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Protecting Your Loved One From Afar: Are You Ready for an Emergency?

4/29/2011


“One of our elderly clients decided to knock the icicles off her roof one evening, after a very cold and snowy winter storm,” Debbie recalls. “She slipped off her back deck, landing in a snowdrift, and only survived because she had a PERS unit in her pocket.” The Allisons say it would’ve been hours (if not days) until anyone would have known — the woman could’ve frozen to death, or suffered from severe hypothermia — but thankfully, her family had taken steps to ensure the safety of their mother and grandmother. “The next day, she called our office and thanked us for saving her life,” Debbie adds.

In the day of families living cross-country — instead of across town or down the street — making certain that aging loved ones are protected, secure, and equipped to handle an emergency is more important than ever. As you travel home for the holiday season, check your elderly loved one’s home for common safety concerns, and explore remote care technology (or home care) options. It will inevitably bring peace-of-mind and empower the entire family.

Safety Tip #1: Preventing Falls


Falls are the leading cause of death and injuries among Americans age 65 and older, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. More than one-third of all seniors — or about 11 million people — fall each year, resulting in almost 12,000 deaths. Of survivors, 50 percent lose their mobility, and 40 percent, their independence — forever. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent such an accident.

Begin by making sure that your parent’s home is as fall-proof as possible — remove clutter and keep things low. Aging individuals don’t always lift their feet while walking, and assistive walking devices (walkers and canes) are easily caught-up. Get rid of rugs, tuck cords away, remove low-lying decorations, and clear floors and walkways. Storing appliances, linens and clothing high up in cabinets and closets forces seniors to tiptoe or stand on a ladder to reach certain items. Ensure safety by moving anything your loved one needs on a regular basis to lower storage areas. It’s important these things are accessible from a flat-footed position.

Safety Tip #2: Preventing Medication Mishaps and Health Complications


People aged 65 and older take an average of 10 different medications one (or more) times daily. Older adults are also two and one-half times more likely to visit an emergency room due to a drug emergency than younger individuals. Some medical emergencies can’t be prevented, but others, including medication overdose (and under-dose) certainly can.

If you live far from your aging parents, you may want to take the time to arrange an appointment with your loved one’s care provider that includes you. In this meeting, confirm the current health concerns that afflict your loved one, discuss any medications and supplements they should be taking, any dietary restrictions they may have, and use it as a question-and-answer session for both you and your senior family member. This will put everyone involved in the care of your loved one on the same page, decreasing the likelihood of a medical accident.

Safety #3: Preventing Environmental Emergencies, Such as Fire


Taking the proper measures to safeguard your parents’ home from environmental disasters, such as fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, extreme temperatures, or even intruders can be life saving. The elderly are two and one-half times more likely to die in a residential fire — which can be caused by cooking appliances, open flames, smoking and HVAC. Thus, it is important to make sure that home appliances are updated and in good condition. Check the toaster, microwave, blow dryer, TV, radio, and other such electrical devices for functionality, a secure plug-in connection (from appliance to cord, and cord to outlet), and potential risk of shock or sparking. Also make sure outlets and power strips aren’t overloaded. If appliances appear dangerous, replace them.

Remote Care Technology: The Ultimate Safety Measure


Most seniors feel comfortable and safe when they’re at home, which is why more and more families are exploring at-home living options as their loved ones age. But, even the most diligent preventative safety measures cannot help your loved one communicate the need for help, should an emergency arise. This is why the Allisons recommend that families — especially those living afar — consider remote care technology, including a personal response system (PERS), environmental monitoring and medication management technology.

Personal emergency response system (PERS) is a waterproof pendant can be worn either as a necklace or bracelet, designed to help your loved one communicate a need for help in the event of an emergency. Once the button on a PERS unit is pushed, professionals are contacted to determine the type of response necessary for the situation, and family members are alerted via phone or e-mail.

Medication management technology serves as a medication dispenser to help remind your loved one when to take their medications. An in home caregiver will load the dispenser with the proper medications and dosages, then a bell will ring to alert your family member when it’s time to take their medication, and the pre-loaded pills will be dispensed. A sensor then reveals if the medication was removed from the dispenser, and if the dosage was missed, the in home caregiver and proper family members will be notified. “Remote care technology is good when a parent or loved one is just starting to get to the point where they are having a few minor issues. They may need help with medications, or need their blood pressure or other vital signs checked on a daily basis,” Doug notes.

Environmental monitoring systems observe carbon monoxide levels, the presence of smoke or a fire, extreme heat and cold, and can also function as motion detectors — ensuring a safe home environment for seniors. These systems also include an emergency response system that can call for help, while your loved one focuses on getting to a safe place in the event of an emergency. Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors immediately alert the local fire department. If the furnace stops working on a sub-zero night, the extreme temperature detector will alert you, so you can call dad. The motion detectors will learn the patterns of your loved one, so if mom isn’t up in the kitchen at 8 a.m. as usual, family is alerted. Since seniors are often less aware of environmental emergencies, or unable to respond quickly enough, monitoring their home can prevent unnecessary injuries, hospitalization, and even death.