Older adults have a higher risk of falling as they age. Studies have concluded that 30% of people who are over the age of 65 fall every year, and 50% of people over the age of 80 fall every year (1). Having some diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (neurological disease that causes muscle weakness), or diabetes creates an even greater risk (1). The danger with falls is that if an individual is not able to get up from a fall and no one is around to help, the amount of time that they are immobile will greatly affect their health as well as prolong the recovery time. 90% of falls, even if they don’t result in injury, have a detrimental impact on the health and well-being of a loved one. Fitting a house with “fall bars” or having an in-home caregiver can help to an extent although these do not help in every situation. A “Personal Emergency Response System” (PERS) can be with you at all times and can help you to alert others when you have fallen, when there is a fire or a burglar in your house, or when you are having an onset of a medical condition and need assistance.

man with personal emergency response system

What is a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS)?

It is a system that lets you call for help in an emergency by pushing a button. A personal emergency response system (PERS) has three components: a small radio transmitter (the device that you have with you), a console connected to your telephone, and an emergency response center that monitors calls.

How does a PERS work?

An individual wears the radio transmitter device around his/her neck or wrist, or holds it (via pocket). When a person falls, he/she presses the button on the device. This communicates with the console which is connected to the user’s telephone. When the user presses the button on his/her device, the console automatically dials one or multiple programmed emergency telephone numbers. This call is picked up by an emergency response center which monitors these calls. The center staff identifies the caller, determines the nature of the emergency, and then calls the emergency contact and/or emergency personnel.

What costs are involved?

This device can be purchased, rented, or leased. Device prices begin at $200 and can go all the way up to over $1,500. The cost of the equipment and service will depend on which service you choose. If you decide to get your system professionally installed then you will need to budget for it as well. Additionally there is a monthly monitoring charge that range from $10 to $50. Some service contracts will also have a cancellation fee so be sure to research this before you sign.

Adult hand holding a personal emergency response call unit

Can I set up the PERS or does it have to be professionally installed?

Many systems are designed to be installed easily however each device is made different, so do research before you purchase as it may save you money.

Are PERS covered by Medicare, Medi-Cal, or insurance companies?

Typically not, but if you have enrolled in Medicare Part B and have a prescription for a medical alarm, then there is a possibility that this service would be covered. Sometimes a health insurance provider will reimburse you after you initially pay the total cost up-front.

How do I know if I need a PERS?

Please answer the following questions as truthfully as possible. Answering “yes” to one question does not mean that you need a personal emergency response system, rather it should initiate a conversation amongst family members, yourself, and your doctor as to whether its use is appropriate in your situation.

  1. Are you in the home frequently?
  2. Are you outside and need a system like a necklace or a bracelet?
  3. Do you go to a specific hospital?
  4. Who is your emergency contact person?
  5. Are you on a Medicaid (also known as Medi-Cal in California) program that might pay for a system?
  6. Is English your primary language?
  7. Do you need medication reminders?
  8. Do you have someone who checks on you now?
  9. Are you concerned about falling or have you fallen in the past?

What information will my PERS provide to the emergency response center?

At the time you set up the device, a client information form will be completed. This will contain important information on anyone on the contact list but also will include medical conditions, allergies, prescribed medications, doctors’ information, and any special instructions for medical personnel. If no one on the contact list can be reached, then emergency services in the area will be dispatched.

Who operates the “Emergency Response Center” and where is it located in proximity to my residence?

There are two types of emergency response centers: provider-based and manufacturer-based. Provider-based centers are usually located in the users local area and are located inside of hospitals or social service agencies. Manufacturer based centers usually operate from one national center. Most emergency centers are available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week including holidays, but be sure before you buy a personal emergency response system that you find out what emergency response center the system uses and what the hours are for that center.

How will emergency personnel get into my residence?

The emergency response center will try to contact any caregivers, friends, neighbors, or family members that are programmed into the contact list that have a key to your home and then have them meet the rescue team at the home.

If I am in trouble, and am not in the same room as the PERS console, how will I be heard?

Most PERS consoles are quite sensitive, and in an average sized home the emergency response center is usually able to communicate with you regardless of the room you are in. If it is not possible to communicate with you, medical emergency professionals will be immediately dispatched to the home.

Can this device work outside?

Most personal emergency response systems have a range of 200 to 400 feet. Since communication will not be possible while you are outside, paramedics will be dispatched immediately to the house. When you first purchase a personal emergency response system, it is a good idea to test the coverage range of the device.

personal emergency response system bracelet on wrist

What happens in the event of a power outage?

Many personal emergency response systems have a battery backup that will operate the unit for several hours during a power outage. When power is restored, the battery begins to recharge so it will be ready for future power outages.

What other features does a PERS offer?

Many times these systems will include a daily reminder notification regarding medications and appointments. Some systems also feature handsets which are hearing aid compatible, a flashing keypad for incoming calls, oversized keypad numbers, and hands-free capability.

What technological improvements in PERS devices can I look forward to?

Companies who make personal emergency response systems are currently testing devices that have the capability to detect an individual physically falling. The device is worn around the torso and picks up accelerated body signals as a sign of a fall and automatically transmits and alert for help. Development is also taking place for devices which use wireless security sensors which monitor regular patterns of behavior through micro-door sensors, motion sensors, and door/window sensors. All sensors communicate with a central security protected two-way page modem. This system also provides a password protected website where caregivers can log-in and check-in on loved ones. The door sensors of this system can be used to detect if someone with Alzheimer’s is trying to wander from the home. Some of the sensors for the kitchen can also help monitor the individuals eating habits to make sure the individuals has adequate nourishment and track which foods they are eating.

Where can I get more information about PERS?

Federal Trade Commission – (877) 382-4357

Better Business Bureau – (888) 983-3122 – (866) 824-8174