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Senior Citizen's Guide

Personal Emergency Response Systems

We all come to a point in our lives where we may need a little extra help keeping up with our daily activities. Does it seem you may be getting to the point where remaining alone in your home may be unsafe? There are things you can do to lessen the risk. If your house in only one floor, that's a help, if you live in a multi-story house, try to move your bedroom to a first floor room. As nice as the doorway and area rugs look, they are a trip hazard and they need to go. Making your home a safer place to move around in is a big help.

If your family is still worried, and understandably so, you can get some help with your daily routine. Help may include cleaning the house, delivery of meals, shopping, even bathing. No one likes to admit they need help. However, accepting the help may be the difference between remaining at home and independent or having to make other living arrangements like a nursing home or assisted living or having to move in with your children.

One choice to help maintain your independence is a personal emergency response system (PERS). They allow the wearer to get help 24/7 at the touch of a button. In almost all situations, your family will be overjoyed with your decision to get one. Here are some things to inquire about when you call for information on a PERS unit.

Ask if the company has a contract that you will need to sign. These contracts are usually designed to spell out what the company expects from you as a client and what you can expect from them as a service provider. Your main concern should be the time frame of obligation to that company. Most companies' contracts are just a formality required by their insurance carrier or by the state that they are licensed in. There is some uniformity in the terms but it is up to the individual company to determine the length of their contract. Most contracts are one to six months, some are one to three years. There are companies that do not require a contract which gives you NO GUARANTEES. Ask if they offer a free trial period with no obligation to you. Also ask if there is a cancellation fee and how you cancel service.

Ask what the costs of the service are. Is there a setup or shipping fee? What are the monthly fees? Don't be fooled by the offer of a free installation then end up paying a higher than average monthly fee. The other short term offer to watch out for is the low rate for the first three months, then it increases to some higher amount. Do the math because you may have this service for much longer than you anticipated. Check for payment options as most companies have different payment options; monthly, quarterly, and annually. Usually each is billed at a different rate. If you pay for a longer term plan ask if there is an early termination fee and/or a refund. Ask if there are any other costs to your monitoring. Some companies offer incentives for your referrals to friends and neighbors.

Ask who will be monitoring your system and are they trained in handling your emergencies? How many monitor stations do they have and where they are located? A company with one monitor station puts all your eggs in their one basket. If their monitoring facility were to suffer a fire or other disaster would you still have service? Some companies lead you to believe that their service is from the local hospital. Don't be fooled by thinking your system is set up that way. If you are led to believe your system is monitored by your local hospital chances are it is not.   

Almost all units on the market today perform a monthly or weekly self-test. See how often your system will be programmed to self-test. It is highly recommended that you also manually test your system on a regular basis. By pressing the personal call button on your pendant or watch  the emergency operator will speak to you from a two way voice system, usually built into the stationary base unit, and ask if you need assistance. Calmly explain that you are testing your system.

There are units available that allow you to speak to the operator through the pendant. This allows you to talk to the operator even if you are outside of your home. There are also units that have the ability to contact the paramedics if you fall and are unable to press a watch or necklace transmitter. Rates these units are usually higher that the basic stationary base type system.

Ask if the company has any procedure for handling specific medical requirements you may have. For example, how does the company handle problems in communication such as speech or hearing challenges. Do they have a procedure for relaying any of your existing medical conditions to responding emergency personnel or hospital emergency room staff.

You should also have a plan that will allow paramedics to get to you when your doors are locked. This can be achieved in several ways. You can just hide a key under the ceramic frog on the front porch. If you have an attached garage with an electric garage door opener that also has an exterior keypad that will open the door using a code. Any home access information should be relayed by the monitor station to emergency responders.

A secure way to make a key available is to purchase a key safe available at your local Lowes or Home Depot. These key safes open using a combination which can be changed at any time. With each emergency event, the monitor station operator can give current combination to responding ambulance personnel allowing easy access to your home. Some companies offer them for free or at a nominal fee. Be wary of the free item, it may be of lesser quality than the step up model. Not having a plan will result in needing to replace the door and frame that the paramedics knocked down to get in to you.

Ask the company if they will contact any family or friends prior to calling an ambulance or call family after sending an ambulance.

Due to the many variables, choosing a company for you may be difficult. A reputable company will provide you with names and phone numbers of existing clients in your area if you ask for them. You can also call your local nursing home or rehabilitation center and see if they can recommend a company they have had success with in referring their own clients.

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