I've Fallen and I'm Really #!@$*&! About the Options
December 16, 2016 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Over Thanksgiving, my super-hip and modern 80yo mother mentioned that she wanted to get one of those "I've fallen and I can't get up" devices and a lockbox with a code for helping first responders get into the house. My sister and I talked with her, and I bookmarked some options for her on her iPad, and she said she'd research things when she got back home. And then she fell down, went boom. We need advice.

Three days after Thanksgiving, she slipped on the corner of the comforter while stripping the bed, fell into the wall, and badly fractured her wrist and her neck. When she fell, she was able to crawl to the cordless phone (there's one in almost every room) and called 911. (I'd encouraged her to carry around her iPhone instead of the cordless, so she can just shout "Hey, Siri, call 911," but she prefers not to use her iPhone unless she's out of the house. She didn't want an Amazon Echo, even when I explained that it could also handle this issue.)

Meanwhile, when the plumber kept ringing the bell and she didn't answer, he called, and she told him with (amazing) clarity what was happening, and directed him to the neighbor next door, to get the key for the first responders, but the neighbor wasn't home. Eventually, the first responders gently broke in the side door to the garage (that hadn't been used since 1971) and went in through the (miraculously not-locked utility room door). There was some delay in doing this, but not much.

(Because you're MeFites, I know you care, so while she's really pissed that it happened, she's in rehab and doing as well as one can, and maintaining her sense of humor.)

She'll be coming home soon, and she wants us to help her get this squared away. I'm trying to find two solutions.

1) Alert Button Doodad -- She's insistent that she wants something she can wear on her wrist rather than on a necklace/pendant. She liked the general look of the Lively Wearable from Great Call, but says she knows there are sleeker, less bulky ones than the one I showed her at the Great Call site.

I'm not seeing anything nicer/smaller than that, and the HomeSafe ones recommended by her local Visiting Nurses Association has two versions of the button thingie, one (higher end, with fall detection) that they say has to be worn on a pendant, and a lower-tier one that can be worn on an elastic wristband or a watchband. And she thinks both are ugly. (She's super-stylish, does full makeup and hair even when there's a blizzard outside and won't see other humans, and strangers come up to her to compliment her on her looks. The idea of wearing something plastic is abhorent to her, which puts a point in the Lively Wearable vs. the HomeSafe doodad.)

Does the hive mind have any recommendations for an alert button doohickey that:
a) can be worn on the wrist,
b) is not huge (she's got tiny bones for a tall lady), and
c) is reputable?

Possible snowflake: Some of the devices I've seen show a base (like a cordless phone base) but my mom's house is two stories plus a basement and is pretty large -- would it even be able to communicate over that large a space? Wi-Fi gets to the far corners fairly well, but is the size of the space and distance from the base an issue?

And she says she doesn't want the more expensive ones she's seen "with GPS" because she figures if she ever falls anywhere except in the house, there will be people with her, and if she's ill in the car, she can call to Siri.

2) Emergency Access -- The Visiting Nurses Association recommends a lock box (like a realtor box) that can be affixed to the door. I guess there's a code on the box and the code reveals access to an actual key? Their rep will come out for free, show my mom (and my sister, who is visiting during this hospital/rehab/home transition) the features, and sell the lockbox to her for $40. I don't know if this is something that needs to be "installed" or just hooked on the door -- I suspect the latter. They also said you can get them at Home Depot, and the ones I see there are about $10 less, but don't come with a nice visiting rep to patiently explain things. Is there likely an advantage of one type over the other? Is there one best type?

Thanks for any guidance you can provide on either aspect.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Hope your mom continues to feel better! As to question 2, she should call the local fire department and see if she can get a Knox Box for her house.
posted by notjustthefish at 12:04 PM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Note on "Hey Siri": for some phones/iPads, it won't work if it's not plugged in.
posted by capricorn at 12:16 PM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

My cousin, 85, has fallen at least 7 times and finally got something she wears on her wrist to call for help. I don't know about the door but in an emergency, they police or fire people will break in.
But my real point: many many elderly fall. We do not teach them how to become more stable with age. Easy google search will give simple but effective things to do to get better stability. I do such things now and am 87.
posted by Postroad at 12:34 PM on December 16, 2016 [41 favorites]

this looks like a watch, rather than a fugly plastic box. this is more minimal. i have no idea if either is any good.
posted by andrewcooke at 12:44 PM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's a saying perfectionists use: "The good is the enemy of the great". My answer is "maybe, but the great can be the enemy of getting anything done at all."

I believe this applies to your mother's aesthetic concerns about emergency alerts. She wants the perfect one. This is a great way to put off getting one indefinitely. I suggest a strategy of "this is the best option we can find now. Please use this until we find a model you like better."

I also highly recommend a retirement community. My mother lives in one, and there are lots of concessions to her (and other residents) limited mobility. They have immediate emergency response to both worn devices and emergency pull cords installed throughout the apartments. She's in her own apartment, and has options to move into other housing there with more care if or when it is needed. It absolutely doesn't feel like an "old age home"; it's a retirement community.
posted by Cranialtorque at 12:58 PM on December 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

MobileHelp has one that's designed like a watch, with the strap separate from the button part. You could replace the strap with a more fashionable one.

this is more minimal.

That one can only send texts.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:46 PM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Would an Apple Watch tied to her iPhone be an option? She can make emergency calls from it as long as she is within range (which she should be in her house and should have it in her purse out and about). Would that be stylish enough for her?
posted by MultiFaceted at 2:45 PM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

My elderly dad uses a Philips Lifeline device (he wears it around his neck like a pendant; I don't know if there is one that can be worn like a watch, but I'd check to see, if that is your mother's preference). We pay a little more per month (about $50) to get the one that detects falls (it has an accelerometer within), and it has worked as advertised. I can't link to the Philips site because my work network is blocking the Google link as an ad, but the unit my dad has was obtained through a representative at the regional hospital in the next county over. He has a lockbox on his front door with a punch-button 5-digit combination, and the local rescue squad has come to the house on several occasions when he has fallen. They open the lockbox, unlock the door, check him out, and get him up (he uses a wheelchair when not in bed).

My dad would not be able to remain safely in his house without this device. The time will come for him when even this device is not sufficient; for now, it is satisfactory. The rescue squad has the lockbox code; the Philips people have my number and the number of one of his brothers that lives about 3 miles away. We are contacted when the alarm goes off.

I cannot address the range of the base unit (my dad's house is on one level and it's a relatively small duplex), but the representatives will come to your house and tell you.
posted by apartment dweller at 2:47 PM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Thanks to all who answered the questions. Briefly, so I'm not doing a huge (and disallowed) back-and-forth:

-showbiz_liz, Thus far, yours solves the watch-style issue and it looks like the Duo version of yours solves any potential distance-from-the-base issues in a large house.

-notjustthefish, is this the one you mean? The company is closed & not fulfilling orders until January, but we'll definitely check what her local fire dept says. Given the cost disparity, do you know of an advantage of the KnoxBox vs. the smaller kind the VNA recommended (that runs $40 vs. KB's $160+)?

-andrewcooke, the Limmex would be perfect for her tiny wrist, but the product & service aren't available in the US -- FYI for future MeFite readers. Thanks for your diligence.

-Thanks, Postroad & CranialTorque. The doctors have noted that her balance is superior, and not just for someone who older. This was a fluke comforter attack. Otherwise, there's literally nothing on the floor in her home except furniture & we've got Thanksgiving video of her dancing all over the living room to Beyoncé and Ella Fitzgerald. There's no need here for lifestyle changes, but thanks.

-capricorn. Her iPhone and iPad both respond to "Hey, Siri" when not plugged in, but my iPad doesn't, so thanks for the reminder.
-Thanks, multifaceted, Apple Watch is in the loop!
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 2:56 PM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

What you want for access might be a thing called a key safe. They don't have to be really high tech but she'd have to be able to give the combination and location of the safe to the first responders to get into it. I think realtors' lock boxes may work the same way, the key safes are just often made so you can put them someplace that isn't obvious and not worry about someone knowing where you keep the keys.
posted by dilettante at 3:07 PM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

The service we use encouraged us to get a lockbox and tell them the combo. I'm very glad we did - it means Mrs Mogur doesn't have to do anything when the first responders arrive, so I have peace of mind. It just hooks on the front door, yes, and our service will tell the combo to the first responders at dispatch time. No answers about the wrist, though - Mrs Mogur prefers the pendant, as it has fall detection.
posted by Mogur at 3:42 PM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Could you commission something attractive to camouflage the ugly pendant but that still wouldn't block the signal? If your mom likes delicate jewellery this probably won't work, but if she's a fan of big chunky stuff, then maybe?
posted by kate4914 at 5:21 PM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Whatever device you get her, please make sure she wears it at night to bed. My dear great-aunt had one of these devices, and carefully laid it on the night-stand so it was there to put on in the morning, and then got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and... you can guess where this is going. She lay on the cold bathroom floor for more than a day with a broken hip and no communication device within reach. It hurts me to even think about.
posted by molasses at 6:13 PM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

We got Life Alert for our mom, it was like $28 per month. She wore it on her wrist. When she pushes the button someone at a desk gets an alert, then they make phone calls. Get a key safe like realtors use, it hangs from the doorknob. That's maybe $20. The life alert people get the combo.
posted by fixedgear at 6:05 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might also want to talk to your relative about falls prevention. Certainly falls become more common with age, but they don't have to be inevitable

I don't know what the services are in your area, but my local hospital in the UK has an integrated falls clinic where patients can get help from a doctor to assess for reversible causes of falls (like effects from medication, balance issues, etc) and work with physiotherapists to strengthen muscles and occupational therapists to make modifications to the home to reduce fall risks. Even simple things like removing rugs can make a big difference

Also, tai chi has is a good quality evidence based way of reducing falls, as it promotes balance and muscle strength. I work in medicine and one of our care of the elderly doctors said if he had his way every elderly person would do tai chi and weight lifting!
posted by DrRotcod at 4:01 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you have a garage door opener you could tell emergency service the code to open the door.
posted by JayRwv at 5:28 PM on March 8, 2017

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