it works, but more importantly it trains and reinforces to my parents on what to do if they have a problem.  I have prepared a MS Excel spreadsheet that is the form I used for my parents “Vial of Life” so it is easily updated as time passes and the situation changes.  I attached this as a PDF file to this blog for anyone to use for their own situation.

Having this “Emergency Button” system in place gives my parent’s independence and all of us kids piece of mind, it is truly a wonderful tool.

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Amy Schuster April 02, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Thank you Daryl, that was very helpful information. We are having a sibling gathering next week to discuss ways we can assist my aging parents - we will consider this option.
Daryl Patrishkoff April 02, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Amy, I am pleased you found the information useful; we were able to learn from many others who shared their story and approach to helping our parents through these stages in life. We have a very fast paced complicated world now that many seniors cannot understand, they are not stupid. We need to use the technology to research and present the options to them in a simple form so they can make informed decisions. I posted other links about the many things I learned in going through this process, you may find them useful as you gather with your siblings to plan your strategy. Remember, this is our situation we planned for our specific parents; others have different situations and this approach may not apply.

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