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Caregivers Lifeline

By  Cheryl Ellis, Staff Writer 

 

At some point we’ve heard the phrase “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”  This keynote phrase first appeared in an advertisement for a service to help elderly or infirm people get emergency help without having to get to the phone.  Today, a number of companies offer the Personal Emergency Response System (PERS), which can be a tremendous help to caregivers and loved ones.

Each system has slightly different features, but they operate on the same principle.  The handheld remote has a radio transmitter.  When the button is pushed, it connects with a companion unit that is tied into a land line phone.  The signal comes up at a facility, and trained staff dispatch appropriate assistance.

This type of system requires patient cooperation.  Your loved one must be able to understand the purpose of it and how to use it.  If your loved one has trouble acclimating to “gadgets” or has trouble learning new tasks, this system may be too much of a challenge for them.  However, because of its simplicity, someone with mild learning hurdles can be successful in using it. 

For caregivers, knowing that their loved one has autonomy in moving about the home while still being able to call for help can be a stress reliever. 
The company you select will have different service options and commensurate pricing.  When selecting a company, caregivers can “build” a plan that meets their needs. 

Before calling and researching, do a little “dreaming” about the ideal plan.  You may know your budget limitations, but don’t cut costs unnecessarily.  Make a list of the various options that will put your mind at rest. 

Examples of options are:
Prescription reminders
Nationwide and local service
Advanced options on the companion unit (like automatic dialing)
Two-way voice communication

BUYERS BE AWARE

Don’t be sales pressured into in-home meetings or signing contracts if you are still comparing plans. Some companies offer trial periods, but may limit choices. If the limits imposed don’t meet your caregiving needs, move on to another company.
To provide customers with a variety of financial options is one thing, but when plans appear too complex, it may be a red flag. Start with companies recommended by local physicians, senior centers and individuals who have used those companies.

If your loved one is on Medicare or Medicaid, a PERS will not likely be covered. Private insurances also have their rules about coverage. Check with your loved one’s insurance provider(s) to get the most current information, including whether partial or full coverage is possible if a Letter of Medical Necessity would be issued. Consult your tax advisor to learn whether it can be deducted as a medical expense.  In some cases, working with a social service agency may be the key. Finding the right agency is a subject to discuss with your loved one’s caseworker. If there is no caseworker help available, allow yourself to do some Internet searching for agencies that help individuals with your loved one’s condition. Advocate services abound in each county, and searching county Web sites provide good information. 

Each service has its own unit and, should you be unhappy with the company you choose, you may have to purchase another system from the new provider.
Make sure the company representative answers your questions fully.  Go with your intuition and how comfortable you feel with the answers.  Discontinue the meeting if you are being pushed to start the service right away or the salesperson uses “fear tactics” to sell the product. In addition, apply skepticism if a company guarantees a unit is “free or you don’t pay.” Knowing what your insurance will and won’t cover is the best defense to this type of presentation. 

CONSIDER YOURSELF AND OTHERS

If you have more than one family member who would benefit from a PERS, inquire about discounts as well as service options. You may need more than one land line for each unit, which will change your costs. Discuss the possibilities with your phone provider since some land lines can be set up for outgoing calls only.
Caregivers with health concerns may want to take advantage of a PERS device.
As a caregiver, if your loved one is unable to help in an emergency, you can consider a PERS for your own use.  Some units are programmable to notify a specific party such as a family member or local 911, bypassing the telecare provider.  If your loved one is able to communicate in an emergency situation, they can activate their own unit and get help if you need it.  However, it’s important to factor in how your loved one responds under stress.

EVERYONE CAN BENEFIT

These systems have diverse applications. Loved ones who are homebound on temporary disability but not qualified for nursing services can feel comfortable when home alone. If your loved one is chronically ill and has a gap in companion or nursing care, the PERS will help caregivers over the time between shifts. 
For those managing long-distance caregiving, the system can offer peace of mind  between phone calls. The system works well in tandem with other resources such as geriatric or other professional caregivers. In addition, professional caregivers can reinforce how valuable the system is to your loved one. 

Caregivers spend a great deal of energy caring for their loved ones. It may take time and research to find a company that will provide the service and concern that matches your own.

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