ELDER MUSIC: I Won’t Dance
TGB's New Storytelling Feature and The Alex and Ronni Show

Live Alone? What's Your Help Plan?

EDITORIAL NOTE: Well, that was a landslide on Wednesday. Just about everyone voted yes for adding a storytelling component to Time Goes By and so it shall be.

Give me some time to sort out the logistics and get the back end arranged and then I will formally announce it. What a whole lot of enthusiasm you have for this. I'm looking forward to it..

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Not too long ago, TimeGoesBy reader, PiedType, whose blog title is the same as her signature, suggested a story topic:

”How 'bout a post asking those who live alone how they plan to call for help if necessary?” she asked. “Smart watch, home assistant device like Alexa, pendant monitored by paid third party, cell phone or regular phone, regular calls or visits from someone, security cameras, etc. So many options, none of them perfect. I'm curious what others are doing.”

It's a good idea for us to discuss this but let me say up front that if Alexa is indicative of how well such types of assistant devices work in general, don't rely on them for help in an emergency. Too often, my Alexa answers a request with, “I'm sorry, I don't have that information.” Plus, I don't believe Alexa and its competitors are intended – at least, not yet – for such use and although most can be programmed to dial a landline or mobile phone, they cannot yet dial 911.

PiedType also mentions monitoring cameras, often called granny cams. That is a fraught topic all by itself. Too many articles and providers pay only lip service to privacy questions. One such report assures the adult child that

”...with the right technology, you can check on her every few minutes or see where she is moving or if she stops moving.”

Let's save granny cams for another day. PiedType's question is what are we who live alone each doing to call for help should it be necessary.

A review of the online literature about help services mostly turns up dire warnings about how risky it is for old people to live alone. They don't state that explicitly, they just list all the awful things that will happen: medication overdoses, depression, anxiety, malnutrition, falls, social isolation, forgetting to pay bills and more.

The suggested remedy is to move into assisted living or with family. (I don't want to get wound up on a side-topic today, but it infuriates me when the first assumption about old people is that we are dysfunctional or incompetent.)

Most commonly, people use medical alert systems, wearable devices that with one touch can call, via a base unit in the home, the dispatcher who then summons emergency services or a designated friend or family member.

Not so long ago, they worked only via landline but nowadays you can choose home-based service and/or cell-based with GPS technology for when you are away from home. There are more features for additional fees and an important one might be an automatic detector that can sense falls and call the service without you pressing the call button.

The companies that provide this service are many. The best overview I found is from Consumer Reports. In an article from April this year, they tested nine systems and report, including photographs, on available features, price, types of systems, languages, battery life and contact information.

It's trustworthy information but it is always important to do your own due diligence too, check thoroughly and talk with people who use the devices.

For the past few years I've had a daily email check-in system with a friend. We each email the other every morning and evening, and we have one another's personal contact names, telephone numbers, etc.

Our deadline is 10AM and if there is no email by then, we contact the designated persons. It's not a perfect system. Undoubtedly you already have worked out that if something happens at – oh, say 8PM, after the evening email is sent, and you can't reach the phone, you're stuck until 10AM the next morning when your buddy hasn't heard from you.

Nevertheless, it works for the two of us for now but I suppose it depends on one's physical capabilities and, importantly, one's tolerance for taking chances. In my case, I know I can't cover every contingency in an imperfect world and I'm going with this until I change my mind.

In addition, I am working at remembering to take my cellphone into the bedroom at night. I can't tell you why that is so difficult for me but it is.

So that's one safety aid – setting up a system with a friend.

Not all by any means, but some senior centers have a daily check-in system members can sign up for. It is often free and works a lot like my personal system – they call whomever you have designated if you don't check in by whatever deadline is mutually agreed upon.

I have heard of one Village (see Village to Village Network for more information on Villages in general) that provides such a service and others may also. There are more than 200 active Villages in the United States (others around the world).

According to the U.S. Census there were in 2015, about 48 million people age 65 and older in the 50 states. Of those, the Administration on Aging tells us, about one-third (15 million or so) live alone in the community but I think that certain elders who do not live alone – especially caregivers whose spouse or other family member is incapacitated - could use these ideas too.

Now it's your turn. Do you use any commercial or personal alert systems? Do you have other ideas to share with us? Let us know in the comments below.


Ever since I noticed when talking in a group of women (of all ages) that nobody would know if I died in my sleep, and before I was found the cat would probably eat my face (no longer have a cat) - a good friend, younger by 12 years, texts me every morning. It's a simple check in. She's usually at work, so texting doesn't interrupt her interactions with customers. Sometimes I initiate the text of the morning. And a few days have actually slipped by without our connecting. But we each give a head's up in advance if we will be somewhere else (like when she's going to the beach.) It's much like your system Ronni! And after hearing about a friend's frequent falling, I started carrying my cell phone in my pocket, or at least keeping it within reach...so far haven't had a fall to test that system out.

I take my cell phone with me everywhere, including the toilet since this is, up to now, the only place where I have actually almost fainted, and of course, didn’t have the cell phone with me.
My next door neighbor has my key, just in case.
I hate the idea of having to rely on anyone, but I guess it can’t be helped.

I keep a pay-as-you-go cheap (but very good) Tracfone in my bathroom, always charged. Just in case.

I think taking your cell phone to the bedroom at night is a good plan. That’s where I keep the charging cord so it’s a no brainer. The previous comment about taking it to the bathroom has a lot of merit too.

I carry my cell phone everywhere in my home, when on errands a small cell phone - not a smartphone. Also, have the alert you wear around your neck but seldom put it on but it does lay on my nightstand at night.
My children 4 none local, 2 out of state and one in Thailand. I email them every morning
to tell them my plans for the day.
Do not know what I would do without my computer which is my main communication and so welcome their notes to me. I moved to my rural area 40 years ago after my divorce,
2 were in college, 2 with me, the youngest was 4. Have left this rural property 3 times and always returned. Built this smaller home 10 years ago. Love it as it surrounded by nature
and enjoy using my camera almost daily. Write a blog about my life and post a lot of nature pictures.
Last Winter I left because my youngest daughter wanted me to be near her.
An upscale independent place 5 minutes from her. I was miserable, it was beautiful but
food awful and I love to cook healthy simple food, lost 10 pounds, came down with Shingles on my face (still has not left) really saw my daughter not much more. I returned
to my country, home end of February and will never leave again :) have a young woman
who comes 3 evenings and helps in the home, watering plants, filling bird feeders, still drive
carefully, market nearby, best walking there holding on to cart.
So this soon to be 84 has a lot going on, balance issue and very careful.
Enough shared, life is good just wish I was like I was 5 years ago when much started changing.

I have medical alert system, pendant and wrist bracelet,good for outdoor range too. Two long time gal pals, hundreds of miles away,but we check in every day by texting. I live in a rural area,small town and if my mail box at top of driveway fills up, my wonderful postal carrier checks in. I ck pick up mail every other day. Local couple friends are primary go to friends for emergencies. Also, in my car, clipped to visor is a 3x5 card written in red, my emergency info, can be seen quickly. Have same card quickly seen on entering my home. My cell phone has ICE numbers for contacts. My home and property are big and isolated and I have many outdoor security measures in place also. I think I have everything covered :-)

I live in a retirement village in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. We are all independent and take care of ourselves. The village has a supervisor, and those of who live alone must call in at 7am each morning. She checks us off and calls, or visits, anyone who hasn't called in. If we're going away, we must let her know. Residents all look out for each other - I walk with a neighbour each morning at 6am or so (we leave a note under the supervisor's door); we all know what's going on in each others' lives, while respecting privacy. I like that. Each resident has a panic button pendant, and if activated it alerts the supervisor, the ambulance and security. I wore it all the time when I first moved in, now I'm afraid it sits on my nightstand. I do usually have my cellphone in my pocket, since I don't have a landline any more. I accept that there is risk in living alone, even in the kind of protected environment I'm in. I'm willing to take that risk.

I've dealt with six cases of friends and/or relatives who were found dead in their apartments (and one case where a friend had a stroke and was in her apartment for several days before she was found - after being on life support for months, her last living relative, a cousin, had to have her taken off life support, because after six months she had not recovered any brain function or response to stimuli.

For me, the answer has been to move in with a friend. We keep each other going, and make sure that medical crap is taken care of before it hits emergency levels. Maybe not a solution for everyone, but it works for us.

The CCRC (continuing care retirement community) where I live has a very simple but effective system. There's a small latch on the outside of my apartment door. It looks useless just hanging there, but every evening before midnight, someone from our security department comes along and stands it up. It stays up as long as the door doesn't move. When I open the door in the morning, it falls back down. Security comes by again in midmorning. If the latch is still up, they check on me. Every apartment door in independent living has its latch.

Until sometime last year, I had never taken a bath (always showers) in the ten years I've lived in my house. I put some bubble bath in, filled the tub, got in, and really enjoyed just lying there, relaxing. Then, when I wanted to get out, I couldn't. The bubble bath had made the tub too slippery to get myself into a position where I could get out, even with several bars around the tub. I finally did, but now I keep my cell phone by my side when I get into the tub. I have a lockbox by my front door, to which the fire department has access, and contains a key to my house.

My home is rural, no near neighbors. But I carry my portable phone around in my pocket at all times. Cell won't work here. If I can't get up after a fall, I just hope that I won't have fallen on the phone. For many years a friend and I check by phone in the morning to make sure all is well. It isn't perfect but so far it has worked. It would be insuffucient for some emergencies like a stroke. But life is not without risk.

Of course, when I fell and fractured my hip, I was in the kitchen far away from my cell phone on the coffee table and my Apple Watch on the charger. I inched my way across the room to reach my cell and call my husband at his office. I survived, but have learned my lesson.

I do not live alone, but am alone all day while my husband is at work. I ALWAYS have my cell with me, even in the bathroom. I charge it next to my bed overnight. I am not very mobile - I use a rollator to get around, so it is very important that I can get help if needed.

I am always open to new ideas and approaches, so bring them on.

A client had a malfunction on her life alert. Firefighters came into her home using lockbox code they had on file. She was naked in the shower when they entered the bathroom. She was fine and embarrassed, but glad to know the system worked.

My dad made use of the daily call in service and cell phone on him at all times until he needed full time care. Without the cell, I wouldn't have know he was in the midst of a heart attack, si that saved his life. After a stroke, nothing helped except 24-7 care and nanny cams with 2 way microphone for communication as he could no longer dial a number.

My life has a lot of risk, but a lot of freedom too. Living rurally, without family, is risky business, and for now, perhaps forever, I accept that. Cell doesn't work here, I am alone walking in the woods, tractor mowing, I've given up the chain saw. My mother lived alone in her home until the age of 83, when she died in her own bed. When I began calling her every day, her words were, "I love to hear from you dear, but don't check up on me, I don't like it."
And I do believe it was from this blog I learned that 50% of elders die in their own homes.

Some friends signed into good assisted living places long before necessary, and I understand that is the name of the game. Because those "assisted living" places, don't want you once you really need some serious assistance.

My 74-year-old friend tells me since her husband died, she's developed a "meaningful relationship" with her two Alexas -- one in her city apartment and the other in her country house. She "chats" with each of them often during the day. Her only worry is some day the two Alexas might talk to each other -- and then they could start plotting a "Skynet" takeover of humans(!)

I live in a modest-size city (where I've been all my life) and luckily, the EMT/Fire department is less than a mile away. I did have to call them one time -- via my cell which I always have near my bed at night -- and they were here within minutes.

Also, I have two younger sisters and they check on me frequently; suffice to say, if I fail to answer my phone longer than a day, I'll be seeing one of them. And that is nice, but sometimes it can be a bit like a chore in making SURE they hear from me. I'm 66, in good health, but it's still comforting to know they are willing to keep tabs on my well-being.

This comment probably segs into another side-topic, but what do you do when you live with someone else, but they won't help you? Not can't - won't.

I have back surgery Feb 2017, and within a week after hospital discharge my husband stopped helping with anything. Cooking, cat care, house cleaning - he won't even carry groceries. Perfectly able bodied, won't talk about it. It's been a very long, painful road back to recovery and now I'm walking a long road of resentment.

I know nothing will change - I will have to give up my financial security, home of 30 years, and start over again. I'm still somewhat stunned, not ready to walk away, just hoping he will die first. There - I said it.

From my experience caregiving (both family and paid) these personal alarms do not help if the elder has hearing loss or any cognitive impairment. They mostly give peace of mind to family members. Case by case I'm sure - if an elder has physical limitations but good hearing and no cognitive impairment, they could be useful.

FYI, a client of mine had a bad experience with [company name deleted] - they automatically renewed the thing on her cc and she was out several hundred dollars when she tried to cancel. Read the fine print on these contracts and don't assume they are looking out for your best interest, they are not. Asking a person with health issues to keep up on this sort of detail is borderline elder abuse IMHO.

IMPORTANT REMINDER: You may not report bad experiences with any company, product or service - profit or non-profit - by name on this blog.

I live alone in a 700 sq. ft. apt. in the same city as my son and his family. My apartment is approximately 15-20 min. from his home. I take my phone, not only into the bedroom, but into the bathroom, especially when I am taking a shower of a bath. I the leave the phone on a stool next to the bathtub so it's within easy reach. I consider my phone my lifeline in case I have an emergerncy.

I have posted this before, but the medical alert has saved me many hours of extreme discomfort and I will not be without it. I realize that nothing is perfect (especially electric devises), but after many falls I am so grateful for the medical alarm pendant hanging around my neck all the time - even when I shower. By the way, leaving it on the bedside table won't do you a bit of good if you fall in the kitchen. I do not wear it to bed after an embarrassing occurrence when I pressed it in my sleep and was wakened by a lot of firemen standing by my bed. But it is within arms reach at all times.

I do not understand Jane's comment about the device being ineffective for those of us with a hearing loss. I am profoundly deaf now and have had to press the alarm button twice when I fell and was without my Cochlear Implant processor. I could not hear a thing, but I was able to press the button and summon help. If you don't answer the voice from the alarm company within a set time they call you on the phone (or notify a designated person you have on file) and if you don't answer they send the EM's immediately.

I can't remember now how many times I have had either the fire department or the EM's at my house since having the device installed. I have a very poor sense of balance and the floor and I are very familiar with each other.

The alarm company always notifies my daughter if they receive a signal from me and it's a double precaution. She comes right away.

Believe me, this little pendant has been a life saver for me and has allowed me to stay in my home. It is one thing I will never give up. I have had one ever since I broke my hip when I was alone and not near a phone. Crawling on my stomach to reach a phone meant that I didn't get help for 9 hours of pain. Since then, there have been two times when I was in a painful situation and was so glad that I knew help was on the way.

The company has been reliable and there have been a few times when I thought they were slow to respond, but when you are hurting a minute can seem like and hour. Maybe I was just too impatient.

A friend used to exchange e-mails with me every morning and when she didn't hear from me would come to check on me, but when my daughter moved in we stopped doing that. After my daughter moved out we never started that safety feature again.

I have a hate-hate relationship with my smartphone so I rarely take it anywhere unless I'm leaving the house. My husband and I are still "mostly mobile" and we have each other. Not sure what I would do if he predeceases me. I hope I would still be able to handle the basics including cat care with some help.

We have an adult son who lives about 3 miles away if we need emergency assistance. We check in with him (or he with us) every other day at least. My husband and I live in a 55+ manufactured housing community, and I think our neighbors would notice if they didn't see us around for a day or two. We're not close friends with anyone but we do keep track of who is coming and going (or not).

So far, I reject being "monitored" from afar by anyone so would likely never voluntarily sign up for one of those systems. (Actually, truth to tell, I hope I die before I become completely disabled and/or dysfunctional!)

Wow, that last sentence definitely sounds like a "Debbie Downer" moment. What I meant was that I'm essentially a pretty private person and not good at depending on others for my basic needs. So, I hope not to linger long in a position where that has become necessary.

Thank you Ronni for stimulating all of this 'food for thought' and the many good ideas in the comments.

I have just a couple of ideas I didn't see mentioned and like many on TGB I live alone.

Regarding phones: I keep a land line because when we lose power here in Portland the cell phones don't function. The phone I have is a base unit with 2 two portable extensions. I keep the base in the bedroom, one extension next to my electric lift chair and one in the kitchen. It saves hurrying via a walker to answer the ringing phone before it skips to the message service.

I also keep a small inexpensive cell phone with no bells and whistles (thus affordable) at $12. per month in the pocket of my walker whenever I go out. I move it to the front seat of the car when I'm driving and be certain it is charged and turned on. Just a point of interest; you can use an old cell phone that is charged to call 911 even if you are NOT signed up with any service provider.

And finally is this; My house is in a residential area near a school with homes close together and a very pleasant neighborhood most of the time. Lately there have been more break-ins in this area. This TIP from another vintage lady is a good one. I now keep my spare car keys at my bedside. Should I hear the noise of someone breaking into my garage or front door I could tap the emergency button and my faithful old buggy would set up quite a howl!! Hopefully that would discourage the faint of heart robber, I could lock the bedroom door and call 911.

Read every one of the comments above and learned a lot. I too am learning from (Hard) experience why an alert system is necessary. And I too am unhappily acquainted with the floor as am also way less sure-footed than in the past ... especially since major surgery a year ago where they kept me in a 4-day chemical coma after the surgery. The meds they gave me to keep me in the coma seem to have really dulled my brain and my balance terribly. Now carry a "dumb" phone around everywhere I go and keep it by my bedside at night.

Learned my lesson the hard way when I fell again 2 months ago and broke my right wrist and hit my head and got a concussion. Had to scoot across the floor on my bare butt while stabilizing my broken right arm with my left hand in order to reach my phone!

By the way, in case of a power outage, I have an external battery to charge my phone when and if needed and it holds enough power to charge the phone for 10 more hours. They are cheap at Wal-Mart and you can keep them charged up when they need it ... which I have yet had to do. I carry one in my purse when I'm out, too.

I live at Lanier Gardens with five floors of apartments of us folks from 65 to 100. I was given a neck chain which would alert security if I fell in my apartment. I NEVER fall so I filed it under "handkerchiefs/lingerie" and forgot where I put it. In fact I didn't even ask for one until I had knee surgery, the doctor said someone had to stay with me for 24 hours, and I said "No way!"

Four weeks ago I had an unusually horrible form of a rare hemiplegic migraine. After being partly paralyzed and throwing up for a couple of hours I was barely able to walk into the hallway. I staggered toward the laundry room and collapsed. I couldn't move or speak. Someone doing laundry saw this, called security, and they called the ambulance. The resource specialist, Melissa, asked whether I wanted her to call my contact person to meet me at St Mary's. I have no memory of that. She couldn't understand whatever I mumbled at that time so she decided to call my numbers until she found one person who was reachable: the third person on my list.

If I had still been living out in the country instead of in this marvelous piece of communal independent living God knows what would have happened.

Melissa gave me copies of Yellow Dot paperwork to keep on my fridge and in my car. Since I was unable to tell anybody what medicine I took, the folks at security and my contacts now have copies of that. When I'm in the building, I wear that chain alert I didn't think I needed.

Really appreciate this topic. Have been reluctant to be too specific on the internet about my situation living alone due to reports there are those who scour the net to i.d. such people for less than noble reasons. There could be specifics better left said in a less public forum, depending on ones housing setup, or just to be discussed generally.

With this in mind, in fact, I have arranged to be able to do just that as an aspect of a program I proposed for our local Sr. Center’s offerings this Fall. Those living alone in group apt., other close housing type situations, defined retirement communities can have some different needs/safety concerns than those in single home all-age residential communities, sometimes.

I have both cell phone and landline with portable phones. The cell phone is nearby, kept bedside at night, and goes where I go when I leave the house. At home, a portable phone is always within reach, including if I were to end up on the floor, also goes with me to the bathroom. This works for me in preference to an alert system on my body. I have retained both phone systems because all cell and smartphone connections are still not as efficient for emergency 911 calls.

For example, when I had occasion to have to call 911 from my cell phone outside my front door at 1 A.M. returning from a trip, the call went to a nearby city (not my own where I was). They were unable to pinpoint my location, unlike if I could have called them from a landline. With the cell phone I had to be able to speak (what if I fainted or went into coma, had a stroke and couldn’t talk intelligibly, or my thinking and memory went kaflooey). I had to tell them the address of where I was — not so with a landline as that system shows them. Once I gave the cell operator my location, they then transferred my call to my city and they sent the needed assistance. Time lost — not a lot since I could speak — but seconds/minutes can make a difference as to the severity of some health matters and even life and death.

Anyone relying solely on a cell or smart phone needs to check whether or not the cell’s emergency 911 system has been upgraded to pinpoint their location as the landline system can —for other than just the nearest cell tower. Of course, if your emergency happens elsewhere when you’re out and about with your cell phone, who knows what system works there.

Recently as was all over the news, a young man was accidentally trapped in the back of his car, called 911 on his cell phone, talked several times to emergency operator but he didn’t know his exact location. They could only pinpoint the unearest tower his cell phone pinged off of. Tragically he suffocated as they couldn’t find him.

I have no system of daily checks on my status since any such close friends locally with whom I would have had such an arrangement are long gone. There may well be such a program I could arrange through our Sr. Services, but I haven’t explored it. A close friend, younger, lives an hour away, but we usually talk weekly, email erratically in between. I declined her earlier concern she should regularly check on me as I told her, she and husband had all they could handle then with her 90+ aged parents trying to live independently on the opposite side of So Cal from my friend. The parents have since died, but my friends older now, too, and need to focus on their own increasing needs I feel and not take on feeling responsible for me.

I have been tracking and had some contact with a needed local Sr support system as it began more than a decade ago for those Aging In Place. Our city supports this and is an area-wide setup to which people can volunteer and join for $50 a month. So far I haven’t felt the services to be needed or cost effective for me, but could become an option in the future.

In the meantime, as I mentioned above, I’ve been instrumental in the creation of a future activity our Sr. Center has enthusiastically embraced that will dovetail with what the other group is doing, but provide for those who might not join, whether or not due to cost. I anticipate making more direct contact with locals living as I do in my home, sharing some of the issues we’re talking about here. Referring all to posts and comments on some of related topics here would likely be of interest to those individuals I would think, even if they aren’t bloggers per se.

Some good ideas, so thanks to all sharing here and to you, Ronni, for continuing the discussion on retirement living options — in this case, aging in place.

My wife and I live in a 200 unit condo wher we have set up an “Aging in Place” group. We have irregular meetings and socials, but mainly devise strategies to look after each other. We contact one other resident every morning by phone or email.
We spend the summer at a cottage on an island about 8 miles from the nearest harbour so our physicians are beginning to lecture us on how long it would take to reach help. The nearest hospital is 30 miles from the harbour. Since our cottage is off the grid and we will both be 80 this year, the comments above will lead us to some earnest discussions before next summer.

As I read Geordie’s comment, I have to wonder at what point do we weigh the risks and decide to take our chances .... or decide we don’t want to do so ? That’s a digression for another time, I guess, as this “helps” question important.

I always have my cell phone with me or nearby. It's on the bedside table at night. In the bathroom with and always in the car. It's not 100% but I'm ok with that. I just found on the internet that you can get a medical id bracelet with a small flash drive to store your info if it won't fit on a tag.

I am 63 and making plans for the next 10 or 20 years of my life. I don't have a husband or children so who will take care of me when I'm old is a concern. I've read Joy Loverde's book. I've also read Willma Willis Gore's book about moving after age 60.

I think it boils down to community? Creating a community of people who check in on you, whether formal or informal, will be included in my plan. And, technology, certainly helps as long as you have the marbles to use it. Dad had a stroke and could not use a phone.

Great topic! I've enjoyed reading the responses.

joared, I see your point. We cannot cover all the bases and I'm not even sure I want to. At 81, sooner or later I'm going to die of something, but I hope it won't be of worrying about what that might be. I try to take reasonable precautions, but being under constant surveillance of any kind just isn't an option for me--and I don't think it ever will be as long as I have even a few functioning brain cells. I hope/intend to maintain a degree of control up until the end, and part of that is NOT to become totally enmeshed in "help" systems.

Belatedly, I want to thank Ronni and everybody for this great information. I'm going to bookmark this particular post for future reference. So many good ideas here. Some I'd thought of, some not. As for me, I mostly try to keep a phone close by at all times. I hate paying for the landline in addition to the cell, but it's still necessary here for 9-1-1 location. Also have two home assistant devices, in the living room and bedroom. True, they can't call 9-1-1 but they can call regular numbers. As long as they can hear you, they'll respond. I can now be heard from anyplace in my house. So if I can speak, I can call my son or someone else.

My plan? Hope for the best while dreading the worst; all such systems & plans & places for seniors that do all of the above in my area cost an arm and a leg. (If you could even get your spouse to agree to use such help in the first place...yeah, right, hahahaha!)

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