Do Seniors Actually Use their Medical Alert Wearables?

Wearables May Not Be the Best Solution for Your Senior

At-home medical alert systems have been the mainstay of seniors and caregivers for years. They rely on telecommunications technologies to alert qualified emergency personnel to falls and intruders. Their advantage is obvious: on-demand help from 911 or the company call center, usually the latter. Some of the older, basic systems like Life Alert ® are based on wearables and alarm buttons in the shower and other areas of the home that seniors use to get quick help. In fact, this is the major selling point of Life Alert® and Life Alert® alternatives. There’s just one problem: some seniors don’t use the potentially life-saving emergency alert button.

Seniors’ attitudes to call alarms

The respected peer-reviewed British medical journal BMJ surveyed over-75s in Cambridge City to measure, among other outcomes, their views on using call alarms to request help after falling. Researchers found that seniors were either:

…not wearing the pendant, or

…wearing the pendant but not using it, or

…failing to activate the alarm in unsafe areas like the bathroom

These attitudes spotlight the glaring disadvantage of at-home alert pendants and wristbands: they’re useless if they aren’t actually worn or activated.

Reasons why medical alert systems aren’t meeting their intended purpose

The likes of Life Alert ® look great on paper, but how do they perform in the real world? Why aren’t seniors making the most of the systems designed to protect them? The reasons may not come as a surprise to you.

Seniors are embarrassed to wear pendants: Your elderly independent parent may not exactly be enthusiastic about wearing a pendant around their neck at all times. The inevitable glances and questions may embarrass them to the point that they may not develop a habit of using their wearables every day.

A fear of false alarms: What’s more embarrassing than wearing a medical alert pendant? Accidentally turning it on or a glitch causing the system to summon help when it isn’t needed. Seniors’ panic about panic buttons can override their reasoning on why they might need to wear their medical alert pendants.

Not being able to reach the alert button: The objective of placing Life Alert ® call alarms in unsafe areas is ensuring that help is less than an arm’s length away. However, it doesn’t consider scenarios in which the panic button may not be easily accessible by the senior after their fall. Even if they’re able to reach it a while after they’ve fallen to the ground, they may develop negative perceptions about the system’s utility.

The senior becomes unconscious: Seniors can lose their consciousness after a fall, rendering them incapable of activating the medical alert button. This drawback of at-home medical alert systems has partly encouraged the next-generation remote monitoring systems for seniors. They make use of motion sensors to detect activity or falls, alerting caregivers to inactivity or unusual activity. Sensor-based remote monitoring systems give caregivers important information on seniors’ daily activity levels, enabling them to intervene proactively if things deviate from the norm.

Other user compliance issues: Medical alert pendants and wristbands work only when seniors wear them all the time, charge the battery (if required) and take good care of them. The device may need to be tested annually or from time to time as stipulated by the manufacturer. If device maintenance requirements are not met, malfunctions may occur.

The choice of wearable device matters. An older fall detection pendant or emergency alert alarm may not have the sophisticated electronics of a newer system. It may consume substantial power compared to the latest devices.

False alarms and location inaccuracies

Medical alert systems have acquired a reputation for false alarms and for providing inaccurate location information. False alarms to 911 can delay responses to real emergencies. Difficulties figuring out where the calls are coming from stretch wait times for medical emergencies. If there’s no phone number, officers cannot call seniors back to determine the right location. Precise location information becomes even more critical for apartments buildings – how do emergency personnel know the floor on which the senior resides?

The purpose of medical alert systems is defeated if 911 or medics are unable to arrive on time. It can be frustrating for assistance providers and seniors expecting help but not receiving it during their most physically and mentally distressing moments.

The problem of call centers organizing emergency services

Medical alert systems such as Life Alert ® connect seniors to their call center dispatchers. For the best outcomes, dispatchers must be well-trained to assess the situation and decide how to organize help quickly. Any delay from the time company operators receive the call to the dispatch of emergency response resources can adversely affect outcomes. In a medical emergency, every minute matters. Seniors should not have to wait more than 30 seconds for the call center to pick their call. However, reviews of medical alert systems indicate that most call centers, on average, take more than a minute to answer.

No caregiver apps

At-home medical alert systems usually do not have a caregiver app that alerts family member or caretakers to falls and other medical emergencies. Newer senior health devices for fall detection use sensors to detect in-home activity and alert more than one caregiver to unusual activity. Unlike wearables, sensor-powered remote monitoring devices do not rely on seniors to take action – such as using their pendant or the alarm button in the bedroom or bath. The technology does all the work, allowing caregivers to discreetly track their seniors’ movements and understand their activity levels at any given time.

Medical alert wearables are useful so long as seniors wear them regularly, the device provides accurate location details, and call centers dispatch help as quickly as possible. Even if one of these conditions isn’t met, the systems are unlikely to meet their emergency response pledge.

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