Senior Life Matters

Question; I help my parents, but I worry about them when I am away, or can’t get there as often as I would like. What can you tell me about those safety buttons? How do they work?

Question; I help my parents, but I worry about them when I am away, or can’t get there as often as I would like. What can you tell me about those safety buttons? How do they work?


As an adult child we want the best for our family, young or old. As our parents and family members age, we do as much as we can, but we often can’t be there all the time. I want to thank you for all you do for them!

I believe the ‘safety button’ you are asking about is called a PERS, a Personal Emergency Response System. Now you may know what that is, but let me explain for those that don’t. A PERS is usually a button you wear on a necklace or wristband or watchband that you can press and access help. There are many different companies that offer this service. Some common examples that are on TV all the time are; Doyle, Life Alert, LifeLine, ADT, LifeStation, to name just a few. There are MANY of them. In fact one of these companies used to call my house about once a week to tell me my system is okayed and ready to be shipped to me after verifying some information for them. I don’t love the phone calls to my house trying to sell me a system I don’t need. I worry about how many seniors are agreeing to this system and then paying more than they need to for this service.

There are LOTS of companies that offer this service as I said. They mostly provide the same type of service. The cost can be significantly different. Some companies tell you to ‘purchase’ the equipment (for about $400) and then there is a monthly monitoring fee as well. Other companies ‘lease’ you the equipment and a monthly monitoring fee. Some companies provide the equipment at no cost and have just a monitoring fee.

All of these systems work a little differently. Some are a monitoring system which dials to a call center. Once the call center answers, they talk to you though the machine that is attached to your phone line or through the device itself. These systems require a landline phone system. These call centers, then dispatch your family, caregiver or emergency services when necessary. Some system simply call 911 and then the dispatcher responds and sends you the necessary help.

There are some models that are using the cell system that is available to all cell phones, so you don’t need a phone line in the house, but you must have good cell service at your location. My house has very poor cellular reception, so that type of system wouldn’t work at my house. I do have a landline, so I would look at getting one of those types.

Those systems that work with the cell towers, can work anywhere, so may be more portable to the user.

The other issue with the systems that work with cell towers, is that the person answering the phone does not know where you are. If your system works in or around your home, the emergency responders know where you are. With the cell towers, you could be anywhere within that cell tower range, so you may have to give the person who answers your call information about where you are.

I really love these monitoring systems. I feel that they give everyone some reassurance that help can be summoned when necessary. It also gives the senior some minimal support to keep them independent.

I would like you to get the service for as little cost as is necessary and have you and your family comfortable with the system you get. I also want you to use the system when you get it.

In Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties, we are very lucky. There is a provider, who is able to supply our seniors with this monitoring service at a relatively low cost. The Office for Aging in your county have information on their provider and can help you get this PERS in your home. You need to call NYConnects in your county (Chautauqua Co. is 716-753-4582, Cattaraugus Co. is 716-373-8032). They have local staff that can talk you through the PERS offered, what is costs, and how it is set up and installed.

The PERS is designed to allow you to call for help without having to be able to get to or dial a phone. The classic scenario we think of is; “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” but there are so many other situations that it works perfectly for.

I have had seniors tell me so many stories about how they used their PERS. Here are just a few; “My husband was outside shoveling and fell down, I can’t get out to help him”, “The neighbor’s house is on fire!”, “I think someone is trying to break into my house”, “I can hear someone outside calling for ‘Help’ and I don’t know what is going on”. All of these scenarios are situations in which a PERS can be useful. All the person does is press a button and the response center helps. Now certainly if you can dial 911 you can absolutely do that and get the help you need. Sometimes you can’t get to a phone, or it is in the other room, that button on your wrist or around your neck is the quick response to help that you or your family may need.

It also can be used by your family or friends. I have had stories told to me of family being at the house or coming to visit and finding their loved one in a bad situation. They can just press the button and summon help without leaving their side or looking for the phone.

For family members it helps us ‘sleep better at night’, knowing that mom or dad can get the help they need when they need it. Just be sure that they are wearing that pendant. If the pendant is left sitting on the counter, or hanging on the bedpost or in the bathroom on the vanity, it is NOT going to be near them when they need it.

I have had seniors who put a hook near their door, so they hang it up when they leave and put it back on when they return. That works fine as long as you remember to put it back on. If it is hanging on the hook near the door and you fall on the stairs, it will be no help.

Using a PERS system is almost always one of my first suggestions if the seniors I talk with don’t already have one. It is a quick and easy way to get some extra support. It is also affordable for most. If you look into this option and feel it is too expensive, call Office For the Aging, they may have some help available to help you pay this monthly monitoring fee.

As with everything we buy, paying more does not necessarily mean you are getting a better service. There are some with extra bells and whistles and that may make it worthwhile for you. There is also different technology is each system. Some systems ‘detect falls’, or can be used anywhere you are (home, the store, your daughter’s in North Carolina). Other systems are more basic and work in your home and the outside of your home (usually 500 feet or so from the house).

I recommend researching your options a little bit and then talking with your family. I think the systems are definitely a great tool to make your parent’s home a safer place for them to be.

To contact Janell Sluga, GCMC with questions or concerns, please call 716-720-9797 or e-mail her at