For many of us, the words “medical alert” immediately brings to mind the campy 1980s television commercial where “Mrs. Fletcher” cries out her trademarked line. It is a grim reminder that, according to the National Safety Council, falls are the leading cause of accidental deaths among people seventy-five years of age and older. 1
Older adults fall when they lose their footing, trip on rugs, or miss a stair. Changes in balance, vision, and muscle tone, resulting from or in addition to medication side effects, are other risk factors. Dementia adds another layer of risk when your loved one no longer associates wet floors with falls, the odor of burnt food with fire, or connects landmarks to location.
Caregivers worry about these and other safety issues. When a caregiver does not live nearby, these concerns become especially worrisome.
There have been remarkable improvements in alert systems since the days of "I've fallen and cannot get up." Modern assistive technologies include a suite of smartphone apps communicating with video and other monitoring systems. These apps can notify a caregiver their loved one is less active than expected, has left a defined area, if a home appliance has not been turned on or off, even when their blood pressure has exceeded their normal range.
Other kinds of assistive technologies help people in the earlier stages of Dementia stay in his or her home for as long as is possible. Video calling allows for virtual check-ins while smartphone apps and voice-activated assistants can remind people to take their medication.
Some assistive technology systems use recorded verbal reminders, while others provide visual instructions and larger key-pad buttons. Therefore, it is crucial to choose a system or device that matches your loved one's ability to use them.
Older, less advanced technologies continue to provide a safety net. Stand-alone GPS tracking devices can provide location information for your loved one, should wandering be an issue. Some states continue to provide a public service using television, radio, and the internet to broadcast missing person information. The value of simple medical identification bracelets or accessories shouldn’t be underestimated. They offer peace of mind that your loved one will receive appropriate care and assistance if in trouble.
Assistive technologies, though they may keep your loved one as safe as is possible, they do not replace friends and family, a warm smile, a calming hug, or a gentle touch.
Caregivers welcome the respite from unrelenting worry and stress assistive technologies can provide. However, ethical issues must be considered, including seeking informed consent to install assistive technologies in a person's home. The dignity of the individual, respect for privacy, as well as acknowledgment of his or her advance directives are other areas of ethical concern.
For More Information:
Silver Alert https://nationalsilveralert.org/silveralert.htm
AARP. June 2018 Tech Solutions That Make Life Easier for Dementia Care. https://www.aarp.org/health/dementia/info-2018/technology-caregiving-dementia-patients.html
1. Slip, Trip and Fall Protection for Older Adults, http://www.nsc.org/learn/safety-knowledge/Pages/safety-at-home-falls.aspx (accessed March 26, 2016)
Contributor: Janet Yagoda Shagam, PhD, is a freelance medical and science writer and the author of “An Unintended Journey: A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia.” Available through Amazon.
The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse nor guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org