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How to Talk to Your Parents about a Medical Alert System

Written by | Updated October 30, 2019

Mom had a fall in the bathroom and broke her wrist, and now you worry that it’s just a matter of time before something worse happens. Neither of you is ready for in-home care yet, and a medical alert system would help keep her safe and give you some peace of mind. But you’re not sure of her response if you bring it up.

If talking with your aging parents about health and safety issues leaves you feeling anxious, you’re not alone.

We understand that it’s a tricky conversation to have, so we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to help you talk to the ones you love about the potential benefits of medical alert systems. As you try to understand things from their point of view and share your own thoughts in a considerate way, you can keep lines of communication open, which is a positive thing for everyone involved.

1. Remember: They’re Your Parents, Not Your Kids

Most older adults start experiencing health troubles around the same time their grown children are parenting children of their own or are new empty nesters. This generational situation sometimes translates to adult children treating their aging parents like their kids.

It’s usually more of a subconscious role reversal than an intentional one, but it’s important to recognize when it may be happening and to try to be more of an advocate and a partner than a parent.

Before you approach your parent to propose a medical alarm, try to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine one of your children coming to you to suggest a medical alert system. You probably wouldn’t want them to take on a parental role or treat you as if you needed constant monitoring. Your parent’s response will depend a lot on the amount of respect you show them.

2. Ask Questions to Reach Understanding

The first step toward a strong partnership with your parent is to open lines of communication. Try not to go into a conversation about health and safety with the goal of convincing your mom or dad that they need a medical alert system. Keep in mind that their experiences might be different from yours and that they may have their own ideas and solutions that are just as valid.

Instead, try to understand their current feelings and comfort levels.

Ask simple, open-ended questions like “What do you think might happen if you had another fall like this one?” or “What do you think about medical alert systems?”

Listen to their response with an open mind, validate their feelings without judgment, and ask follow-up questions. “You think medical alert systems are a waste of money? You have a good point. They can definitely be expensive. Tell me more about why you think they’re not worth the cost.”

Pro Tip

For more tips on how to use reflective listening to reduce conflict and promote a positive conversation, check out this article on reflective listening.

After you’ve heard them out, it’s okay to bring up your own thoughts and concerns, but try to frame them as observations: “A friend told me her mom got a medical alert system and now she feels like she has a lot more freedom,” or, “Alert devices are a lot more discreet than they used to be.”

As you discuss, make note of the areas where you and your parent agree so you can build on those points later.

3. Two Heads Are Better Than One

Once you’ve gotten an idea of how your parents might feel about a medical alert system, suggest that you both do some research. If they feel comfortable with the idea of an alert device, your research can include finding out which are the best medical alert systems for your parent’s needs.

Look at Features

Consider features like two-way communication, professional monitoring, and emergency buttons. Other important factors to consider are battery life, whether it’s waterproof, activation fees, and response times.

Encourage your parent to talk to other older adults that use medical alert systems to find out which works for them.

Discuss Questions and Concerns

If your parent’s initial response to a medical alert system is negative, make a list of questions and concerns you both have. Ask your parent to help you do some research so you can both find some answers to your questions.

Set a time to talk again so that you can both stay on track and keep the discussion going. Keep in mind that with things like medical alert systems, sometimes it just takes time to get used to the idea. Be patient.

4. Learn More about the Tech

One reason your parent might be resistant to a medical alarm system is because they associate them with the lady in the old Life Alert commercial who had fallen and couldn’t get up.

Understanding how far medical monitoring services have come and learning about the high-tech features included in today’s alert devices—like GPS location, discreet waterproof pendants, medication reminders, and temperature and carbon monoxide sensors—might open up communication.

5. Consider a Compromise

If time, discussions, and research are still leaving you at an impasse, ask your parent, “Can you help me find a good solution that neither of us has thought of yet but that will make us both happy?”

This approach essentially cancels out both of your positions on medical alert systems and opens a new chapter where you’re working together toward a compromise.

Compromises might include keeping the medical alert system in the bathroom, or only wearing it when home alone.

Or, you might check out alternatives to a medical alert system.

Just remember that there are a lot of points on the spectrum between medical alert system and no medical alert system.

Options for Medical Alert Systems

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How does medical alert monitoring work?

Most home medical alarms operate as a two-way calling device that your loved one can use to call a response center for assistance. Most also come with battery-operated pendant buttons that act as a remote for the home unit.

When the emergency button is pressed, the monitoring center responds. Depending on the response from the home, the monitoring responders will either contact someone from your parent’s emergency contacts or call emergency responders.

What are the benefits of a medical alarm with a battery versus an alarm without a battery?

A mobile alarm with a battery is great for older adults on the go, but a battery-operated device will have to be plugged in to charge, and batteries can eventually lose their ability to hold a charge.

Most pendant batteries connected to a home monitoring unit can last for several years without needing to be replaced, but they can’t be used outside the home. For peace of mind, we recommend having both a mobile alarm that runs on batteries and a home unit that plugs into the wall.

Can I access my parent’s medical alert device through an app?

Many medical alert services offer apps to help you monitor your loved ones. Bay Alarm Medical has a caregiver tracking app that lets you locate your parent and see if their medical alert’s battery is running low.

GetSafe offers a similar caregiver app with its Mobile Help Button. Check with the company you’re interested in to be sure an app is available and to find out if it will cost extra.

Why do I need a waterproof or water-resistant medical alert device?

According to the National Institutes of Health, falls are one of the leading causes of injuries in individuals over age 65, and most falls happen in the bathroom.¹

A waterproof or water-resistant, battery-operated alarm button can be worn in the shower and provide much-needed peace of mind for both older adults and their loved ones.

Written by Kasey Tross

Kasey is a trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member and a freelance writer with expertise in emergency preparedness and security. As the mother of four kids, including two teens, Kasey knows the safety concerns parents face as they raise tech-savvy kids in a connected world, and she loves to research the latest security options for her own family and for SafeWise readers. Learn more

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