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Strategy: Setting Up Personal Emergency Response Services

Strategy Seniors use small in-home units to communicate the need for emergency services from police or fire departments. Community . . .


Seniors use small in-home units to communicate the need for emergency services from police or fire departments.

Community Problem Addressed

As the number of seniors in the United States grows, so will the number of elderly living independently and sometimes alone. Some seniors live in senior-focused housing (apartments or condominiums), others in neighborhoods in which they raised their families. Those seniors who live alone, particularly those who experience chronic health problems such as difficulty with mobility, may be fearful of needing medical or other emergency help and being unable to summon it. This situation can be dangerous if the senior does not have regular contact with a friend or family member who would know about his or her problem immediately and be able to respond rapidly.

Key Components

In this strategy, seniors subscribe to a service that provides them with an electronic device from a commercial supplier to summon emergency help. Typically, the devices are monitored by the service provider 24 hours a day, and they do not require that the customer be able to speak if they need help. With the computerized record of the subscriber's name, address, neighbor or family contact person, and health issues (including medications, doctor contact information), the service can dispatch an ambulance to the residence or send other help as appropriate. Some services give subscribers the option of establishing an inactivity alarm that, after no subscriber contact for a specified period of time, would trigger dispatch of emergency services to the home. Most services charge a sign-up fee and a monthly monitoring fee.

Key Partnerships

Local senior-led groups can advocate for use of such devices as a means of addressing seniors' fears. Physicians who treat seniors can encourage use of the device as part of helping the senior patient remain independent and less fearful of becoming ill and not being able to summon help. Meals on Wheels or other senior-focused volunteer organizations can make seniors aware of these types of devices and help advocate for community support to underwrite the monitoring fees for low-income seniors. Medical centers and clinics can display information about these products and fund a program to provide them for seniors with financial worries. Local radio and newspapers can publicize the service and the support provided by the police and fire emergency services agencies.

Potential Obstacles

The cost of the service, even when minimal, may prove a barrier to seniors living on a fixed income. Donations from the community, such as funding from local hospitals and/or social service agencies, can help defray costs and ensure that the service is available to those most in need. In addition, no senior or family member or friend of a senior should view this type of product as a substitute for routinely checking on the welfare of seniors in the community.

Examples of Success and Results

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based, Lifeline Systems company produces Lifeline® products, and through its Lifeline Response Center, monitors calls from subscribers requiring personal emergency response service to their home. Developed by a doctor in 1974, the device comes in a pendant and wristwatch model. Each has been used by millions of subscribers in the United States and Canada. Lifeline® is one of a number of companies that produces devices for this purpose.

The Burlington, North Carolina-based [population 42,298], Alamance Regional Medical Center works with local senior-led organizations to identify seniors in need of personal emergency response services, including in situations where the senior feels threatened in their home. Through the funding from the center, area seniors with financial limitations can receive subscriber benefits from Lifeline®. Burlington Adult Senior Leisure Services, a local United Way agency, operates two senior centers in the city. It makes available to patrons of its activities and programs information about this product and other local services to help ensure that senior residents are safe. The Burlington Police Department and fire services are linked with Lifeline®, and respond 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to dispatches from the company. As of 1999, several hundred senior Burlington residents subscribe to the service and say that it helps them live independently and with less fear.

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