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Medical Alert Systems Evolve to Improve Usage — Philips Lifeline Given High Marks

Two articles we recently read highlight the importance of medical alert systems, as well as how technology is working to decrease user resistance. Medical alert systems are used primarily around the home and can alert medical authorities to incidents ranging form heart attacks to falls.

Falls, in particular, are a source of concern to seniors and medical professionals as well. At least one in three adults aged 65 and older suffers a fall in a given year, the CDC reports. Two-thirds of these individuals will experience another fall within the next six months. Falls in older adults are feared with good cause. They can lead to injuries such as head trauma or fractured hips. If falls are not attended to immediately, seniors can suffer complications such as hypothermia, dehydration, and renal failure.

Ironically, the fear of falling can also increase the risk. Older adults may restrict activities to reduce their risk, but in doing so, they may hasten their physical decline, further increasing their risk for falls and injury.

Medical alert systems can improve confidence in wearers, ease the concerns of adult children and other caregivers, and provide prompt attention when accidents or medical incidents do happen. The latest technology of medical alert systems, which date from the 1970s, addresses potential user resistance or inability to alert the call system themselves, as well as providing other user benefits; e.g., automatic fall detection.

One of the articles, appearing in Consumer Reports, offer a helpful list of recommended features for a medical alert system. Recommendations address such factors as device wearability; e.g., pendants vs wristbands, contact choices, battery backup, and quality/certification of respondents.

The article also reviews a list of major providers, including Philips Lifeline, the medical alert system we offer at Homecare California. We’re glad to report that this system rated quite well on Consumer Reports’ comparison chart. To be included on the list, 24-hour monitoring services must be offered, along with battery backup, and wearing choices. Some provider offer mobile GPS features, while others provide mobile 911 capability or automatic fall detection for an additional fee.

An article on the AARP website also provides general recommendations on medical alert or personal emergency response systems, as they are also called. It notes the trickiest problem faced by traditional systems—most push-button devices are never activated when falls or medical event occur. Reasons range from refusal to wear the device due to stigma or forgetfulness, and inability to push the button due to factors such as panic or trauma.

AARP touts the user of newer emergency response systems that address many of these factors. Many newer devices are less conspicuous than their forebears, as well as smaller and lighter. Clip-on devices resembling pedometers or phones are also available. The use of devices that can automatically detect problems also reduces the need for the wearer to push a button or otherwise communicate.

The article quotes Walter Van Kuijen, VP and general manager of Home Monitoring for Philips Healthcare, describing one major benefit of the Philips Lifeline system: “It distinguishes between daily living activities and an actual fall with 95 percent accuracy.”

We are pleased that the alert system we have selected appears favorably in both articles. We have also learned that many area hospitals offer special discounts to individuals who live in their area and need such systems, regardless of whether they are hospital patients. Stanford and Mils-Peninsula are among the participating hospitals. And, of course, Homecare California continues to offer the system free of charge to clients who utilize our home care services.

We encourage interested seniors and family members to read the above articles in greater detail and consider the selection of a medical alert device as a critical part of their aging in place plan.

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