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

10 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
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 Answers

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.

Community Answers

Barb answered...

I disagree.  I got a PERS system for my mom in the early diagnosis stage and found it to be very helpful.  Once a week, I had her test the system.  The call center at Guardian Medical Monitoring would address her by name and remind her that they were there if she ever needed any help. 

By testing the system each week, my mom had an understanding and consistant reminder - three years later, she still is testing the system once a week and understands what the button is for. 

In addition, we got the medication dispensing unit from Guardian.  We would be lost without it.  I can put a full months worth of medication into the machine for my mom. When it's time for her medication, it makes a loud, clear announcement and she presses a button to receive the pre-filled cup of meds.  If she fails to press the button, the machine calls me to let me know.  This is a great safety back-up. 

The cost of the PERS and Medication Dispenser combined is $80 from Guardian Medical Monitoring.  Very affordable for the peace of mind it offers.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Having an emergency response button has not been helpful for my mother-in-law, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease and who is still living alone. Because she cannot see it when it is hanging around her neck, she forgets that she has it on. Several times, she has fallen and could not get up, and she did not remember that the button was available to her, so she stayed on the floor until a family member dropped by. The last time she fell, she was not even wearing it. She took it off because she didn't like wearing it. (This is not the first time she has taken it off. Once she even cut the cord with scissors to remove it!) Her family insists that staying at home is my mother-in-law's best option, and this call button makes them feel better about their decision, but honestly, the call button is not an effective option at all.

Linlohlan answered...

My husband's nursing home was pressing for us to subscribe to this if and when he comes home, but when I called two such companies, they said that honestly these companies do not recommend it for Alzheimer's and dementia patients... that it is a waste of money if your loved one cannot be left alone anyway due to dementia.

For the $20 per month service, these buttons automatically call 911 to summons an ambulance. Can you afford an ambulance for every press for fiddling around with a button? We can hardly pay our bare-bones phone bill.

For about $50 per month the services will summons an ambulance plus also call you. Okay for someone who is frail or physically tends toward falls or has a heart attack, but for dementia patients, it doesn't make sense at all ACCORDING TO THE SERVICES, as I said, when they are HONEST with you. After my inquiries, I started receiving literature by mail and follow-up phone calls to subscribe. Duh! Any money they can squeeze out of you for something inappropriate for your situation. Buyer beware for dementia patients.

Chris moore answered...

A more appropriate system would be an electronic remote activity monitoring system like Simply-Home. This is a monitoring system with a series of wireless sensors connected to a base unit that responds to certain conditions with a preprogrammed alert. For example, it could be set up to call a family member or the 24 hour call center if your Mom gets out of bed and doesn't return for a certain period of time during certain hours of the night. It could also turn on certain lights if she gets up during the night or even remotely lock the exterior doors. The system could be set up to turn off the stove if there is no movement in the kitchen for a specified period of time. The system is custom designed for each situation after a free in home assessment, and unlike a PERS system, does not require any input from the patient. If your mom falls and doesn't get up, an inactivity alert will be triggered. It is also easy to change the rules and alerts as well as add sensors if the situation changes and you need to keep a closer eye on her activities.

Mattinbb answered...

The efficacy of employing a PERS might be somewhat questionable, but the efficacy of NOT having one will always be zero. Dependant upon the individual, if it increases the chance for timely intervention -- or a MORE timely intervention, I would consider its use. It was noted "that it is a waste of money if your loved one cannot be left alone anyway due to dementia." I agree.

But if the situation is such that the individual IS alone for extended periods, HAS a history of falling or unsteadyness, and is NOT so far advanced that the use of a PERS is completely beyond their ability, I can think it worthwhile.

Beclosedotcom answered...

Our experience at BeClose is that a PERS button only solves part of the problem. Research shows that in 80% of emergencies, the buttons aren't pushed, but they're clearly invaluable in the 20% of cases. Given that you don't know whether your mother will be the 80% or the 20%, we strongly recommend a system that has PERS plus an additional safety net. A system like ours that combines emergency response with activity sensors will alert you whether your mother is able to push the button or not. It costs only slightly more than a basic PERS but provides significantly more value.

Gadjett answered...

I have MedAlert for my mom. We both have bracelets (she can't remove hers). If she wanders (which, thankfully, she tried lately). Her bracelet tells her name & a phone # to call, so they can get hold of me. Mine lets anyone ( if I was hurt, or unconscious),That I am her caregiver & she should be checked on. Wish I'd had it when we visited my daughter in Ohio when she wandered out of the house while we were all sleeping, & fell in a busy street! Thankfully she wasn't hurt badly, & the hospital had alerted the police, so when I called, they knew where she was! Scary!
Mom lives with us, & because she sleeps downstairs, & we are upstairs, I have a monitor in her room so I will hear her if she should get up & fall, or try to leave her room. I have wind chimes attached to her door, & that works great too!

Dembra answered...

My husband is still in the early stages and is blind. He has had one for 4 mos. It has made him more comfortable while I am at work and he does remember to check it once a month. He is a little restless when he takes it off when we go out of the house and will get it as soon as we get home and put it back on. He did get lost in our garage the other day and did not press the button but he did remember we had a phone in the garage and was able to call for help. I did not think to ask him why he did not use his emergency button. Need to ask to see what his response is. I feel that it is maybe not the total answer but for now it works for him and makes me worry slightly less while away from the home. Hope this answer is helpful for you.

Jbrooks answered...

A push button is okay to give a loved one with memory issues, however, I would not recommend it by its self. You can not guarantee that they will remember to push it , or they become unconscious and can't push it. I would highly recommend using motion sensors as well. SafeinHome offers a medical alert button with motion and door sensors. This way the loved one is double covered! When the medial alert button doesn't activate, the sensors will and let you know right away.