Thanks to healthier lifestyles and advances in medicine, Americans are living longer, including individuals with disabilities. Older and disabled individuals want to live independently, in their own homes if possible, but they have increased safety and security needs.

Family members and friends who act as caregivers are the key sources of help and support, but the responsibilities can be overwhelming, especially if they live some distance from their loved ones.

The development of affordable, smaller and feature-rich personal medical and safety monitoring systems is giving older and disabled customers easy and immediate access to assistance if they need it. Caregivers are breathing sighs of relief, knowing their family members or friends are more secure, and security dealers are finding a new source of revenue.

In this article, SDM profiles four individuals and how they and their caregivers have benefited from the installation of personal monitoring systems.

June and her daughter Patty say the monitoring system gives them both a greater sense of security and peace of mind.


Mom Monitored Across Town

Patty was growing concerned about her 85-year-old mother. Although in good health, her mother’s mobility was somewhat limited, her hearing had diminished and she had become more prone to falls.

“When I couldn’t reach Mom by phone, I had to drive across Denver to check on her,” says Patty. “Fortunately, I’d find her well, and learned she simply hadn’t heard the phone. She was adamant about staying in her own home, but I told her I had to find a way to know she was safe.”

An article in a local newspaper caught Patty’s eye. “I had heard there was a system that monitors people’s activity in their own home, sends alerts if the pattern changes significantly and gives them voice contact with someone if they need help, but I didn’t know where to get it,” she recalls. “The article mentioned an ADT service called QuietCare Plus, so I called them.”

An ADT representative met Patty at her mother’s house and talked with them about her mother’s daily habits: What time does she get up most mornings? What rooms does she use most often?

“The rep took time to learn Mom’s patterns so he could recommend the most efficient placement of the wireless passive infrared activity sensors in her home,” describes Patty. “The sensors are small and unobtrusive, and he installed them and the console in about 90 minutes.”

After using the system for a few months, Patty calls QuietCare the “coolest thing on the planet.” She adds, “The base station console has a high-powered microphone, so it can pick up Mom’s voice from almost anywhere in the house if she pushes her pendant call button.

“Initially, Mom was worried that there was something she had to do to make the system work,” Patty remembers. “But I reassured her that all she had to do was go about her normal daily routines. After a day or two, Mom forgot all about having the system in her house.”

The QuietCare computer system tracks residents’ habits and establishes a base line activity level. Changes in that level are noted on the resident’s secure Web site, which caregivers can access with a password and code.

“I can log on the computer anytime to check on her activities and note anything that’s different,” says Patty. “If there’s a significant change, like she remains in the bathroom for over an hour or doesn’t get up in the morning, ADT notifies me or one of my siblings so we can check on her or request emergency services.”

Adds Scott Gurley, ADT’s group director of home health services, “Patty’s experience is typical of many children of aging parents today. A study we did in early 2005 revealed that caring for a skyrocketing elderly population is becoming an ever more critical issue.

“Over 40 percent of baby boomers are caring for an elderly relative, and their No. 1 fear is that an accident or illness will leave their loved one without help for hours,” he notes. “Not surprisingly, the financial and emotional stress of elder care is taking a toll on these family caregivers.”

QuietCare is helping Patty and her siblings give greater care with lower stress. Patty’s sister called her one day after the system had been installed. She was concerned that their mother was not eating properly because the computer had registered no activity in the kitchen the previous day.

“I laughed and told her Mom had been away from home with me all day and was fine,” explains Patty. “I got an e-mail notice another time that the temperature in Mom’s house was below normal. I didn’t tell her the system said her house temperature was low, but I did ask if she had turned on the furnace in the recent cold snap. She thanked me for the reminder.

“There’s nothing worse than being across town from your mother, not knowing if she is all right and not being able to contact her,” concludes Patty. “Now, even if I can’t reach her, I can know she’s safe. What a relief!”

Equipment from SafetyCare, Hackensack, N.J., can be used bedside or from a call button on a wristband, pendant or other location.


Disabled Man Assisted From Afar

“Anthony” had an intrusion alarm system for several years with traditional monitoring, but he was feeling uneasy about his security and increasingly about his safety. Elderly and partially disabled, Anthony worried that if he fell, he would not be able to get to the phone to call for help.

He shared his concerns with a representative from the home health care agency he uses. The rep gave Anthony a brochure about a new home security and safety system called SafetyCare available in his area.

Anthony liked several SafetyCare features: An integrated medical emergency response and intrusion alarm service and 24-hour phone access to nurses, psychologists and other health care professionals. He called SafetyCare, Hackensack, N.J., to sign up for the service.

“We walked him through the service to be sure it was what he wanted, and then verified Anthony had met all his obligations with his previous monitoring company,” says Peter Giacalone, SafetyCare executive vice president. “Based on his location, we then gave Complete Security Systems Anthony’s contact information and they took it from there.”

Complete Security Systems, Marlboro, N.J., is one of SafetyCare’s authorized partners, a group of independent security dealers around the country that offer the system.

“In our interview with Anthony, we learned that he was interested in many of the special services offered with the SafetyCare system that he didn’t have with his existing service,” reports Chris Mosley, president of Complete Security Systems. “He was particularly interested in having a personal emergency response call button and two-way voice communication so he could contact someone right away if he fell or needed help.”

The SafetyCare Family Center (a central station) is monitored by first responders such as nurses, emergency medical technicians and police, fire and emergency dispatchers. In non-emergency situations, clients like Anthony can call SafetyCare by phone to talk with health and safety professionals.

“We have confidence in the SafetyCare monitoring service because it uses the most advanced technology, is staffed by health and safety professionals and is small, so client service is personal and caring,” notes Mosley. “Plus, it gives us a specialized, niche service that appeals particularly to seniors in our residential client base. I think we have the potential to sell SafetyCare to many of our older existing clients, and we can use it to attract new clients.”

Complete Security Systems installed a two-way voice communications base unit in Anthony’s home and showed him how to access service using his pendant call button. The company also converted his existing intrusion alarm system to a new system integrated with SafetyCare. “Setup for both clients and dealers is very simple,” comments Mosley.

Complete Security Systems bills Anthony monthly for the services he selected, including an equipment lease fee, and then remunerates SafetyCare for monitoring. Smaller dealers can reverse the process to save billing costs.

“In the monitoring business today, special services will set you apart from competitors,” states Mosley. “SafetyCare enables us to offer those special services…”

Keith Williams is a senior technician/installer with Schmidt Security Pro, Mansfield, Ohio, which provided an emergency response system that enables a wheelchair-confined client to live more independently.


Independent Living for Disabled Woman

“Sara,” a young woman with cerebral palsy (CP), lived with her parents. Her mother contacted Schmidt Security Pro, a full-service security integrator and dealer in Mansfield, Ohio, for information about emergency response systems that could enable Sara, who uses a wheelchair, to live more independently.

CP, a medical condition that affects body movement and muscle coordination, limits mobility and makes individuals more susceptible to injury from falls.

“Sara’s mother contacted us initially about a system that would enable Sara to summon assistance if no one was around,” says Terri Hamilton, Schmidt Security’s communications manager. “In the process of gathering more information, we also learned that CP made it difficult for Sara to reach her phone.

“The GE Security CareGard system was the perfect solution to both Sara’s needs, giving her a single button to push when she needed help or when she simply needed to answer her phone,” Hamilton explains. “We’ve found the system to be reliable, versatile, easy to install, and most importantly, easy for clients to understand and use.”

Like most of the dealer’s personal monitoring sales, this one was made over the phone. “When someone needs a personal emergency response system, this one virtually sells itself, as long as its features and benefits are explained clearly,” continues Hamilton.

The tabletop CareGard Personal Emergency Response System consists of a base unit the size of an answering machine and a wireless call button that has an indoor range of up to 150 feet to alert an operator when pushed.

Clients have a choice of several call button types, including a wristband version worn like a watch, a pendant placed around the neck on a lanyard or clip-on or wall-mounted buttons.

“We explain the call button options to clients over the phone when they are buying the system,” states Hamilton. “If they aren’t sure which option they want, our installer demonstrates them, and they can choose the one they like best.”

Although most clients select the wristband or pendant options, Sara chose to have her call button attached to her wheelchair where it is easy for her to reach.

The installation process requires an hour or less at the client’s home. After minimal system programming, the installer plugs the base unit power cord into an AC outlet and the telephone cord into the phone jack, tests the system and then goes over how it works with the client.

A key part of this training is explaining the two-way voice communication of the system, and how pushing the call button will bring an operator on the line within seconds.

“We let Sara and her mother know that the system turns Sara’s phone into a speaker phone,” Hamilton relates. “She can answer her phone or call for assistance from anywhere in her home just by pushing the call button on her wheelchair.”

If the monitoring service operator gets a call but receives no answer from the client after attempting contact through the speaker, he or she will follow the protocol sent by the client. “In these cases, Sara and her mother chose to have emergency services called first, and then family members,” notes Hamilton. “Of course, if she’s able, Sara can tell the operator what type of assistance she needs.”

The system is monitored 24 hours a day by operators trained to respond to these customers’ needs. Although the equipment is affordable, some clients opt to pay for it over time in conjunction with their monthly monitoring fee. Because Schmidt Security Pro is a GE Security Pro dealer, the normal two-year warranty is extended to four years.

“Sara’s mother first contacted us about a system that would enable Sara to summon assistance on her own and reduce her worry about Sara’s safety,” says Hamilton. “The system has done that, giving Sara the freedom to live more independently, so much so that she was able to move into her own apartment.”

Rural Folks’ Independence Maintained

The Northwood Deaconess Health Center (NDHC) operates a 12-bed acute care hospital and 77-bed skilled nursing facility and provides a full range of medical services to people in Northwood, N.D., and those in surrounding towns.

For approximately 10 years, the center has offered a “Life Alert Medical Safety” service to give older and disabled people in its largely rural market a way to maintain their independence and still receive help when they need it.

The service placed ITI LifeGard systems in individual homes, and the NDHC monitoring center responded to alarms when customers pushed their call buttons. A total of 20 customers were using the service.

In 2004, the center’s managers were growing concerned about the age of the equipment and the center’s responsibility for round-the-clock monitoring.

When they learned that another North Dakota facility with a similar service had switched to Montana-Dakota Utilities Co.’s MDU Safe-n-Secure medical safety monitoring system with good results, the center contacted MDU.

“We sent a customer service representative to Northwood to talk with NDHC and learn their needs and goals,” recalls Dawn Wetzstein, MDU’s products and services coordinator. “The primary goal was replacing old systems with current equipment. Another was designing a conversion process that was simple and easy for customers. Finally, the center wanted professional monitoring.”

The MDU equipment, which is MDU’s rebranding of GE Security’s CareGard system, was a key selling point with NDHC and with other customers served by MDU.

“Social workers, who are an important referral source, like the simplicity of the system and the fact that it is designed specifically for medical safety uses,” explains Wetzstein.

Conversion of the 20 NDHC customers to the MDU system’s call button and base unit was completed by two MDU representatives and two NDHC representatives in just two days.

“Programming this equipment takes all of five minutes,” maintains Wetzstein. “The most time-consuming part of setup is completing the paperwork for each customer, especially the call list of people to contact in case help is needed.

MDU maintains a low profile in the NDHC service. “We don’t provide utilities or other services in this area, so customers don’t recognize MDU,” says Wetzstein. Customers receive their bills from NDHC.

Although monitoring was moved to MDU’s monitoring center in Bismarck, N.D., MDU dispatchers answer calls as Northwood Deaconess Medical Center. “If a customer is panicked when calling, hearing a familiar name can be comforting,” adds Wetzstein.

A designated NDHC administrator is responsible for demonstrating the system to potential new customers, handling service and installation and training customers on the system’s use.

MDU bills Northwood Deaconess monthly for each customer on the system, including a monitoring and equipment leasing fee.

Since converting to the new system in 2004, the center has been promoting it more actively. Customers now number 30, a 50 percent increase. MDU also is a qualified service provider through Social Services.

“MDU started in the home security business in about 1997,” states Wetzstein, “but we’ve refocused on medical security, because that is a far bigger need in our market.”