by Heidi Nestor, Writer and Editor, Life Alert
You move mom a mile down the road so you can be just a phone call away.
You give dad a cell phone with your number programmed in so you can be just a phone call away.
You buy your parents a large numbered, easy to use, telephone system with extensions for each room and your number on speed dial so you can be just a phone call away.
All of these precautions so that your aging loved ones can get you on the phone in case of an emergency. But have you considered what may happen if they can’t reach the phone?
Falling is inevitable with the elderly. It’s an unfortunate truth that is synonymous with aging, and the older one gets the higher the risk becomes. Assuming that a phone will be close by in the event of an emergency isn’t being as precautionary as one would think as Pam from New York tells us:
My husband is away at times working as a consultant. My arthritis caused me to be concerned over what to do should I fall during one of his absences. I have seen the Life Alert commercials and was in favor of pursuing that option. My husband wanted me to get a second cell phone. I went with Life Alert. The package arrived and two days later while still getting used to the Life Alert wristband I went to the door to get the newspaper. I fell and broke my hip. I couldn’t move even to reach a phone. I activated Life Alert and they took over from there. EMS personnel arrived and people on my list of contacts were notified. I was transported to a hospital where I received a partial hip replacement a couple of days later. I am now recovering and receiving therapy. Without Life Alert even a second cell phone wouldn’t have helped unless I happened to have one with me when I fell.
Fear of falling is a genuine concern for older adults and, “people with arthritis may be especially venerable to losing their balance because of weak muscles and stiff joints associated with many forms of the condition” says Debbie Rose, the co-director of the Center for Successful Aging at California State University, Fullerton.
Yet arthritis is only one factor that may cause a fall. Other medical conditions and dizziness associated with medication can easily cause a senior to be off balance as with what happened to Mary in Michigan:
I have poor balance due to vertigo attacks, a result of a severe spell 30 years ago. I was in my rocking chair – when I got up – I paused before taking off but I fell on my coffee table and couldn’t get up. Couldn’t reach my telephone or the buzzer to let my daughter in. I had no choice so I called Life Alert. Two firemen were here in 10 minutes.
Making your elderly loved one safe at home, especially when alone, involves more than getting extra phones. According to the U.S. National Institute of Health, safety involves keeping stairways, hallways, and pathways clear of any debris; fastening handrails, steps and carpets when needed; Mounting grab bars near toilets and in showers; laying down non-skid mats or carpet on all surfaces that may get wet or become slippery; keeping electric cords and wires near walls and out of walking paths; putting a night light close to the bed and keeping a phone nearby.
These measures are good ways to assist in keeping a senior from falling, and having a phone nearby can be helpful at times but shouldn’t be a replacement for a medical emergency backup plan. You need to consider what would happen if the fallen senior either can’t reach a phone or reach you by phone as Orlande’s found out when he returned from a trip:
I had just returned from a two week out-of-town trip and had called my Dad to check on him. He was fine and so, because my cell phone needed recharging, I put it on the charger and left it in the house. For the next several hours I was out of the house and did not hear it ring when my Dad tried to call me. He had fallen and dislocated his shoulder. He was able to use Life Alert to get paramedics and get to the hospital before I knew he was hurt. Life Alert is a great product.
Having a phone nearby just isn’t enough. With a Life Alert pendant or watch an emergency team is only one push of a button away. Even if the elder can’t talk or get to the phone, Life Alert will automatically dispatch help. J.R. from Michigan discovered this when his cell phone didn’t work:
I wanted to make a cell phone call – it was dead. With that I fell to the floor, hit my head on the table, tried to get leverage to lift myself, but no luck. So I pressed the Life Alert button, relaxed on the floor and fell asleep. Awaken by 5 firemen. I was checked out fine, and my son and my friend were notified of the event, and it made a believer out of them.
Preventive maintenance is also key and you can start by enrolling elders into balance and mobility classes given by community hospitals, schools and churches in order to keep your venerable loved one balanced and flexible. Additionally, here are some tips to maintain the wellness of seniors provided by Eldercare for Dummies:
- Don’t allow your elder to become sedentary.
Inactivity causes muscles to become even weaker.
- When your elder rises from a sitting position, remind him or here to stand still for a few minutes before take a first step.
This pause gives your elder’s blood pressure a chance to adjust.
- Check your elder’s feet regularly.
Neglected toenails curling about the toes can impair the elder’s ability to walk.
- Light up your elder’s path.
Nightlights that switch on automatically at twilight and lamps with sensors that automatically go on when lights go low can accommodate to your elder’s age-related need for more light.
- Make sure that your elder keeps the nighttime temperature in the home above 65 degrees.
Hours in a cold bedroom may cause his or her body temperature to drop, leading to dizziness and a fall when he or she tries to get out of bed.
In a busy world, you may not be able to always be there for your loved ones, but we can. Life Alert is at the ready, 24/7 and can deliver fast, immediate medical attention even when your loved one can’t reach the phone.
Zukerman, Rachelle. Eldercare for Dummies. New York: Wiley, 2003.
Rizzo, Terrie Heinrich. “3 Moves to Better Balance.” Arthritis Today. May-June 2007:44.
The information provided above is, to the best of our knowledge, reliable and accurate. However, while Life Alert always strives to provide true, precise and consistent information, we cannot guarantee 100 percent accuracy. Readers are encouraged to research any statements made and use any resource links provided to gather more information before drawing conclusions and making decisions.
For more information about the Life Alert system and its many benefits for seniors as well as younger adults nationwide, please visit the following websites: