Help, I've fallen, and I can't share my geocoordinates!
January 22, 2013 8:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm in search of a personal medical alert product for my middle-aged mother and somewhat overwhelmed by the volume of incomplete solutions, vague descriptions, sketchy resellers, and keyword hoarding. Help me be the best geriatric technologist this side of sixty!

For the uninitiated, a medical alert device allows its bearer to press a button to contact a hotline or summon emergency services. Some are installed in the home like one of them newfangled "answering machines" and can only service up to the front stoop. Others function similar to, or are merely features of, a modern cell phone. The actual fobs come in all forms, including wrist and neck bands.

This much I know, but I'd really appreciate references or recommendations for devices that meet the following criteria:

- Cell and, ideally, GPS-enabled. This is a very active woman at high risk of falling everywhere.
- Wearable 24/7. While her cognition is generally exceptional, the forgot-my-keys index is off the charts.
- Discreet. She is, quite literally, young at heart. Few her age elect to use such a product, so humiliation is a real risk with some of the larger pendants.

Nice-to-have features include low subscription costs, emergency access to medical info, automatic fall detection, online configuration, and personal health metrics.

… But let's not get too excited. Any solution is better than none and all advice is appreciated!
posted by nominal to Technology (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If her cognition is exceptional and she wouldn't want to appear to be carrying something out of the ordinary, why wouldn't she just use a cell phone, like the rest of us would if we fell and broke a leg?

The one problem with being a woman and trying to carry a phone on your body all the time is that pockets aren't always big enough or convenient, and some clothing just plain doesn't have pockets- but something like this might work.
posted by Secretariat at 9:11 AM on January 22, 2013

It would help to know where your mother lives, services vary by country and parts of countries.
posted by mareli at 9:14 AM on January 22, 2013

Response by poster: Not gonna threadsit, but to answer the questions:

Secretariat: "Generally." She very often forgets her cell phone, and there are risky environments where they're inappropriate, like a shower or locker room.

mareli: She lives in a major city in the US with coverage by all the usual cellular providers.
posted by nominal at 9:28 AM on January 22, 2013

Best answer: As jessamyn suggested in 2011, some police departments will make 'wellness check' phone calls to people at set times every day.

I can't necessarily recommend any of them because I've never used them, but I found a list of medical alert services when my business partner was looking into getting one for a friend who spent several nights in his basement because he couldn't get back up the stairs.

If your mother is out-and-about quite often, especially if she spends any time participating in outdoor activities like hiking, perhaps something like a Spot Emergency Locator Beacon might be a better fit for her needs.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:03 AM on January 22, 2013

Would a GPS-enabled smartphone do the trick if it had the right case and carrying solution? There are some very good, durable, water-resistant smartphone case and carrying solutions that would not seem at all out of the ordinary for someone of just about any age to carry constantly.

But I'm having some difficulty parsing your question, since you said she's middle-aged, that "few her age elect to use such a product," that she's "very active," and has "exceptional" cognition. The only area of concern you've raised as to why she might need such a device is that her forgot-my-keys index is off the charts. Based on that description, she's in her 40s or early 50s with no notable physical or mental limitations?

But then you also say that a smartphone might not do because "there are risky environments where they're inappropriate, like a shower or locker room."

Should we be looking for a waterproof device that she will wear on her body everywhere, all the time, including in the shower? Since she has a cell phone already but you're concerned because she often forgets it, are you looking for something that you can attach to her body somewhere so that she cannot forget it no matter what? And if she has excellent cognition, is in her 40s or early 50s, is extremely active, and the only problem she really has is that she forgets her keys and cell phone a lot, should we be focusing on items that she will view as a thoughtful gift and a practical, cool thing, or are you really looking for, as you put it, geriatric technology?
posted by The World Famous at 10:06 AM on January 22, 2013

I've looked at a few things online and none of them really seem to meet your requirements. I think maybe you've hit on something that someone should be inventing right now as the number of older people in the US increases dramatically over the next few years: a wristband or pendant emergency phone capable of calling 911 that looks like a watch -a delicate one for ladylike ladies, a more robust-looking one for everyone else-, is waterproof, includes gps, and maybe even has some kind of shock sensor in case the wearer falls and blacks out. I'm sure it can be done. And I'm sure that some mefites are capable of creating this! As an aging boomer I volunteer to test the prototype.
posted by mareli at 10:49 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The World Famous: Apologies for being vague. I softened the realities of the situation a bit, but your guesses are all correct. She has a condition that causes falling and, due in part to personality and the rest to the disorder, will forget anything not physically attached to her body. It doesn't have to be hip or young, just subtle.

mareli: That mefite might be me.
posted by nominal at 10:51 AM on January 22, 2013

Best answer: Thanks for the follow-up, nominal. I hope I didn't come across as disrespectful or anything. It's just that your question got me thinking along slightly different lines that I wasn't sure would really answer the question. Specifically, that what you might want to be looking for isn't a "geriatric" tech device as such, but something marketed to adventure and action sports enthusiasts - which might be able to do what you're looking for better than what's currently made and marketed for very elderly people. The problem, of course, is that the adventure sports industry tends to have very overpriced products.

The search term that might get you some possibilities is "gps distress beacon" or "personal locator beacon." Unfortunately, the current state of tech is cell-phone-sized devices that cost a few hundred dollars, so it's probably not going to find you something that can be constantly attached to the body. The devices are, however, generally impact and moisture-proof. There might be a gps distress beacon watch on the horizon somewhere, though, given that Breitling has been selling its outrageously-expensive aviation distress signal watch for many years now.

The one that stands out on my mind at the moment is the Spot II Satellite GPS Messenger, which costs about $100, uses satellite networks, doesn't need a cell phone signal, can send GPS coordinates to family and friends in non-emergency situations just for fun, and has a red "SOS" button that sends GPS coordinates in an emergency to emergency services. It's about the size of a small flip phone and can be mounted on an armband, belt or other ways. It's not stylish, but it also doesn't look like a medical device.
posted by The World Famous at 11:17 AM on January 22, 2013

Y'all got me to thinking and there actually already are wristwatch-like devices that have cell phone and GPS built in. I can't speak as to the quality of the thing, but I found this one that has GPS, SOS, and Cell Phone in a watch format.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:45 AM on January 22, 2013

The Alzheimer's Store is a good source for senior-care-related products, even if your senior does not have dementia.

I tend to agree with marelli that meeting your exact requirements will be tough, if not impossible. You're going to have to decide which consumer product works best for your mom in her current medical state.

Myself, we're bringing my dad with dementia home soon, as his long-term-care insurance has been depleted. I'm already cooking up potential projects in the TWINE and Raspberry Pi universes that might be workable replacements for expensive products, or even improvements on what's available.
posted by dhartung at 2:50 PM on January 22, 2013

You can get a mobile phone case with a belt clip, so she can always clip it to her waistband or purse. I have marked my phone (and various remotes) with fluorescent orange tape to help me find it fast when I'm dashing out of the house. Put a hook next to the shower at home to hang the phone on; maybe about knee level for ease of access if she falls. In a locker room, she can hang it from a hook; if she fell, she wouldn't be there long before someone came in. If you helped her set up a smart phone, it could help her take meds on time (alarm or calendar) and GPS is so helpful. A mobile phone is also great for other emergencies, like a flat tire, car accident, etc. If you put FindMyiPhone/ Android, or another tracker on a smartphone, you'd have the GPS tracking.
posted by theora55 at 7:01 PM on January 23, 2013

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