Many of us have cared for an elderly friend or relative   be it a mother, father, grandmother or great-aunt   so we know firsthand the danger of that elderly person taking a fall. In fact, the CDC reports that among older adults (those aged 65 or older), falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries. Unfortunately, one out of three older adults falls each year. However, as overwhelming as these statistics may seem, technology is offering an increasingly effective solution: medical alert systems with fall detection.

Here are some simple tips for finding and purchasing an appropriate medical alert system.


Determine the Need

Some seniors may not be interested in wearing a fall-detection alert   they might even be hostile to the idea. To ease the discussion with the senior in your life and to help you know whether such a system necessary, ask a few questions. Has a prior falling incident occurred? That increases the risk of falling again. Is the senior starting to "shuffle" feet when walking? That's a hazard. Does the senior live alone without monitoring? Do they have a condition, such as diabetes, that makes them prone to unconscious spells?

Another factor that affects the potential for falls is the condition of the home. Thresholds, throw rugs, thick carpets, bathtubs, stairs and uneven sidewalks are all potential fall spots.

Know Your Options

If you decide to purchase a fall-detection system, make sure it fits your needs. When considering medical alert systems, fall detection is important as it provides you with a handy gadget, called an accelerometer, that tracks motion and sends an alert with any abnormal, unpredictable movement   such as a sudden fall.

The device, which the AARP calls a "gadget that actually works," can have a number of variations. Do you or your senior need one that is waterproof? Remember that showers and baths, when wet and slippery, can be dangerous places. If the senior loves gardening, make sure the device stays active even when outdoors. Is the senior able to know when they're in danger and capable of pressing the button for help? Or do you need a completely automatic fall detection that calls for help without any prompting?

If the senior is prone to independence and going for impromptu walks or drives that could endanger their safety, consider an alert system with a built-in GPS tracker so you know where they are at all times.

Some medical alert systems are connected to a telephone line, and others rely on cellular service. Similarly, some are equipped with lifetime batteries, while others need to be recharged. Find the ones that work best with your needs.

Read the Contractor's Fine Print

Each provider has its own stipulations   make sure you read them carefully. Some charge a penalty for each false alarm; if your senior has dementia of any kind and would be prone to pushing the button by accident, you may want to work with a provider who doesn't charge this fee.

Some providers also hold you to your contract and charge a penalty for early withdrawal. If admittance to a nursing home or if the senior just had surgery and currently needs monitoring but will be self-sufficient in a few months, you may want to reconsider entering into a long-term contract.

How fast will it take to get someone to the scene? Always research the provider's reliability and ask questions about response time.

Talk Through Each Step

Whether your senior is open to the idea of a medical alert fall-protection system or not, it will be an adjustment for them. Don't expect them to agree in one conversation   persevere through weeks of small discussions.

It may also help to stay alert to small warning signs and verbalize your concerns. If the senior catches himself or herself on a railing or a table, remind them that wearing a medical alert pendant is merely a precaution, like wearing comfortable shoes or taking rugs off the staircase.

If your senior has a good relationship with their doctor, next time you accompany them for a check-up, ask the doctor whether he or she recommends a medical alert system and whether it's worked for other senior patients. The doctor will hopefully provide an unbiased, professional opinion that the senior may be more open to than a recommendation from family or acquaintances.

Some seniors are very conscious of spending money and are worried about outliving their savings. If this is a concern, have a discussion with the options out in the open. Some alert systems cost as little as $15/month, while others with added features can jump up to $50/month.

Safety is a top priority for any senior; that much is simple. Navigating what "safe" is and how to provide it, however, is much trickier. If they are at risk of falling, statistics point to the necessity and effectiveness of medical alert fall-detection systems.

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