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History of Personal Emergency Response Systems, told my one installer and now Master Care Partner with ECG

As an installer for the originator of the first medical alert system, I have some idea of its history. The following information is true to the best of my knowledge and is presented here as a bit of a background and not as "gospel". If you really want to dig further into the fascinating background of how all of the medical alert systems came about, you've got the Internet and as everyone knows, "If it's on the Internet is has to be true", Abraham Lincoln. 

History of Personal Emergency Response Systems

People have fallen from the beginning of time and very shortly after the creation of gravity.

You may remember the story of Daedalus, the father of Icarus, who molded two sets of wings out of wax and quills for both he and his son. Overwhelmed by happiness in being able to fly, the unwise Icarus took off into the sky, but getting excessively near the sun; the heat softened the wax so Icarus fell into the ocean and died. This idea of flying is probably too fantastic in the mind of most seniors but reaching too high and falling off a step stool or a ladder is not. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Persons in the year 2000, ages 65 and older accounted for half of all ladder deaths reported to CPSC. In 2002, this population accounted for 16% of emergency room-treated injuries involving ladders".  Other hazards are tripping over a pet or on a throw rug, or falling between the bed and wall. This and more are all very real; with very real consequences. We may live closer to the floor than Icarus was to the sun, but the consequences could be just as fatal; especially if you are forced to lay there for an extended period of time. (The average time for someone to be found after falling is sixteen and one-half hours). It's not just the "I've fallen and can't get up" situation, it's also having the "I've fallen and need help now!" solution. My friend, associate, and mentor in the “anti-fall” and “how-to-get-help-fast-after-you-fall” business, Mr. Tony Dohrmann says, “Gravity is Public Enemy #1; has been and always will be, and especially attacks worse the aging population”.

If you know of or are one of, the 3 million older people who fall and will be treated in emergency rooms this year, with all the talk about remote monitoring and personal response systems you might think this is all new technology. But as with all things, this too has evolved over time. Before we get started with what you must do so you “Don’t Fall for Anything”, let’s take a look at a few highlights from the “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” history.

Philips Lifeline was the first to provide a personal alert service in North America back in 1972, when gerontologist Andrew Dibner, Ph.D., wondered, "What would an elderly person do if he or she were alone and needed help? They’d call for someone, of course, but how?” It seems I was told somewhere (perhaps in my training with Philips as an installer) is that Dibner's “aha” moment came to him while shaving one morning. He was alone, and cellphones weren’t yet invented yet, wondering what if he had an accident in the bathroom… how could he get to the phone? (Before you think that having a cellphone today is your “salvation” and solution in an emergency, remind me to fill you in later on how cellphones are literally thrown far from reach when you fall, you won't always have the presence of mind to “dial” 911 when a home intruder is breaking in, and it’s near impossible to use your cellphone in an animal attack).  

Dr. Dibner imagined his personal emergency response system made affordable and accessible to all seniors and started fostering the idea. After only two years, his idea became reality, when he and his social scientist spouse, Susan, set up Lifeline Systems, Inc.

Working on even more ways to help offer independence for senior adults, the Dibners began selling the Lifeline Systems. In 1972 they pioneered the wireless button and in 1976 Dibner was granted a patent for the Automatic Alarm System.  

None of this evolution of the personal emergency response system (PERS) would be possible without the genius of L. Dennis Shapiro. He took over as director and CEO of Lifeline Systems in July 1978. The organization soon changed its advertising and marketing selecting to target emergency clinics and nursing homes rather than going directly to the patient. In those days, the associations and larger medical firms would buy or rent the Lifeline hardware, and then lease it to their patients. Social workers and other medical professionals were the ones who offered Lifeline to patients and their families and someone like myself would get those orders and install the units. That's mostly changed now because today's technology and greater affordability have switched to marketing directly to consumers online and having a more "relationship marketing" type of assistance by local businesses, advocates, and care partners like myself through companies such as AMonitorForMomDOTcom, PushButtonAssistDOTcom, and AlwaysConnectedCareDOTcom. 

The inventor, Shapiro is maybe most known as a pioneer of PERS innovation. In the testing of radio waves and home security, he drove the improvement of a 24-hour alert system” for Lifeline Systems, and headed Lifeline from 1980 until he resigned in 1988 and remained on as executive until Philips procured the organization in 2006. This is about the time Yours Truly started doing installs for Philips installing and educating subscribers and the public on the advantages of living independently with PERS. 

The famous line spoken in a TV ad by entertainer Dorothy McHugh was, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” which was for LifeLine. (The slogan has been altered slightly to be used by other medical alert companies without copyright infringement). The slogan helped seniors and others at risk to be made aware that they could get a pendant which, when the button was pushed, speak into an “intercom” sort of device that was sitting on a nearby table or counter connected through the phone line and directly to a dispatcher. All of this was now possible without the need to physically get to and dial a phone for help. Now with an emergency such as a fall, the person was equipped with the assurance of getting help in emergencies. Today people young and old wear wristbands or pendants to be safe after school, at college, out on the town, and in the community, and not just inside the home. However, our seniors are still the most vulnerable of our population and the biggest users. Technology has improved also and today the units are smaller, far more sophisticated having more sensitive components, and GPS capabilities to find someone who has an emergency outside their home. Plus units can now detect falls without the need to push a button in the case someone becomes unconscious or is unable to push the button. Peripherals such as blood pressure monitors and ear thermometers can be added to units. Help centers and response time has improved too. 

Once considered only as "fall systems" now promises to richly increase safety and independence; giving peace of mind to the user and caregiver. More sophisticated systems by companies such as Electronic Caregiver boast 24/7 advanced remote patient monitoring with voice technology, full redundancy, total care circle coordination, and seamless connectivity. 


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