It’s a question millions of American families with aging loved ones ask every day. Seniors prefer to live at home where it’s safe, comfortable and affordable – but someone with the ability to help needs to be close by, just in case. The reality is falls are inevitable, no matter how careful a caregiver is with senior proofing a home. Falls can be caused by everything from uneven floors or throw rugs, to mobility and stability issues, medical conditions and even reactions to medicines. Whatever the cause, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports almost 40% of all seniors, or 12 million people, will fall this year and falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries to older adults.
For years, families have turned to Personal Emergency Response Systems, so-called medical alarms, for help. These pendant devices provided what has come to be known as a “panic button” that a senior can press if an accident occurs. However new research shows in four out of five falls the senior doesn’t push the button. The reasons vary, from the senior being unconscious, or in a state of shock from the fall, or even too embarrassed by the fall to call for help. Whatever the reason, the “panic button” is worthless.
In addition to the immediate dangers of seniors falling, such as a broken bone, CDC statistics reveal the longer term dangers of a senior falling and remaining on the ground without help.
- If a senior falls and remains on the floor more than four to five hour, he/she could spend up to 18 days in a hospital or rehab facility.
- If a senior remains on the floor overnight after a fall, he/she could spend up to 30 days in a hospital or rehab facility.
Armed with the new understanding of the short comings of the panic button alert, companies are developing new technologies that will detect falls automatically.
“Health care providers, caregivers and family members need to assess older patients for their fall risk factors, modify their living arrangements and if needed, utilize a medical alert system with automatic fall detection technology,” says Chris Otto, President and CEO of Halo Monitoring. Otto’s company makes the myHalo alarm system, one of the first to utilize motion technology to identify a fall. The myHalo system can be worn on a belt clip or a chest strap, which can be concealed under clothing. The chest strap version also monitors temperature and heart rate and its reading can be accessed by family members through a secure internet site for a live “look-in” on the senior’s condition.
A similar product has been developed by Phillips, maker of Lifeline. The new AutoAlert option is still a pendant-style system but it automatically calls for help.
Wellcore has also unveiled an alert system featuring automatic fall detection, online monitoring and a text-to-speech messaging system. The Wellcore system is worn on a belt clip.
All three systems use multiple sensors to constantly monitor a person’s movements in relation to height, orientation and acceleration. Sitting or reclining on a couch is considered normal activity. A fall, with a sudden change in acceleration, movement and height is considered a fall, and the system automatically contacts a call center for emergency help.
Robin Sanders bought a myHalo medical alarm system for her 77 year old mother-in-law Elizabeth Madison who lives in Roseville, MN.
“After Elizabeth fell in the basement and almost hit her head we agreed we needed a monitoring device,” said Sanders. “About one month later she again fell in the basement and her husband was upstairs but didn’t know what happened. The medical personnel staffing the call center saw the alert and called the house as well as notified me. We all feel better knowing the system is there.”
“I felt so alone when I fell, it was a real wakeup knowing what can happen,” adds Madison. “I don’t have that fear of falling anymore. Now I feel secure, and while I know the system is supposed to detect a fall, I also know there is a panic button if there is an emergency.”
“While families do all they can to protect their elderly loved ones, the new technology in monitoring systems provides families with additional peace of mind knowing help will be called even if elderly loved ones aren’t able to do it,” adds Otto.