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Published October 24, 2010, 12:05 AM

Bursack: Medical alarms offer help in case of emergency

Dear Carol: My mom takes care of my dad, who has Parkinson’s disease. She does a good job, though I know it’s hard for her.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

Dear Carol: My mom takes care of my dad, who has Parkinson’s disease. She does a good job, though I know it’s hard for her. I worry about what could happen if she fell or had a heart attack while she and Dad are alone. They have neighbors, as they live in an apartment, but still it could be hours before anyone knew something was wrong. She’s proud of her work helping Dad. How do I help her understand this isn’t safe? – Barney

Dear Barney: You are right to be concerned. Any older couple caring for one another, even without taking Parkinson’s disease into consideration, would do well to consider a medical alarm service.

In your parents’ case, depending on your dad’s cognitive ability, they may each want to wear an alarm activator. These alarm activators generally come in bracelet and necklace styles. If someone needs help, he or she pushes a button on the alarm. The signal goes to a dispatcher who then calls a pre-arranged backup person. That person checks on the situation and then can call 911 if necessary.

Several of the elders I cared for wore alarms. In the case of my neighbor, Joe, I was called by the dispatch service shortly after leaving his home. He’d fallen, and in this case, he’d broken his hip. I was grateful he had that alarm, as I wouldn’t have known he was in trouble until the following morning when I checked on him.

My mother also wore an alarm. Since she fell regularly, the dispatch service probably would have had me on speed-dial if that service had been available. Mom would have had to move to a nursing home much sooner than she did if it weren’t for the alarm she wore.

It’s possible your dad is not cognitively able to use an alarm. Even in that case, if your mother had one, it could be very useful. She needs to think of other people. Since they live in an apartment, you could ask her how she’d feel if she fell while she was cooking. If she couldn’t get up, the hot stove could start a fire that could not only harm her and your dad, but also neighbors.

Perhaps if you approach her with a scenario of this type, her concern for others may overcome her pride and she’d consent to subscribing to an alarm service. If you can’t convince her, ask a friend, or the doctor, to try. She could be putting herself, your dad, and others at risk.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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