2012 Holiday Gifts for Aging Fathers and Grandfathers–2

  • Health and Hygiene continued from Dec. 4th, but I decided it deserves its own post….I’ll continue with gift categories 5-7, Hearing, Pampering, and Vision before week’s end.

Old Feet: are not gifts. But good, old feet are a gift.  Helping preserve them doesn’t seem to be at the top of most older people’s list of priorities—until problems arise. Now think gifts for aging feet.

  • 1. The first thing that comes to mind is a good toe nail clipper for those who have dexterity and don’t have diabetes. Dr. Pamela Karman, Diplomate/American Board of Foot Surgeons, adds that toenails soften when soaked in warm water for a few minutes–making them easier to cut. So a note about the warm water, accompanying with the clipper, would seem to be a good idea.
  • 2. Also consider Gifting (includes arranging for) regular pedicure appointments for those who have dexterity or diabetes problems or can no longer easily reach to cut their toenails. (You can make the gift certificate.) At a certain age cutting toe nails becomes difficult (for both men and women). I only realized this when Dad, at 90, said he was going to Mom’s hairdresser’s and would be back shortly.  Since Mother had died, I was curious.  “Oh,” he said, “many of us from the nearby golf course now go there to have our toenails trimmed.  I can still take the golf ball out of the cup, but it’s difficult for me to bend and reach that far to cut my toenails.”  Who knew?
  • 3. Is gifting an appointment with a podiatrist another gift idea? Yes, if deformed toenails, bunions or anything that could interfere with balance is an issue. While I’m not certain how to discretely detect these problems, beginning a discussion using some of the facts below can be a good starting place.

A NY Times column cites Dr. Richard Scher, head of the Nail Section at Weil Cornell Medical College, explaining that finger and toe nails’ growth rate rapidly decreases with age; thus both kinds of nails thicken due to the piling up of cells, although fingernails don’t thicken as much. (Finger nails have a slower growth rate, the result of filing and buffing which thins them).

Additionally, long-term trauma and poor circulation take their toll on toe nails, as do injuries, stubbing, wearing ill-fitting shoes, nail-bed injuries and nail fungus.

I discussed the above with Dr. Karman. She suggests having pedicures once a month after age 55-60, reiterating “this especially holds true for people with diabetes or unsteady hands.”

Since balance can be involved, and poor balance can lead to falls, make certain bedroom slippers have nonskid soles and favorite shoes have heels and soles that are in good shape.

  • 4.  A good pair of bedroom slippers with nonskid soles–a good gift idea!
  • 5.  Arranging shoe repair and perhaps a shoe shine for favorite, worn out shoes–another idea. I know Dad hated to give up his favorite shoes, but it was important they ensured good balance, which meant nonskid soles and no worn-down heels.
  • 6. Balance is a major concern for most older people and gifting the alert pendant or bracelet can be a lifesaver for a living-alone aging parent….if they’ll accept it and don’t leave it in a drawer! Check this 12/28/10, post and the 1/2011 part-2 post that follows re: alert pendants reviewed.
  • 7.  What about new socks? Check out the sock supply. Do socks compliment clothing? Is aging vision creating confusion between black and navy? If treatment for toe nail fungus takes place, socks must be throughly disinfected in washing machine or purchase new socks….otherwise fungus will come back, according to Dr. Karman.
  • 8.  Would a small flashlight to keep in the sock drawer be helpful in distinguishing colors? Check out the Maglite. It’s a quality little flashlight that is carried by many stores (a store locator is on this site) and on line.






Help Aging Parents Stay in Their Homes: a Round-up of Technology Resources/Devices–Part 1

First, Help! Aging Parents is a finalist again this year in Senior Homes’ Best of the Web 2012. A most sincere thank you to those of you who voted for my blog.

I spent most of yesterday on a plane and am spending today at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Translated there has been little time to write a long post today.

Since, as you know, I’m a firm believer in helping aging parents stay in their homes as long as possible, I’m revisiting technology devices from past posts to help parents age in place. (The most up-to-date information follows in my next post.)

Designed to help parents age well

Keeping an Eye on Parents to Help Them Age Well:
(https://helpparentsagewell.com/2010/07/30/799/) with links to 2 NY Times columns: the first–technology: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/29/garden/29hometech.html?pagewanted=2&ref=todayspaper) the second–literally keeping an eye on parents– a sort of Big Brother approach: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/29/garden/29parents.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper

There are seniors who don’t mind the Big Brother technology–in fact become friends with this set-up. To get an idea, even if you only have one minute, it’s worth listening to part of this NPR segment. Click “Listen to the Story” on the NPR NEWS link— or–Read the full text below the link, where you can click a brief video segment and watch a “tela-caregiver” in action.

Of course when parents have an alert pendant adult children have a certain peace of mind thinking there’s help if a parent falls. It predisposes them to believe parents can age well in their homes with the right “equipment.” This is legitimate only if/when aging parents are committed to wearing the “right equipment” (necklace or bracelet). Often easier said, than done–trust me.

A selection of well-thought of or well-known alert pendants/bracelets were researched and compared by Sr. Advisors, an octogenarian friend and myself. This was done in preparation for Sr. Advisor R’s return home after surgery for the broken hip she suffered when she fell. Link to the first “Alert Pendant” post https://helpparentsagewell.com/2010/12/ then click the arrow to the second one.

People questioned whether cell phones were as helpful as alert pendants if an aging parent should fall. An August 2011 post https://helpparentsagewell.com/2011/08/23/best-cell-phones-for-seniors-alert-pendants-and-fall-prevention/ looks at the factors involved.

to be continued……


Cell Phones vs. Alert Pendants if Seniors Should Fall

Help! I’ve Fallen! 


Are cell phones and alert pendant equally effective in getting help when an older person falls? We had that discussion the other night at dinner with friends. We remembered that 97-year-old Senior Advisor, R, had neither cell phone nor pendant and spent the better part of 3 hours trying to crawl and drag her body about 40 feet to a phone, then figure out how to get the phone down so she could call 911. We agreed: the quicker the response that sends appropriate help, the better.


>My “best cell phone for seniors” post has been read well over 34,290 times*–many more times than the two carefully researched posts on Alert Pendants. 
>Falls are a leading cause of mortality and morbidity among adults age 65 and older:” Oregon Research Institute Study 2008
>Every 18 seconds an older adult is in the emergency room because of a fall:” Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
>1 in 3 adults over 65 will fall every year.
>falls cause 300,000 hip fractures a year.

As if confirming the above–two far-away-living friends recently fell and broke their hips. One, an accomplished equestrian just over 65 who still jumps competitively, was rushing to leave home, arms loaded with stuff, and tripped over their old dog who was lying in an unexpected place. The other, an active 71-year-old,  wrote: “I was stopped in my rushing-about tracks when I fell and broke my hip in early June…I am now driving.”

Judging from the # of views plus the comments on my “best cell phones for seniors” post, children and grandchildren see cell phones as especially valuable for older people in emergency situations. But how effective are cell phones (even with the recommended ICE or an emergency button) in getting timely help if someone is alone and falls?

  • Most older people don’t carry cell phones everywhere with them (ie. at home– to the bathroom where many falls take place).
  • A cell phone in a pocket or purse may be unreachable.
  • Older (as well as younger) people can forget to recharge cell phones.
  • If one falls and is unconscious how is help alerted?

While cell phones have wonderful advantages for aging parents and make great gifts, if we want to give older people the most protection if they should fall, the alert pedants’ technology is superior–having none of the problems just listed, assuming one wears the pendant or bracelet. (If Tiffany made alert pendants would people be more inclined to buy–and wear–them?)

When there’s a risk of falling because of age, I–for one–would certainly prefer to know who was orchestrating my rescue (the alert pendant company’s trained responders) as opposed to leaving it to chance.  That said, for the benefit of aging parents and grandparents, check out the two posts featuring “alert pendants.” Older people tend to get them after they’ve fallen or a good friend has fallen and “converts” them….after the horse is out of the barn so to speak. Why wait?

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.

*statistic updated 1/11/13


Aging Parents: Alert Pendants Researched and Reviewed–Part 2

Happy New Year!  It’s happy for us.  My 97-year-old mother-in-law, R, is walking now, steadied by a belt around her torso that the therapist controls to give her a feeling of security and stability. The broken hip has healed, her left leg can bear weight, and physical therapy is doing its job. R has walked for three days now; she says it’s “hard work.”  More progress updates in another post.

Soon R will be ordering an alert pendant. The information on these last 2 posts can help older alone-living parents, grandparents (and R before she goes home) make a selection. Also check the sites and/or request brochures.

The list of companies continues…

  • Life Fone (888-678-0451)  http://lifefone.com/ 30 years in business, it’s the alert system of choice (after checking 3 companies) for a smart, older working wife who realized her husband couldn’t physically help her if something happened.
    Range: 600 ft.
    Don’t outsource, have own call center in New York, with trained people, quick response.
    Testing: Ask older person to test 1-2x a month to stay familiar with system (they also monitor and test)  
    Battery life
    : 5 years (free replacement)
    Contacts: 5 people on list
    Financial: No contract.  $24.95-$29.95 depending on number of prepaid months.
    Other stuff: Easy to install; bracelet, pendant.
  • Medical Home Alert (800-800-1297)  http://www.medicalhomealert.com/ Good Housekeeping’s “top pick” in 2005. CVS selected MHA as their exclusive provider of Medical Alert Systems in their 6000+ stores in 2007. A couple I’ve known many years, in their mid-80’s, he still works, recently signed on for this system and is “completely satisfied.”
    Range: 600 feet from the base, when no obstructions; otherwise think 300 feet+.  One woman in a 3rd floor apartment made contact from basement laundry room
    Response: Not outsourced.  A “911-trained” person in their state-of-the-art call-center in New York answers within 30 seconds. Remains on the line until help arrives.
    Testing: the self-testing mechanism automatically contacts the monitoring center every 28 days; but they recommend that once or twice a month the pendant-wearers also make contact so they feel connected.
    Battery life: back-up battery continues to operate up to 36 hours if power outage; button lasts 5-7 years
    Contacts: no limit to # of names on emergency list
    No contract. $29.95 a month; 1 month free if pay for a year in advance.
    Other stuff: in business since 1977. Easy to assemble and disconnect system. Easily transportable. Pendant, wrist band, or belt clip. 2nd button may be free if requested.

Life Alert (800-360-0329) http://www.lifealert.com/, has a BBB A+ rating, but opinions about it differ.  Several older people in my small sample use and like it. One daughter says they are “very responsive, have wrist straps and pendants and my mother really likes them. She checks in every Monday to make sure everything is working. She prefers the wrist strap since the pendant goes off inadventently sometimes if you happen to press it (while sleeping, etc) .”

On the other hand, in October 2010 my octogenarian cousin phoned Life Alert. She wanted to get an alert system and her son’s mother-in-law uses–and is satisfied with– Life Alert.  My cousin says the salesperson was aggressive. She told him she couldn’t order immediately–wanted to speak with her children first; he responded something like “why do you need your children’s permission?” and called her back at least three more times that day. Life Alert also requires a 3-year contract which, according to ConsumerAffairs.com, has presented problems.  (Note: the May 2012 Consumer Affairs site makes no mention of the contract–see reader’s email below. That said, the link 2 lines above obviously mentioned it in 2010 (and has been updated to match the reader’s May 2012 link below), so perhaps the contract problem no longer exists. I hear you can pay by the month and if you pay by the year, one month is free. Check it out.)

We try our best to support our parents’ independence; we do our best to help them age well. Yet with many competing medical alert companies and with such similar names, the decision becomes difficult. ConsumerAffairs.com  http://www.consumeraffairs.com/health/ provides an additional resource that may be useful in our quest to help our aging parents.

Later addition, January 2012:

  • Halo (888-971-4256)
    http://www.halomonitoring.com/ seems to have state-of-the art technology for detecting falls and an excellent list of questions and answers (http://www.halomonitoring.com/products/faq) so I won’t be redundant in listing Range, Response etc.  The service is expensive (approximately $703 [Halo Clip] or $823 [Halo Clip Complete]), which includes $99 deposit, $16 shipping, and 12 months of service at $49 [Clip] or $59 [Complete] each month. Depending on need, it could be very helpful. My 98-year-old, independent-living, “with-it” mother-in-law, however, would never wear anything that would make her feel less than “normal” (the chest strap) or look less than well-put-together (her term for stylish) and seldom wears belts. I ran the option by her, which elicited the above. That said, she doesn’t regularly wear the pendant either (puts it in her pocket sometimes when she’s in her home and isn’t feeling steady on her feet). She’s fully aware of the downside. We respect her decisions.

May 23, 2012 from a reader: Thank you Marie for contributing this current information.
First I want to say thank you for the work you put into your site. It’s very informative!
Also, I was doing some research into medical alert systems for my mother the other day and found a really helpful webpage. I thought your readers might find it useful: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2007/09/lifealert_alternatives.html I just wanted some basic information to compare brands and types, and this was very easy to read.
Anyway, thanks again for what you do!

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) http://www.americanmedicalalarms.com/ 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) http://www.lifelinesys.com/content/lifeline-products (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) www.lifestation.com. 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 http://www.telecareaware.com/index.php/which-pendant-for-aunt.html 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 Aging Parents: Suggestions for “Alert” Pendants and Bracelets

“Alert” Pendants and Bracelets:
Belt-loop attachable?  Often. Waterproof for Bathing? Usually.
Worn Regularly?  Not

“I’m very careful.  I exercise regularly. Of course I know about them, but I never thought I would need one,” elderly, broken hip victim.

“Yes, I have one.  I’m not certain of the name….Life something, I think.  You know I have the bracelet on my nightstand, but I never wear it,” 90-year old woman who still runs her own business.

“I wear it in Florida because I live alone there.  I keep it on a little table by the front door, that way I can leave it there when I go out and it’s there to put on when I come back,” 85-year-old woman.

Senior advisor, psychiatrist Dr. Bud, MD, tells us that getting older and realizing age (think: using an alert pendant) gives “a heightened awareness of our fragility, vulnerability, our not being immune to age-related problems…It helps,” he adds, “when older people have the wisdom to acknowledge that their reflexes are not the same as those of younger people.”  That said, not all older people have the wisdom as seen in the above quotes and in well-publicized statistics.

Deciding on an alert system is step one.

9 Things to Consider When Making the Decision:
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
5. What is the range (will the button work if I fall in the laundry room?)
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–the “alert” pendant is tested
8. Whether the alert/alarm signal goes directly to a trained person, is outsourced, or goes to a central place then redirected to a trained person.
9.  Portability if, for example, staying with daughter for a week.

ABC Good Morning America reported (5/13/2009) the following facts:
>“Every 18 seconds an older adult is in the emergency room because of a fall,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
>1 in 3 adults over 65 will fall every year.
>falls cause 300,000 hip fractures a year
An additional fact from psychology books: denial, a psychological mechanism, is powerful and unconscious and can prevent us from seeing the obvious; it protects us emotionally from having to deal with something until we are ready.

We don’t want an aging parent’s alert pendant to sit–unused– on a nightstand in the same way older people leave hearing aids in a drawer, never to come out again. The consequences from an elderly person’s falling and not being able to get up or get help–are more dire than the consequences from their not using a hearing aid.  Of course adult children know this.  The facts given above are to provide objective information to skeptical parents who resist the idea of a an “alert”pendant.

While there are many options, making the selection can be tricky.  Ask a friend who wears one. Some that my limited sample of older people liked, others didn’t like.  A 2008 NY Times NewOld Age Blog, http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/22/a-call-for-help/ suggests the difficulties.  If you have time to read the comments, one commenter says his company conducted research and found http://www.medicalhomealert.com has the best product. You decide.

Helping parents age well often takes more than a 24-hour day.  This information will hopefully save time.

Also Check Falls and Fall Prevention through ABC link and video above and posts: https://helpparentsagewell.com/2010/04/10/aging-parents-falls-and-fall-prevention-part-2/ and https://helpparentsagewell.com/2010/04/14/aging-parents-falls-and-fall-prevention-part-3/