Aging Parents: Alert Pendants Researched and Reviewed–Part 1

Good News! My 97-year-old mother-in-law, R, should return home soon, after sustaining a broken hip from a fall in late-September. Surgery and rehab are successful.  She’s in the final stages of strengthening the leg that couldn’t be weight-bearing until everything healed.  She will go home with a cane and walker…and an alert pendant.

R needs (for practical reasons) and we need (for peace of mind) an alert pendant, which up until now she thought she had no need for. The doctor says only 3% of people her age make such a good recovery, and it has been hard work.  Understandably R doesn’t want a repeat.

Two octogenarians and I gathered the following information, aided by contributions to “the cause” from older friends.  Below are companies rated A+ by the Better Business Bureau. Clearly our list is not all inclusive, but gives you a start.

First, repeating from an earlier post: 9 Things to Consider When Deciding on an Alert Pendant.
1. Cost
2. If there’s a trial period
3. Cancellation/return policy: read the fine print.  Among other things, it seems some people have signed a 3-year contract without realizing it can’t be broken, short of death.
4. Ease of installation Note: added after R’s alarm unit was installed–No problem for traditional phones, but her phones are wireless. Installation required  (we aren’t handy) hiring someone to purchase and add a “splitter.” Check this out with companies as you research if your parent’s phone is wireless.
5. The range–distance depends on obstructions as opposed to “open field.” (Will the button work if I fall in the laundry room? in the garden?). Know 300 ft. is the length of a football field.
6. If a hearing aid is compromised due to a fall, can the fall victim hear the monitor’s voice?
7. How–and how often–is the “alert” pendant tested?
8. Does the alert/alarm signal go directly to a trained person, is it outsourced, or does it go to a central place then get redirected to a trained person?
9.  Portability.  If going to Florida, for example, is it easy to take along?

Now, the companies:

  • American Medical Alarms: (800-542-0438) has been providing and monitoring medical alarms for over 20 years.
    Range: 2500-3000 sq. ft, one of–if not the–longest transmitter ranges. 6,000 sq. feet  from the console, one can activate the alarm and hear the monitoring center  Most people can use their pendants/wristbands from 2-300 ft. outside their homes, although range varies.
    Response :”professional state certified operators” respond within 30- 45 seconds at a US based monitoring center (UL Listed, FM Certified, Dept of Defense Certified).
    Testing: company can do remote checks but wearers are encouraged to test monthly. Because they believe elderly people are often leery of new equipment the company recommends the elderly practice test regularly and not wait for the emergency.
    Battery life around 5 years, then a new button is exchanged for old one at no charge.
    Contacts: Can have 5 on the list.
    Financial: No Contract. $24.95 a month. Prorated for partial month’s
    use as appropriate.

    Other stuff: “Alarm system is an acoustical computer really good for the hearing impaired.” Translated: they say answering voice is loud. Don’t know if volume is adjustable.   24/7 technical support.  Equipment: free with a lifetime warranty. Wristband or pendant. Additional button $35.
  • Lifeline (1-800-797-4191) (a Philips product) offers about 30 years of experience.
    Range about 1000-1500 sq. ft.
    Response in 20 second or less. One center monitors all call volume, with “highly trained” people who outsource to local faciliators.
    Testing: lifeline tests  system once a month with user.
    Battery life: don’t know precisely but an18-m0nth back-up comes with the system.
    3 people listed, who live within 15-20 minutes.
    Financial: No contract. 2 alert options: Standard ($45, bracelet or necklace)) or Auto-alert ($55-necklace only). Click site for information on options.
    Other stuff: For hearing impaired, check out Cordless device (dt1000); or for a standard 2 speaker communicator (carepartner 6900)-bracelet or necklace. Recommend a lock box–cost: $45. Tech support available during business hours. Additional button $10-$13.
  • Life Station (1-866-220-0942) While the brand is 6 years old, the company is in its 34th year of medical monitoring.
    Range: from the base up to 400 feet will get signal—“homes up to 3500 sq ft are within voice range.”
    Response: within 20-30 seconds a care specialist from Life Station’s own central monitoring station (monitoring is not outsourced) comes on live.  (Care specialists are trained 160 hours, then 80 additional hours before becoming certified.) If the older person is “with it” the specialist follows her/his directions. There are 2 specialists on the line–one stays on with the older person; one makes necessary emergency calls.
    Testing: a weekly silent test checks if system’s working properly.
    Battery life:
    4-6 yrs. that same battery will power Life Station console up to 32 hours. If battery–or any equipment– wears out it’s replaced free–no shipping costs.
    Contacts: unlimited number of contacts allowed on contact list.
    Financial: No contract.  User agreement $28.95 a month; $27.95 -3 months; $26.75–year. Life Station will reimburse what you don’t use. There’s possibly a senior discount
    Other stuff: 2nd button cost (replacement) $35.  Button can be on the necklace, wrist band, or belt-clip.

If you have 3 minutes, click this link and click “A Call for Help” within this link.  You’ll become more informed and–importantsee how confusing the names are because many are so similar.

This list continues on Saturday.  Clearly this information should help parents age well, especially those who live alone.

Help Parents Age Well With a Drive in the Dark–After Christmas

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Christmas decorations make streets look festive, homes look welcoming. Especially at night, they transform the ordinary into something uplifting and magical. In a world of uncertainty and unrest, the colors and twinkling of the holiday lights on homes seem–in a way– protective, signaling all is well within.  And so it was comfortable for me to take a drive around my town last night to view the holiday lights. 

After a wonderful Christmas eve party that included many little ones, representing the 3rd and 4th generations of a 96-year-old and his 87-year-old wife, I decided to extend the festive feeling by taking a detour on the way home to see lighted Christmas decorations on streets I rarely travel.

While the decorations are amateur, compared to the extravaganza we’ve seen in the Phoenix, Arizona area, they showcase the hard work and commitment of families to enhance their homes, yards, and neighborhood–a laudable goal and certainly appreciated.

As I climbed out of my car into the black, frigid night to snap these pictures (wearing non-sensible shoes), I could glimpse party-goers within, hear dogs barking to signal a stranger approaching, and realize some home owners had turned in for the night but left their colored lights glowing warmly in the yard.

Standing outside on the edge of their frozen property, I wondered if anyone realized the pleasure their displays provide. I wondered how many of us drive around to look at the lights; then wondered do we take our spouses and our children to enjoy the lights?  Do we ever think of taking an aging parent, relative, or friend?

I’m sharing some of last night’s pictures here. Perhaps you’ll be inspired as I am–to take a senior out for a drive after dark–before the year ends and the decorations come down.

Many seniors don’t drive at night. They often don’t even get out at night. Here’a an opportunity for a change of everyday scenery that adds interest to their lives, fills the after-Christmas void, and once again contributes to helping parents, grandparents, and those we care about age well.

Aging Parents: 6 Last-Minute Holiday Gifts–Exciting, Entertaining, Practical, Easily-Obtainable–update 12/18/13

Need a last-minute gift for an older person without the enduring the hectic last-minute crowds?  Here’s my short list.  It highlights exciting, pleasurable and practical gifts that can help parents and grandparents age well.

  • Lottery tickets, whether they are the scratch-off or wait-for-selection-of-the-All lit up on Christmas Evewinning numbers kind, add excitement to life.
  • A drive with you to see the holiday decorations. Especially at night, when many older people are insecure about going out, the light displays are a great treat.
  • Open Table gift card simple, free sign up. You select restaurant (from ***** on down, in 33 cities), select card design, and amount of $ you wish to spend. More info: (888) 503-7558 or Gift card emailed to you to print out that same day. Many older people prefer their largest meal at lunch for various reasons; whatever meal, they can invite friends if you provide enough $.  
  • Netflix conveniently provides seniors, who don’t go out to the movies, many hours of entertainment.
  • Filling the car with gas for a senior on fixed income, or helping with other such essentials is a welcome gift.  While shopping and taking out my led pocket magnifying glass to help the saleswoman read the care label on a coat, an 81-year-old lady, buying a jacket for her granddaughter, joined the conversation. When I asked her what she’d like for Christmas, she quickly replied “my health,” then added “and someone filling up my gas tank….I just bought gas and it’s so expensive.”
  • An IOU to take non-driving seniors shopping/to the doctor etc. and back.

While Netflix comes with a gift card, and lottery tickets speak for themselves, making a card for the last two gifts only requires a recipe/index card or a piece of paper onto which a picture of a car (gas-tank side showing?) is pasted.  Happy gift-giving.

PS  While not easily obtainable (because it takes a while to get), an appointment at one of the leading hospitals’ geriatric departments may be the best gift you can ever give a parent with health issues. Click the link and read Karen’s short letter about her mother’s experience.

2 Technology Gifts for Non-Tech-Savvy, Lonesome Seniors

People Change, Not Much, however….

As adult children we have the ability to view parents in a different “light” than when we were young.  Thus,

  • If–thinking back–parents were never self-starters, chances are this will never change.
  • If they didn’t initiate relationships when they were young, what makes us think they will be any different when they’re old?

Indeed, certain personality traits may have been masked because of a people-loving spouse who orchestrated the social life. Or perhaps natural relationships that develop among parents of children’s friends, work colleagues, neighbors– created a ready-made social group.

On the other hand, perhaps normally sociable, connected parents have just had bad luck, have lost friends to death or relocating, and can’t get going again.  (After 3 months, consider it depression that they should get help for.)

The truth is–the lonesome, isolated-feeling of older parents can spill over to adult children, burdening them with an emotionally-weighed-down feeling.  Another truth is, lonesome seniors aren’t easy/fun to be around–so it becomes a vicious cycle.

While we can’t change who a parent is, holidays like Christmas present an opportunity to delicately insert something into aging parents’ lives that can help them age well (if enjoying life more qualifies for this category).

Here’s where the Presto Printer Mailbox (see last post) could come to the rescue. Connections to others can come in daily, with “deliveries” much more often than snail mail.  And connections with others is one of the three most important factors in helping people age well, according to every study I’ve read.

If this works, parents can graduate to PawPaw (see last post), where they can receive and send mail. PawPaw has a free trial period. Presto has a 60-day-trial period, after which there’s a refund if not satisfied.

While both of these may be a bit pricey for some, it’s the kind of gift a family can join together to give.  And what better gift can a family give than the gift of connecting with others…one of the most important factors in helping people–in this case our parents or even grandparents–age well.


Aging Parents:Technology Gifts for Non-Tech-Savvy Seniors–2011 update


Living far from my parents, I thought gifting Dad with a computer–just like mine so I could help him if he had problems–was a great idea on many levels–including our staying in touch.  Dad had a logical mind and could take apart and fix anything. Therefore I deduced, he would find using a computer relatively easy.  Wrong!

While his hands were steady at 85 and a mouse was no problem, he seemed eager to try but there was no natural instinct (as there is with today’s children.) He was fine when I was sitting next to him; but when I left he couldn’t do it. I’m an educator as well as a counselor and know how to effectively teach.  But I failed.  That said–

6 Gift Ideas for Non-Tech-Savvy Seniors (updated 11/2011)

1.  A computer? Nancy M., a computer educator who successfully taught octogenarians, among others, for over a decade says: “If people are mentally sound and have the dexterity, they can successfully use a computer.”

To start out right, she advises, find a teacher or someone who understands how people learn.  An older person should be taught at home on his/her own computer.  Arranging the computer desktop so that only needed icons are there is a must…reduces confusion, she says. She also makes a folder for the desktop, containing an individual file with simple instructions for each procedure. Instructions are there if someone forgets. (Knowing the the last 2 suggestions when helping Dad would, I think, have given him the confidence he lacked when I wasn’t there.)

2.  PawPaw easy e-mail for nontech seniors and grandparents. The NY Times New Old Age blog had a post about it in the spring of 2010. There’s a 10-day free trial period.

3.  Presto Printing Mailbox E-mail comes to the recipient as a printed-out letter; photos can also be sent. One-way communication from you to noncomputer users. There’s a monthly fee.

4.  Fax: Most aging parents are comfortable with this old technology. Its original purpose was to transmit letters and documents. Excellent for: making copies; communication to/from doctors’ offices; obtaining copies of records or lost bills; enlisting your help with confusing letters or bills. When mother was recovering from her stroke, it gave her incentive to exercise her hand and fingers by writing me–then faxing (or have Dad fax) it to me. Short notes grew into letters–good, meaningful fine motor practice.

5.  An iPad: a touch screen is easier than a mouse or keyboard for many older people. Marti Weston provides excellent information as she shares her experience with the iPad she bought for her dad.

As readers know, major studies confirm social connectedness is one of the three most important factors in successful aging. The above gifts support connections with others who have differing abilities where tech is concerned.

While the last gift doesn’t promote social connectedness, it does promote pleasure….

6.  The iPod Shuffle— “tailor-made for seniors,” according to Phil Moeller’s 2010 article “Best Holiday gifts for Seniors” in US News&World Report.” Once it’s set up, to operate it all one has to do is click-on and click-off. Someone else who is already familiar with iTunes needs to learn what their favorite music is, obtain it, set up the playlist, and load it. If the senior knows how to operate a TV remote, they’ll be able to handle this single-button operation.”

With hopes one of the above gifts will be an enriching, meaningful addition to a non-tech savy-senior’s life.

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.
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3/26/14 Help! Aging Parents was just nominated again for the Best Senior Living Awards 2014, “Best Blogs by Individuals” category. It was a finalist in 2013. I appreciated your votes last year and would very much appreciate them again this year by clicking if you’re on Facebook. Deadline 4/28/14 Thanks so much!