Personal Emergency Response Systems Are No Joke!

By Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW

We’ve all seen that campy early nineties commercial featuring the immortal line: “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”  The commercial starred an elderly woman who took a tumble in her home. Mrs. Fletcher was saved because she shouted for help into the Life Alert pendant around her neck, which connected her to a 24-hour call center.

The ad was so stagey and dramatic that it became a much joked about catchphrase rather than something to be taken seriously.

But having a personal emergency response system (PERS) is no laughing matter. Not when you consider that according to the CDC one out of three adults over 65 fall each year, but less than half tell their caregivers about the accidents!

An increasing number of single Boomers younger than 65 might also benefit from an electronic babysitter. Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR) did a study which found that one-third of adults between 45 to 63 are unmarried.

Says Katherine Vanderhorst, MSN, and President of CV Senior Services in Buffalo, New York: “These systems provide peace of mind and safety in a time when there might be no other option. When my mother was 83 she fell in her apartment, cutting her knees, face and hands. She pushed the button on her PERS and someone came immediately!”

With the market for these systems proliferating, how do you find the correct one for your or your loved one’s needs?

Vanderhorst cautions: “With so many on the market, comparison shopping is essential to find what fits into your budget. Some cost a few dollars a month; others $40 monthly.” 

The eldercare advocate offers more advice: Many PERS have specialized features – for instance some possess an ability to detect when the person makes a rapid motion change, which can indicate a fall. Others have GPS tracking abilities, which can be invaluable when the user has dementia and wanders.

Keep in mind that a medical alert system is not the best choice for a person with advanced dementia or other illness that will prevent him or her from being cogent or capable enough to push a button to alert help. In those cases assisted living or fulltime caregiver might be the better (albeit pricier) choice.

Those provisos aside, say you decide this system is a must-have. Before making this purchase keep in mind these points as outlined by  A PERS must:

           * Be UL-certified (Underwriters Laboratories, non-profit safety and

          consulting company).

          * Be compatible with the home phone system.

           *Have a battery backup in case of a power outage.

           * Have a long range from the phone’s base unit.

           * Be issued by a firm that has a unique monitoring center complete with trained emergency operators.

           * Be usable with a cellphone as well as landline.

Technology is constantly improving the capabilities of these life-saving wonders. For instance, many PERS now are personalized to a user’s specific needs. Some can call to remind you to take your meds or be viable for a stroke survivor who has the  of just one hand. 

The system you purchase should allow for multiple emergency contacts, as well as have help buttons that can be mounted near the floor in multiple rooms in the event the user isn’t wearing the transmitter on a neck pendant or wristband.

To further assist you, here is a chart featuring the 10 Best Medical Alerts.

PERS have come a long way, baby, since Mrs. Fletcher uttered her cry that launched 1,000 jokes.

There is no better advertisement than Vanderhorst's heartfelt statement:  “My mother survived her fall because of owning a PERS.”

Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW is a NYC-based therapist, speaker and author of 3 books, including "The Complete Marriage Counselor": Relationship-Saving Advice from America’s Top 50-Plus Couples Therapists (Adams, 2010).  Her website is

you may also like

Recipes We