One of the most difficult aspects of caring for aging parents living independently is knowing you can’t always be there when you’re needed. Even if you live in the same town, it’s impossible to anticipate an emergency; when you live far away, worries are compounded by knowing it might be hours or days before you can get there to help.
Most people as they age are fiercely protective of their independence. As a matter of pride, they want to be self-sufficient and often resent even the gentlest suggestions that they may need to make changes in their lifestyle or ask for help. Sometimes, the best step for peace of mind for you and your parent is a medical alert system. Since discussing this step with a parent can be fraught with emotion, it’s a good idea to evaluate your parent’s situation to make sure the decision is right for both of you before the conversation begins.
Experts on aging recommend evaluating your loved one’s situation in the following three areas:
Does he or she have a chronic condition like diabetes that requires constant monitoring and can worsen dramatically with little notice? Is he or she taking medication for heart disease or high blood pressure, either of which could lead to a sudden catastrophic event like heart attack or stroke? Does he or she take numerous daily medications that could be confused leading to an overdose or drug interaction? Has he or she shown signs of extreme sadness or depression?
Are there stairs in the home that he or she needs to navigate for daily living activities like toileting, showering and eating? Are there stairs leading to the home’s entrance? Are the floors hardwood, tile, linoleum or other slippery surface that could lead to a fall? How many phone extensions are in the house? Is there a security system in the home that alerts emergency response if a fire alarm is triggered?
Does the person live in a neighborhood with neighbors close by or in a rural environment? What home and yard maintenance activities does the person do? Does he or she live in a climate with frequent rain or snow making paved surfaces hazardous for falls? Does he or she drive? Accidents can happen with elderly drivers navigating in and out of garages or long, winding driveways where they may not be noticed as quickly as an accident on a public street would.
A medical emergency for an elderly person typically involves a fall, a sudden event like heart attack or stroke, or an accident involving a car or even a lawnmower. If your loved one’s daily activities and environment put him at risk for any of these emergencies, a medical alert system is an nonintrusive layer of protection against a catastrophic outcome. Knowing the risk factors in your parent’s situation can help you start a meaningful conversation about when the time is right for a medical alert system.
Medical alert systems keep senior safer in their homes and more independent for longer times before having to move them into managed care facility.