Cellphone can help keep senior safe

DEAR SUN SPOTS: I have an elderly lady friend in Auburn who is in need of a Life Alert system in her home, in case of a fall, accident or fire. She is a diabetic and can't really afford to pay for a system and doesn't know who to ask for help.

She has tried her social agencies and gets no help. Who might she try contacting for this type of system and help her to get a system such as this? Thank you. — No Name via email

ANSWER: To see what options there are for assistance, Sun Spots spoke with John Miller at SeniorsPlus. He confirmed what Sun Spots had already found online: There is not much financial assistance available. While, rarely, private insurance may cover Life Alert or other warning systems if the doctor deems them medically necessary, Medicare does not.

Miller did mention that there is a program to help some veterans obtain such services. For more information, Sun Spots spoke to John McKuen in geriatrics at Togus VA. He said that if a veteran is enrolled in VA health care and his VA primary care provider thinks it's necessary, the VA will cover the one-time setup charge for Guardian 911.

There are two caveats: One, the veteran must be obtaining health care through the VA, not a community provider, and two, there must be a landline phone in the home.

For the remaining population of seniors seeking such services, Miller suggested a solution that Sun Spots had already come up with for her mother that is helpful, if not perfect.

When Mom Sun Spots recently moved into a senior apartment, she didn’t get a landline phone, which costs about $25 a month. Instead, she added Mom to her own cellphone plan for $20 a month. This has several advantages.

Not only are calls to Sun Spots now free, but Mom’s phone is programmed so that any time she wants to reach Sun Spots, or Mr. Sun Spots, she just presses and holds the “2,” or “3.”

The phone is small and light, so she can keep it with her all the time, tucked into a pocket as she moves around her apartment, the building and neighborhood. (For seniors without a pocket, a fanny pack or a pouch attached to a necklace can serve.)

Another benefit: Many new cellphones also have an ICE (in case of emergency) feature. You set that to call the person who needs to be contacted if the senior falls or needs assistance, which means that medical personnel will know whom to contact in case of an emergency.

At night, Mom can keep the phone beside her bed as it charges, so she always has it with her.

For those who don’t want to give up their old home number, it can be “ported” to the cellphone. (For those who opt for a new number, there is a different advantage: All those rotten telemarketing calls go away, at least for a while.)

Using the new phone is a bit off-putting at first, but the major carriers still have very simple phones among all those smartphones. Mr. Sun Spots found one with large numbers and easy-to-read dial, and Mom quickly got used to it and is now a pro at making and receiving calls.

One downside is that there is not yet a system to allow emergency personnel (fire, police and ambulance) to instantly locate an individual based on their phone number the way there is with a landline, so the individual needs to be able to say where they are if there is an emergency.

If you retain your old home phone number, you should be in the database for a while. Hopefully, the cellphone location technology will improve shortly.

Lastly, for those whose finances have kept them from getting any phone at all, the Lifeline program can help reduce the cost for a single phone (landline or cell, not both). To participate in the program, consumers must have an income that is at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or participate in a qualifying state, federal or tribal assistance program.

You can check out the details at www.fcc.gov/lifeline or at www.usac.org (http://tinyurl.com/8u2n833) online (your librarian can help you if you don't have a computer). You obtain the discount directly through your phone line carrier. Just call and ask them about the Lifeline discount.

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Fred Stone's picture


There is a downside to the LifeAlert or similar system, these only work in the range of your phone, in other words if a person has this system and they were living in a senior center and had to go to the on site laundry room or the community room the life alert system will not work. Consequently if they had a medical issue they could not summon help.


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