First, arm yourself with information. By understanding how medical alert systems work and the different options available, you can confidently address your care recipient’s concerns. Being prepared also shows your care recipient that you take the matter seriously and are unlikely to be persuaded by a simple “no.”
Read these NCOA resources to learn more:
Explain your concerns and set a positive tone
Start from a place of loving concern. Express how much you care about their happiness, independence, and health. If a recent medical emergency has prompted this discussion, explain that it made you start thinking about ways to keep them safe without disrupting their usual lifestyle.
Ask if they’ve thought about a medical alert system. Your care recipient may already have some opinions on the subject, and you may be surprised to find they’re willing to consider it without much effort on your part.
Edmonds said this is a better approach than outright telling someone they need a medical alert system. “The most important thing is how you introduce the idea and how you talk about it,” she explained. “For example, say, ‘Have you heard of a medical alert system? That might be a really great thing for you and your family.” Setting a positive tone helps your care recipient see a medical alert system as a tool for empowerment, not as a marker of vulnerability.
Even if they react negatively toward the idea, say that you’d like to spend a few minutes sharing your research before they make a final decision. Make it clear their opinions and concerns matter.
Emphasize the benefits of medical alert systems
Some people believe a medical alert system signifies frailty and helplessness. By discussing the benefits of medical alert systems, you can help your care recipient see these devices as a gateway to independent living and improved quality of life. Instead of restricting their activities for fear of what could happen, they can get back to their usual routines, knowing they’ll have access to help when they need it.
Medical alert users know people are ready to assist them if something happens, and this knowledge can lessen their anxiety, boost their confidence, and improve their overall mental health. Lauren Cook-McKay, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), told us she has seen this firsthand with some of her older clients. “I have seen many clients with anxiety, depression, or loneliness improve significantly after getting a system,” she said.
Cook-McKay told us about a 75-year-old widow she worked with who was afraid of falling or having a medical emergency with no one around to help her. The woman’s fear caused her to experience severe panic attacks when she was home alone. “After getting a medical alert system, her panic attacks subsided dramatically,” Cook-McKay explained. “She felt more confident living independently, knowing help was just a button press away. Over time, her depression lifted as well.”
If someone you care for likes to consider scientific evidence and statistics when making a decision, point them to a study published in the Seniors Housing & Care Journal.
The authors of the study found that medical alert systems—referred to as personal emergency response systems (PERS) in the study—“significantly improved users’ feelings of security [and] may have contributed to improvement in vitality and mental health scores.”
To show the full scope of medical alert benefits, explain the add-ons available with some companies, such as medication reminders, step counting, and even telehealth services. Point out that the monitoring service can be used in any emergency, such as a break-in, fire, or other home security issue. “It can be considered another type of security system for when they are home,” said Edmonds. “Sometimes older adults are more receptive to this reasoning versus making it about them being unsafe.”
Point out alternatives
Medical alert systems may seem like a more reasonable solution once you touch on the alternatives:
- In-home caregiver: Many people would consider this a more invasive solution, and it’s certainly more expensive, too.
- Assisted living facility: If someone feels reluctant to leave the familiarity of their home, a medical alert system may seem to be a more reasonable alternative.
- Remote monitoring systems: These systems use motion sensors to alert caregivers when there’s a lack of activity, but they’re more expensive than medical alert systems and tend to have slower response times.
- Cameras: Some caregivers place video cameras in the home to check on their care recipients, which is an affordable but intrusive option.
Make sure the person in your care knows that the fifth alternative—doing nothing—can have serious consequences. Falling and remaining on the ground for more than one hour is associated with an increased risk of pressure sores, dehydration, pneumonia, debilitating muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis), and anxiety due to fear of falling.
Timely medical treatment also helps improve the outcome of heart attacks and strokes.