Should I get a personal emergency response system (PERS) for my mom, who has early-stage Alzheimer's?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom has been diagnosed with early Alzheimer's, her memory is fading, and she gets disoriented and confused, but she still has periods when she's fine. Because she lives alone, I was thinking of getting her one of those personal emergency response buttons, where she can quickly summon help. Is this a good idea?

Expert Answer

Margaret Calkins is president of IDEAS, a research organization specializing in residential designs for an aging society.

No, I'm afraid not. Personal emergency response systems, often called PERS, really aren't suited for someone with Alzheimer's or dementia. Given your mom's condition, PERS can't give you the reassurance you need.

To make the system work, your mom must push a button that's worn either around her neck or wrist, or on a console in her house. She has to know how to do this, and when to do this. She needs to be mentally alert enough to make a quick decision and take action.

Even though your mom is still early in her illness and has lucid times, it's too risky to depend on this kind of system for her safety. What if she fell during one of her confused periods and didn't even realize she had the option of pushing a button for help? If an elderly person can't figure out how or when to push a PERS button, it's a pretty clear sign that she shouldn't be living alone and that an alternative living situation is needed.