Fall Preparation

One in three adults over 65 fall each year. Older adults who have fallen previously are as much as three times more likely to fall again in the following year. The first two weeks after discharge from the hospital is a high-risk time for falls. Most often, people talk about fall prevention. Wearing supportive and proper fitting shoes, eliminating household obstacles like throw rugs and electrical cords, and using a cane or walker to steady your gait are just a few ways to prevent falling.

But what about fall preparation? We prepare for all types of emergencies. We know what we would do in case of a fire or a power outage. We know how we would respond if we were to get into a car accident. Especially if you live alone, it is wise to think about what you would do if you fell and couldn’t get up. Here are a few helpful ideas for fall preparation.

Have a network of people who could check on you periodically or have a friend or relative call each day. The downside of this method is that you could be waiting hours to get the help you need. Also, the person who finds you in trouble may be unprepared to help or be unskilled, which could worsen your injury or cause an injury in the person helping.

Some people rely on their cell phones to call someone if they need help. This may seem like a good idea, but cell phones are not always within reach. Even if you carry your cell phone, imagine what you would do if you fell while getting out of the shower, where falls often occur.

Also, certain situations make it very difficult for people to use their phones. Injuries, like broken wrists or shoulders, make it very difficult for people to get their cell phones out of their pockets. And if a person has a cognitive impairment or is having a stroke or heart attack, it can be extremely difficult to remember or dial a number even as simple as 911.

A solution that addresses each of the potential drawbacks associated with other fall preparation plans is a Personal Emergency Response System. A person wears a waterproof button on their neck or wrist. In the event of an emergency, the wearer presses the button and the call center knows who is in need and where to send help.

The monitoring service communicates over the base unit or button, depending on the device. If the service provider is unable to reach you and the button has been pushed, they call the contact number that you indicated when you set up the system. It can be the number of a relative, a neighbor, or emergency responders.

There are many options to choose from. One option detects a fall and automatically calls without the need for the button being pushed. The wireless system requires no phone line, while mobile systems, with sophisticated locating technologies, can be used anywhere in the country.

There are many companies that provide personal emergency response systems. In most cases, PERS equipment is leased with a monthly service fee. The cost ranges between $30 and $60 per month, depending on the features.

Some companies have used the pretense of offering these systems to scam people. Know who you are dealing with. Companies who contact you first, those with hard sell tactics, and those who resist answering questions or providing company information may be perpetrating a scam. The federal trade commission has information about avoiding a scam under the scam alert section at www.consumer.ftc.gov.

Locally, the Southwestern Vermont Health Care Auxiliary has provided access to Philips Lifeline for more than 30 years. Philips is one of the longest running and most trusted companies nationwide.

Most companies send the equipment to your home for self-installation. The local program sends a trained installer to your home to properly install and test the equipment and to explain how to use it. Technicians are also available if you experience any equipment problem or need new batteries.

SVHC Auxiliary offers funding to help defray installation costs for those may have trouble affording it. To find out more about Lifeline in Bennington and the surrounding areas, call (802) 447-5089.

Some people worry that getting a Personal Emergency Response System signals the end of their independence. In many ways, it increases independence. You’ll have help when you need it. After waiting just a few minutes for help to arrive, you will be composed and less likely to have sustained any unnecessary injuries related to waiting or inexperienced help. It’s your fall preparation plan.

Charlene A. Foster is the manager of the Personal Emergency Response System, which is administrated by the SVHC Auxiliary. For more information, contact charlene.foster@svhealthcare.org. “Health Matters” is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health and public health matters.