Best medical alert device for MIL?
August 22, 2019 8:25 AM   Subscribe

My mother-in-law will be moving to our town in a few months. Please help me figure out the best way medical alert device for her.

My MIL is 75. After the recent death of her husband, she has decided to move to our town (we're in CT in the US) to be closer to her daughter (my wife). She is in the process of buying a 2BR apartment about a 6-minute drive from us (regular apartment, not assisted living). She is mentally very sharp but physically starting to get frailer - her legs are weak (I believe she has neuropathy) and she uses a walker whenever she leaves the house, and an electric cart for things like grocery shopping etc. Falls are a real concern - there have only been a couple so far but they seem likely to increase as she ages. She has physical therapy, so fingers crossed for improvement, but we want to be prepared.

My wife would like to get her some sort of medical alert device, but we're unsure what to get. Here are some of our specific questions - if you have any experience with this, we'd love to hear your take:

1) Is an Apple Watch a good option? Is it water proof so she can wear it in the shower? Is it programmable to call my wife easily? Can calls be made from the watch vs. the phone? Does the watch need to be close to the phone? (We all have Apple phones and devices, including her, but none of us have the watch.)

2) Is it better to have a device that will call 911 or my wife or another type of monitoring service? I would think my wife, but maybe I'm overlooking something.

3) As I mentioned, MIL is very sharp mentally but does wear glasses and we would want to get her something that has a user-friendly interface, particularly if she's not wearing her glasses.

4) Based on some googling, these devices are costly, so while we're willing to spend money, we'd also like to get it right the first time... Most of these devices seem to have a monthly fee on top of the hardware cost, so I'd like to get an idea of all-in cost.

This link was helpful, but we'd love input from people with personal experience here. Really appreciate your help!
posted by widdershins to Technology (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My mum had the Canadian version of this, and boy, did it offer peace of mind.
posted by kate4914 at 9:13 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Depending on your MIL income and resources for your state, you local department of aging may have a program for these devices to be installed and run by the state and billed to medicaid. One I know that's used frequently is the Phillips models here.

Usually they call a call center who asks what's going on. If she responds and says something benign they'll call the emergency contact, if she doesn't respond or says something serious they'll dispatch emergency services and call her emergency contact as well. They only work in the home unless you shell out money for more expensive models. So, for example someone who like to garden may accidently get out of range. Just something to look at when considering devices.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:21 AM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Unless she's a super jockey with an iPhone already, an Apple Watch is very much not the right answer for this because it requires fiddling and she'd have to have her phone somewhat near her. What you'd like is a device that calls HER first and if she's OK then nothing happens and next option is your wife or 911, probably 911. If she's mentally with it, this should be fine. I would call the local Council on Aging or senior center and see what people like and use. My Mom had one of the Phillips models and it was fine, she didn't need to use it. When you purchase on, you will get on every senior care mailing list known to mankind, so be careful about how much personal information you give when you register them.
posted by jessamyn at 10:11 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When it comes down to it, make sure you choose something she will actually use. My mother-in-law had a wearable device...and she basically never liked putting it on, so she often was without it...and then had falls when she wasn't wearing it. Which, as you can imagine, is bad.

My dad has recently required something, and we went with the Apple watch because it's discreet and he will actually wear it. There is some kind of fall setting where if it senses a fall, it asks if he's okay, and if he doesn't respond it does call (someone - I'm not sure who - his spouse set it up).
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:12 AM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I tried GreatCall with my mother, but their devices weren't very good. The phones they provided often failed to dial, and a problem with their emergency alert device is it requires a special charger. The emergency device didn't always detect altitude changes either; they said it was because they had algorithms to differentiate between a person falling and a dropped device, but it was hard to trust such an algorithm. Their location services so I could tell where she was were iffy too - sometimes they worked well, sometimes they didn't.

Instead of or in addition to a medical alert device, I'd advise looking into internal video cameras for her apartment so you can check via the web or app if she's walking around the apartment; and maybe smart speakers in several rooms so she can use voice commands to call your wife. A smart speaker in the bathroom would provide calling ability without her wondering if someone were watching her in there.

And of course make sure your Apple devices are set up so you can track where her phone is, for when she wanders away from the apartment.
posted by mistersix at 11:29 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is an Apple Watch a good option? Is it water proof so she can wear it in the shower? Is it programmable to call my wife easily? Can calls be made from the watch vs. the phone? Does the watch need to be close to the phone? (We all have Apple phones and devices, including her, but none of us have the watch.)

I have a Series 4, and I think the Apple Watch is a good option. I'm getting my mom one in a month or two. She just turned 80 and is super excited to get it.

The Series 4 (I can't speak for the earlier models) is water resistant:
"Apple Watch Series 4 has a water resistance rating of 50 meters under ISO standard 22810:2010. This means that it may be used for shallow-water activities like swimming in a pool or ocean. However, Apple Watch Series 4 should not be used for scuba diving, waterskiing, or other activities involving high-velocity water or submersion below shallow depth."

If you get the cellular model, it doesn't need to be close to the phone to work. I leave my phone at home on occasion and am fine with just my watch.

It has fall detection and will call 911 AND her emergency contact(s) automatically if she falls and doesn't/isn't able to respond to the watch's prompts to see if she's okay. She can also call normally using Siri (which I do on occasion when I need to make a call while driving and can't futz with my phone). Sound and call quality are both great.

Text size on the screen is adjustable, so it can be larger if needed. The interface is pretty simple and, if she's accustomed to the iPhone, she should pick it up pretty quickly.

As for price, I bought mine on my phone plan, so my watch payment is ~$25/mo and the cell service is ~$10-14 (depending on taxes, fees, random AT&T gouging, etc.). The 40mm version is $499 with GPS+cellular to buy outright, still with the ~$10/mo cellular fee.
posted by malthusan at 1:57 PM on August 22, 2019

Best answer: Not directly what you asked, but adjacent -- check with the local fire department to see if they have a Knox Box/lock box program. The boxes allow rapid entry into the home by fire department personnel in the event she has an emergency. Only fire departments/emergency medical services and sometimes police have the key. It can be a lifesaver.
posted by faineant at 4:51 PM on August 22, 2019

Best answer: The Phillips one gets recommended a lot. We used Medical Alert for mom, which was a little cheaper, and it worked fine - the one time I inadvertently pushed the button while loading her walker into the car they used the speaker in the house, then when we didn't answer because we'd just left, they sent the local police (and the neighbor who was also registered with the device could tell the police that they thought we'd left, so they called me, the first contact on their list). So it worked as planned. We kept a button on her walker, which she always used to go anywhere, which kept it close.

But all of these devices/companies often seem a little scammy - monthly subscriptions, advertising other products, and you can't cancel until you've returned all of their equipment, etc. Guess who has her mom's all packed up and ready to return... and has for 8 months since she moved to assisted living? (hangs head in shame, they're not cheap subscriptions!)

If you're only looking for a device that works in only in the apartment (as opposed to out and about), I had friends who got an Alexa with an echo dot for each room. No monthly fee, and they set it up so she could say "Alexa, call ___" (daughter, 911, etc). That only works if your person is conscious after a fall, but it gave my friends a lot of peace of mind, and their parents liked it better than a service. I've since given my mom a video Echo and she's constantly asking it for weather, news, the stories its advertising, to play her favorite radio stations, etc. So unlike the other system, it at least provides benefits in the meantime, too. Depending on your needs, that might be either a good option or supplement.
posted by ldthomps at 7:35 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your answers so far. I ended up marking them all as best answers because they all answered facets of my (convoluted) question! If you have any other ideas, please let us know. Thank you!
posted by widdershins at 7:06 AM on August 23, 2019

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