What You Need to Know When Considering a Medical Alert Device for Persons with Dementia

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Persons with dementia or Alzheimer's or their family members can receive free consultations regarding which medical alert devices and services are most appropriate for their needs.  Start here.

Medical alert devices, more formally called Personal Emergency Response Services (PERS), are quite commonly used among elderly, frail persons. However, usage of medical alert services is significantly less common among persons with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Why is this? The most logical explanation is that persons with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are memory and cognitively impaired. Therefore, their families feel that the person with dementia will a) forget to use the emergency call button when a trauma occurs or b) mistakenly call for an emergency response when the need does not exist. However, newer medical alert devices are designed to accommodate for both of these scenarios and have other features intended to assist persons with memory challenges. Unfortunately, not all medical alert devices are created equal and some services are not well designed for persons with dementia. Fortunately, those devices which are intended specifically for dementia are not significantly more expensive than those which are not.


What to Look for in Medical Alert Service for a Loved One with Dementia?

-Automated Fall Detection
Fall detection is common in most, but not all, medical alert devices. However, given that persons with Alzheimer’s / dementia are prone to falls, even more so than other elderly persons in the same age groups, fall detection is a must-have. In short, internal sensors detect when a fall has occurred using accelerometers. Better devices take into consideration movement, or lack thereof, after the fall as a gauge of the severity of the fall.

-Default Activation
Building on the fall detection functionality, a medical alert device for persons with dementia must default to the activated state. In other words, if a fall is detected and the emergency call button is NOT pushed, the service should assume that an injury has occurred or that a fall has occurred and the individual with dementia may not have had the presence of mind to utilize the device. Therefore, the service should pro-actively attempt to contact the device wearer or their emergency contacts.

-Non-Emergency Response / Sequential Contacts
As a person with dementia may not have the presence of mind to use the device when necessary and conversely, because they might activate the emergency button when there is no emergency, the medical alert service needs to have non-emergency contacts whom they will reach out to prior to alerting first responders. To be clear, the medical alert call center should first attempt to call a family member or loved one in the proximity to validate that there is indeed an emergency. Should the first call recipient not answer, a second emergency contact should be called, again, prior to alerting first responders. Phrased another way, the medical alert service provider must allow for a series of contacts to be called in sequential order to confirm the need for emergency responders.

-GPS Tracking & Wander Alerts
As many persons with dementia are prone to wandering, the medical alert device needs to be wearable and have GPS tracking enabled to allow family members to locate their loved one should they wander from their home. It should also have the equivalent of an ID bracelet, something to let good Samaritans know the identity and the medical condition of the individual should they encounter them out and about without supervision.

-Ability to Set Home Areas
The aforementioned GPS tracking is of much greater value, if the family is able to select certain “home areas”. Home areas are defined locations in which the person with dementia is deemed not to be wandering. For example, movement in and around one’s home should not trigger a “wander alert” and a family may want to include a second home area such as the home of an adult child whom the person with dementia often visits. Furthermore, a loved one should be able to turn off the GPS tracking by using a special code, if for example, they are picking the person with the device up and taking them out to lunch.

-Cellular Network Coverage
Many medical alert devices are designed to work with a home phone line or a local WIFI network. Since, persons with Alzheimer’s are prone to wandering and will likely wander outside the home range of the medical alert device, it should be designed to use a cellular phone network instead or in addition to a home phone or home WIFI network.


Medical Alert Services Costs & Payment Assistance

Source: American Eldercare Research
Description: This webpage discusses the features, costs, and payment options for medical alert devices as well as insurance coverage policies such as Medicare and Medicaid.

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Bay Alarm Medical for Persons with Dementia

Source: Bay Alarm Medical
Description: Families can receive a free consultation regarding which medical alert devices and services are most appropriate for their loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.

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