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What "Grace and Frankie" Taught Me About Medical Alert Devices

After watching this episode of "Gracie and Frankie," I started thinking about how a medical alert device saved my grandma.

Why do people use medical alert devices?

Each year, more than one in four aging adults (65 and older) experience a fall. And for those who fall, the chance of falling again doubles. Further, one out of five falls causes serious injury, which can jeopardize a person’s ability to age in place, get around, and perform everyday activities.

A recent episode of "Grace and Frankie"—appropriately titled “The Alert”—got me thinking about medical alert devices. In the episode, Grace and Frankie’s children are worried about the safety of their aging mothers, so they pitch in to buy medical alert necklaces for the two women. The kids’ initial concern stems from the fact that Grace and Frankie had both spent the previous day stuck on the floor—Frankie’s back went out and so did Grace’s when she tried to help Frankie up. Grace and Frankie are understandably upset by the gesture because it makes them feel like their ability to live independently is being questioned.

Finding ways to cope with getting older is challenging. Aging means facing tough issues like finding purpose after retirement, responding to ageism, and dealing with age-related health issues. These aren’t fun topics to talk about, so it’s no wonder so many people resist using a medical alert system—even if they could benefit from one.

When the time comes to think about medical alert systems, asking a few basic questions can make the discussion easier and more productive.

Would I or a loved one benefit from a Medical Alert device?

After watching “The Alert,” I started thinking about how a medical alert device saved my grandma. We bought her the device when she was living alone after my grandpa passed. It took some convincing to get her to wear it, but she ended up using it after a fall. The device immediately alerted an ambulance to bring her to the hospital. If not for that device, she would’ve been left lying alone for hours, which could have caused serious complications.

Now that my own mother has become a grandma, I wonder when the time will come that she might need to wear a medical alert device. She already deals with some of the risk factors that increase chances of experiencing a fall:

  • Foot pain
  • Weakness in the lower body
  • Home tripping hazards
  • Balance issues due to medication

This is a good reminder that age isn’t—and shouldn’t be—the only litmus test. You need to carefully look at the whole situation and present risk factors before moving forward.

What barriers might cause reluctance to wear a medical alert device?

As illustrated by Grace and Frankie, many aging adults can be resistant to wearing a medical alert device. Here are four common reasons why people resist them:

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  • Embarrassment. Some people are embarrassed to wear medical alert devices. No one likes to admit when they need help, and they might even feel ashamed if they have to ask someone else for assistance.
  • Cost. Some might feel that the costs of medical alert systems are prohibitive because of installation fees and monthly monitoring. Charges for equipment setup and services can run up to $200, with monthly monitoring falling somewhere between $30 and $60.
  • Role reversal. Many aging adults may share the view that parents are supposed to help their kids—not the other way around. It can be difficult to feel like your ability to take care of yourself is being questioned.
  • Aesthetics. Historically, medical alert devices have been somewhat bulky and unattractive, which can be a major barrier to using one every day.

For those who are hesitant about wearing a medical alert device, try talking about the reason behind that resistance. Processing those feelings will help you figure out which solution will be most sensitive to those concerns

GPS medical alert device

GPS medical alert device

What features do people care about?

The first medical alert systems were on the market several decades ago, but today’s models are much more advanced. There are now a host of features choose from.

  • Compatibility with an active lifestyle. There is a common misconception that medical alert devices only work while you’re at home, but that’s not the case. Many companies now offer devices that are compatible with cellular service, Bluetooth, and GPS, so you can use them wherever you go.
  • Caregiver notifications. Most medical alert devices transmit signals to alarm monitoring companies or emergency agencies when they’re activated, but many modern devices also offer notifications for family or friends, too. Some even transmit voice messages between users and caregivers or allow family members to monitor a person’s daily activities.
  • Affordability. Plenty of companies have consumer-friendly policies around cancellation and device payments, and some organizations offer discounts to members of certain organizations like AARP. And while Medicare and private insurance plans don’t typically cover these systems, select plans will offer reimbursement if you qualify and have a doctor’s recommendation.
  • Advanced features. Select medical alert devices offer advanced fall detection, which can distinguish between daily activities and an actual fall. Some devices are also able to call for help automatically in case the wearer is unable to activate their device.
  • Style and versatility. Many medical alert systems offer both pendant and bracelet device styles, and some even offer clip-on models that resemble a cellphone or pedometer. A lot of these devices have improved their design to look sleeker and more discreet. Fashionable accessories like beaded lanyards also help people feel more comfortable including them as part of their daily lives.

How Does A Medical Alert System Work?

Medical alert devices play an important role in the world. From television portrayals like Grace and Frankie’s fall, to my real-life experience with my own grandmother, these devices are saving lives daily. But the real key to their usefulness is whether or not users are motivated to actually wear them. So brush up on what to look for in a good medical alert system and then take the time to sensitively work through any concerns that you or your loved one might have.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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