Enabling Independence Through Medical Alert Systems and Home Modifications
An increasing number of seniors are choosing to live independently and age in place. While many may find remaining in their homes and communities more enjoyable and comfortable than moving to a residential care facility, living independently does pose risks for seniors.
If an aging family member, friend, or someone you care for chooses to live alone, you are likely familiar with the anxiety many caregivers feel regarding their loved one’s safety. You may often worry that your loved one has been injured, or is struggling to go about their daily routine or move around the home as they should. Thankfully, there are several home modifications you can make for your loved one that enable them to live independently and safely.
Spotting Safety Hazards
The first step to making home modifications is to recognize what safety hazards your loved one faces. Some of the most common safety hazards for seniors who live independently include:
- Stairs or uneven flooring that can lead to falls
- Slick or slippery flooring
- Sharp corners that can cause injury if run in to
- Items such as picture frames or other decor placed on shelves that may fall unexpectedly
- Cords on the floor which can pose tripping hazards
- Pet accessories, boxes, or small furniture in walkways
- Hard-to-reach electric switches, personal items, or other necessities
Preventing In-Home Injuries and Emergencies
Falls are one of the most common in-home injuries. Yearly, an estimated 3 million adults age 65 or over are treated in the emergency room for fall-related injuries, according to the CDC. One of the most important steps to take for preventing in-home injuries is to reduce the risk of falls, and ensuring your loved one is able to get the help that they need if a fall does occur.
Medical Alert Systems with Fall Detection
Many of the top medical alert companies offer systems with fall detection. Medical alert devices equipped with automatic fall detection have motion sensors that monitor user’s movement for signs of a fall. If the device senses that a user has fallen down, it will automatically trigger a call to the emergency monitoring center.
These systems are a great idea for seniors who are prone to falls or if a fall is likely due to having a home with stairs, pet accessories, or uneven flooring. Medical alert systems with fall detection can also provide peace of mind for caregivers that their loved one will be able to get the help if they are injured after a fall.
The following home modifications can make falls less likely or reduce the chance of serious injury if a fall does occur:
- Handrails, especially on stairs or in areas with uneven flooring. If your loved one is prone to falls, handrails may be useful throughout the home.
- Walk-in tubs and shower seats
- Sensor lights to avoid the likelihood of your loved one walking into a dark space
- Tape extension cords down or tuck them underneath or behind furniture
Burns and Fires
Burns and fires are another concern for caregivers of seniors who live independently. Seniors, especially those who are forgetful, may unintentionally cause a fire or burn themselves cooking by forgetting to turn off the stove. They also may have difficulty calling for help or leaving the premises during a fire. Although there is no way to completely prevent burns and fires, there are things you can do to reduce the chance of serious injury or incident and make it easy for your loved one to get help if an emergency does occur.
Medical Alert Systems That Can Call the Fire Department
Most people purchase a medical alert system for their loved one specifically for health-related purposes or other incidents such as falls. However, many of the systems may also be used in fire-related emergencies.
Most monitored medical alert systems, which connect users with trained operators at emergency monitoring centers, allow callers to specify which emergency services they need, including the fire department. Others directly connect users with their local 9-1-1 dispatch so they can immediately request assistance from the fire department.
While home modifications do not guarantee that a burn or fire will not occur, the following can reduce the chance of a home fire or injuries from burns:
- Stove burner covers can help prevent seniors from accidentally touching or turning on a stovetop.
- Keep any heaters at least three feet away from furniture or other flammable items.
- Replace old water heaters or other appliances to avoid electrical fires.
It is natural to worry about what a senior living independently may do if they experience a medical emergency. Whether it be an illness-related incident or a bad injury, caregivers may fear that their loved one is in need of help and is unable to get it. Medical alert systems and home modifications can help increase the likelihood that your loved one will get the help that they need in the event of an emergency.
Medical Alert Systems with Health Monitors
In addition to providing users with an efficient way to contact emergency services, some medical alert systems are also equipped with health monitors. One such option, the MobileHelp Smart, is a smartwatch-style device that features a heart rate monitor. Seniors can also benefit from wearing an Apple Watch. There are several health-related applications for the Apple Watch including ECG, a heart rate monitoring app, and Dexcom G6, which helps those with diabetes monitor their glucose levels.
Even standard medical alert systems without these added features are a great way to protect seniors who live independently and help relieve anxiety for caregivers. The devices provide a fast, simple way for users to contact emergency services or their caregivers when needed. If a medical emergency is to occur, the user needs only to press a button to let someone know that they are in need of assistance.
In addition to having your loved one use a medical alert system, the following home modifications may be useful in the event of a medical emergency:
- Install a home call box as another easy way for your loved one to get in touch with a monitoring center during an emergency.
- Motion sensors that caregivers can monitor may be useful to indicate when something is wrong if the sensors detect a lack of motion.
- Purchase an automatic medication dispenser with a lock to prevent any medication-related incidents.
Financial Assistance for Home Modifications
Making home modifications can require significant financial resources. While most insurance policies do not cover home modifications, there are other sources of financial assistance available.
Some organizations may offer grants to help seniors and their caregivers pay for home modifications. The grants are typically tied to a specific home modification, such as a grant to install a stair lift. Check with local organizations such as your Area Agency on Aging to stay up-to-date with available grants.
Those who are capable of paying off the cost of home modifications over time may consider a loan. The money lent will need to be paid back, but some organizations offer low-interest loans when the money is being used for home modifications. Government agencies may also guarantee loans to make it easier to get bank approval for a home modification-related loan.
Equipment loans allow seniors and their caregivers to use home modification equipment at reduced or no cost. These loans are typically long-term, meaning the senior may use the equipment in their home until they no longer need it. While the devices do have to be returned eventually, it is a great way to get your loved one the modifications they need without paying a high cost to purchase the materials.
Free or Discounted Labor
In addition to paying for the equipment itself, most people must pay a technician or other professional to install it in their home. To help offset the overall cost of paying for a home modification, some nonprofit organizations and charities offer free or discounted installation. Recipients will still need to pay for the equipment and materials but can save money on professional installation.