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..
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.)
ELECTRONIC ALERT DEVICES
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.
MY SAFETY SYSTEM
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.
A COUPLE OF OTHER THOUGHTS
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.