How To Feel Safe at Home with Personal Response Systems: Home Health Aide

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A personal response system (PRS), sometimes called a PERS (personal emergency response system) answers the need of many older Americans for both security and independence. Many organizations, including the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), encourage their use, but for the consumer choosing from among the many brands on the market, buying a PRS can be confusing.

What is a PRS?
A PRS is a relatively simple tool to help keep the user in contact with friends, family, and, if needed, emergency services. Each system has three elements: a portable radio transmitter (help button), a console connected to the user’s telephone, and a response center to monitor the calls. In case of an emergency (a fall, chest pains, suspected intruder, etc.), the user simply calls for help by pressing the button on the radio transmitter.

The console picks up the signal (much like an automatic garage door opener) and automatically phones the response center (even if the phone is off the hook). The call is routed to the response center where the caller is identified through special coding. The monitoring center’s first response is to talk with the user and verify that an emergency exists. This can be done through two-way voice communication or by calling the user back on the phone. Next, monitors will call responders or emergency services to answer the call for help (even if they can’t reach the user by phone).

The features offered by many PRS providers are expanding at an astounding rate. Some systems now offer services such as companionship – the user just pushes the transmitter button and can talk with the response center for any reason. Other systems offer a speaker phone feature with their PRS that allows the user to answer the phone from wherever they are in the house, preventing accidents and aiding the disabled. Staff at the response centers often receive extensive training in such fields as gerontology and stress management, so they can better serve their clients.

As with any other purchase, seniors should seriously consider their specific needs and budget constraints before deciding on any one system. It is a good idea to get written quotes from several companies before making a final decision.

For more information about specific PRS vendors, check with the office of the state Attorney General, local consumer affairs office, or the Better Business Bureau to see if the company has had any complaints filed against them. Your local hospital may also be a good resource to look into; many hospitals offer PRS rentals, which are affordable and reliable.

For additional general information about personal response systems, consumers should consult the Federal Trade Commission’s report entitled “Personal Emergency Response Systems.” The report is free. Consumers can have a copy mailed to them or can review the information online. To request a copy of the publication, call 1-877-382-4357. The report is also available on the FTC’s website. Visit to view a complete copy of the report

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