Protecting the elderly

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Protecting the elderly

As people grow older and less capable of fending for themselves, they face three special sets of dangers. First, they may face depression as they become more physically constrained and have increased difficulty reconciling their young minds trapped in recalcitrant bodies no longer able to do their bidding. This can be particularly devastating if they become housebound and isolated by being unable to drive or walk well, and if they are isolated by distance or indifference from friends and family.

Second, if there is not a fairly constant flow of alert and caring friends and family, they become easier targets for petty (or grand) theft by those around them as they become more dependent on others to assist them in daily life. Note that in an age of burgeoning elder abuse, merely having family around is not necessarily enough: We are familiar with one case in which a pair of grasping grandchildren stole a great deal, in spite of the efforts of the hired caretakers, who, in fact, were both honest and caring.

Finally, the elderly face an increased likelihood of medical crisis. It is this last point that we will look at professionally in this article. In past issues we have discussed alarm systems as a cornerstone of security: Access control — and alerts to violation of access control — is as important in a private home as in a corporate environment If you hear a noise in the night, you want to have some level of confidence that it is a pipe rather than a burglar, and if it is a burglar, that the monitoring service has been notified by the system and is taking appropriate action.

As potential medical problems become more of a concern, it is a prudent idea to add to the existing system with appropriate medical alert equipment. This generally consists of three pieces: First is panic buttons, which should already be in place. Second is a portable panic button — or a set of them — that can be worn by the household members at risk. Third is a set of microphones and loudspeakers which allow the monitoring service to communicate with whomever is in the house. This means that if someone sets off the medical alert, the service can say “Mrs. Jones, are you all right?” And your client (or parent or self) can say “I fell and I can’t get up” and the service can take the appropriate action. If the service gets no response to its inquiry, they will take another set of actions. What if you have an older system and the panel won’t take these extensions? This equipment is relatively inexpensive, and if your panel is that old, it won’t hurt to replace it.

As with all alarm systems, it is prudent to test your system monthly. When you test it, you should call the monitoring company, tell them you are going to do a test, and then test everything you can. Press each panic button, open each door, break every invisible beam, and walk through every protected area. The monitoring company should be able to recognize and confirm each event. Keep a written record of each test: If you test regularly and something doesn’t work in real life, it is probably, contractually, the responsibility of the alarm company. If you do not test regularly and something does not work in real life, it is probably, contractually, your responsibility.

What about independent medical alert systems that connect directly to the phone line, independent of your alarm system? These may be worth considering in some circumstances, particularly if there is no existing security system. As with all security systems, their acquisition requires care, particularly for the elderly, who can become easy prey for unscrupulous salesmen. We have heard more bad stories about small systems sold, essentially by door to door salesmen, than we have about systems from established alarm companies. Two recent cases spring to mind. In one case the salesman demonstrated the system (when telling this editor about the incident, the couple didn’t remember the company or product name), and offered it to the elderly couple at a fairly high price. When they said they would have to think about it, the salesman started dropping the price, ending up at about a third of the original asking price. The couple, suspicious, declined to buy, and installed a more conventional system.

In another case, a woman in her 90s decided that, since she was on the short list to move to an assisted-living community, it made more sense for her to get an independent system rather than modify the existing system, and so she purchased from Personal Alarm Security Systems (P.A.S.S.) of New York City a standalone system that connected directly to the phone jack. For reasons not terribly relevant to this article, she decided that this was a mistake, and, so, the next day she asked to have the system removed. When the P.A.S.S. representative came to remove the system, he told her and her aide that he hoped she would fall and lie on the floor in sight of the phone until she died of dehydration. This, not surprisingly, left both the woman and her aide terrified.

This behavior was so egregious that we believed it was obviously the work of a rogue salesman, and that the company would want to know about it.

This editor spoke to Sam Minzer at P.A.S.S., offering to get together to discuss what we believed to be a problem. To our surprise, Mr. Minzer said that he didn’t deal with such things, but that he would have his PR person call us. Sometime later we got a call from a Ms Ross Ellis, who said she handled PR for P.A.S.S. We offered to meet with her to discuss the issue before we wrote about it, but she said she would have to get back to us. To our astonishment, we never heard from her again.

It is certainly not impossible to get bad or inappropriate service from a large company, and it equally is not impossible to get good service from a small company. But you should have some feeling of comfort with the transaction and the company’s representatives before you leap into a commitment.

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