Senior Living Done Right: Staying Independent Longer Means Access To Help Literally When You Need It

Increasingly, today’s seniors are choosing to continue living in their own homes or communities and enjoying more active lifestyles than ever before. Medical alert systems offer immediate access to assistance in the event of falls or other medical emergencies, and they’re quickly gaining popularity with independent seniors and their loved ones, thanks to the enhanced safety and peace of mind they provide.

The wide array of medical alert systems on the market can make choosing one a confusing and overwhelming task. To compare the available systems accurately and make an informed choice as to which one is best for you, it’s important to know how medical alert systems work.

Although each provider offers its own range of devices, features, options and service plans, medical alert systems all work towards the same goal — to get help where it’s needed fast. Seniors press a button to contact their medical alert provider’s call center, where trained operators are available 24/7 to respond and send immediate assistance. While this simple explanation tells you what medical alert systems do, it doesn’t tell you much about the various components that interact seamlessly to connect seniors with support.

How do medical alert systems work? The process is simple:

  1. A person experiences an emergency.
  2. He or she pushes the help button on the pendant (worn at all times, even in the shower).
  3. An operator answers the call (through the base unit or mobile device) and asks if the person needs help.
  4. The operator assesses the situation and contacts local emergency responders, emergency contacts and family.
  5. The operator stays on the line until help arrives.
  6. If immediate medical attention is not required, the user can ask the operator to contact a family member, caretaker or emergency contact, such as a neighbor.  
  7. If the operator can’t hear the user, he or she will assume the user is unconscious or unable to respond and will contact local emergency responders.

Consider the following facts from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • More than 1 in 4 people over 65 will suffer a fall.
  • 2.8 million seniors are treated for fall injuries each year.
  • 1 in 5 falls results in broken bones or a traumatic head injury.
  • Over 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falls.

With those statistics in mind, you should think of a medical alert system as a safety net. Medical emergencies rarely occur in convenient locations near phones or people. Medical alert systems simply extend the range of convenience, allowing you to call for help regardless of where the emergency occurs.

In turn, this safety net can help seniors live independently or “age in place.” According to AARP, 87 percent of seniors want to stay in their homes as long as possible. Independence is one of the most important factors in a senior’s quality of life, and a medical alert system facilitates this by providing the peace of mind to both adult children and seniors.

All medical alerts come with a help button, but there are often optional features and add-ons you can add to your system for increased safety and convenience. Some of these options include:

Fall Detection

Some devices offer automatic fall detection as an additional service. While it can’t prevent a fall, a medical alert system with fall detection can summon help automatically when you can’t press the button. This is an essential feature for many users and caregivers.

Location Tracking

If you or your loved one is active and likes to go for walks or take trips to the store, having a medical alert with GPS tracking is indispensable. Some systems even let caregivers check to see where the user is in real-time on demand. This provides peace of mind knowing that they can easily be located if there is an emergency.

Many studies over the years have shown a link between social isolation and loneliness and an increase in mortality rates. This is particularly true when it comes to loneliness in the elderly, with AARP claiming a 26 percent increased risk of death due to subjective feelings of loneliness. With 51 percent of the senior population aged 75 and older living alone, loneliness and social isolation are serious concerns.

Loneliness in seniors can bring about a 29% increase in heart disease risk, a 32% increase in stroke risk, a 20% increase in cognitive decline risk over a 12-year period, and a 45% increase in mortality rates. Isolation among seniors is extremely common, especially for those who live at home rather than a senior living community. Even though this loneliness happens easily for seniors, there are many ways to reduce it or prevent it from happening altogether according to LifeStation.

Medical alert systems are beginning to offer help with the issue of isolation and loneliness as well as safety. As one blog post notes, “Today’s medical alert providers are aware of this issue and are increasingly offering services aimed to address the challenge. …[A] weekly well check that provides proactive calls that provide a friendly voice, conduct a critical needs assessment, and deliver resources to stay safe and healthy while improving physical and emotional well-being.” Other services include a concierge type service that, “facilitates contact to an expanded call list that includes meal delivery, pharmacy, and transportation resources – all from the same medical alert equipment used in an emergency.

Social isolation and loneliness are public health issues that affect more than one-third of adults, with seniors most at risk for depression, substance abuse, and suicide triggered by feelings of isolation. Health risks associated with loneliness and social isolation are comparable to the dangers of smoking and obesity, increasing mortality risk by up to 30%. Given the links between loneliness and health status, there is a need for increased awareness among both the public and healthcare providers that loneliness is a condition that, like chronic pain, can afflict almost anyone

The challenge of social isolation and loneliness among seniors is only going to increase as more people retire. The elderly population in the U.S. in growing every year as Baby Boomers age. By using existing and advancing medical alert technology, both physical and mental health can be protected.