Forget Me Not: Keeping elderly independent

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The goal, it seems, for our elderly loved ones is to live and die at home. Independence is a huge deal for senior citizens, and who can blame them for wanting to hold on to self-sufficiency for as long as possible?

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Noelle Leavitt Riley

Nearly five years ago, I tried to convince my Grandma Abby that she shouldn’t drive. To make sure she didn’t get behind the wheel — she loved to tailgate people on the road, and it scared me — I hid her car keys from her. The scene was pretty ridiculous as she searched feverishly for the keys, and where I hid them was even more absurd. I hung the keys behind the drapes on the curtain rod in my Grandpa Bob’s office, knowing that she’d never find them, and if she did, she certainly wouldn’t be able to reach them.

After about 30 minutes of watching her search the house, I started to feel guilty, so I gave in, grabbed her keys off the curtain rod and handed them to her. I never told her I hid them but instead acted as though I found them for her. Bad me!

In a way, I was taking away her independence. I thought I was doing her a favor, but I wasn’t. She drove up until practically her dying day, and she loved the fact that she could come and go as she pleased. Sadly, she passed away two years ago.

I often think about how families deal with their elderly loved ones — how they protect them, how they try to help them maintain their independence or how they inadvertently take it away. Every family deals with a different situation.

I think that people are fearful of what might happen if their frail parent or grandparent fell and broke a hip. What if they fell while alone at home? Who would come help?

That’s why I like what Lifeline offers to the elderly population. My fear now is that I’m going to sound like an infomercial as I complete my column, but I don’t care. I think Lifeline is an important tool that families should consider.

“The Lifeline program is for any individual who is at risk of falling when they’re not comfortable staying by themselves,” said Richard Nichols, EMS manager at The Memorial Hospital.

Lifeline gives seniors an opportunity to live at their house longer rather than going into assisted living or a nursing home, and I think it’s a great program. Essentially, all they have to do is wear a small machine that has a button and a speaker. If they fall or need help while they’re all alone, they just push the button, and a signal is sent to a 24-hour call center.

If they need an ambulance, the call center will send one. Brilliant. It keeps the elderly at home and gives them the appropriate help they need if they fall or require medical assistance.

“The biggest thing is they get to stay home,” Nichols said. “If something happens, all they have to do is push a button, and they start talking to the unit itself.”

It has a 300-foot radius, it’s waterproof and it can be worn as a necklace or a wristband. Installation is $35 with a $35 monthly fee and can be ordered through TMH.

Although my grandma’s experience doesn’t exactly correlate to Lifeline, it is an example of how fearful we can be about monitoring our loved ones’ well-being. I may not be in the elderly age bracket yet, but I know through interviewing and visiting with hundreds of senior citizens in nursing homes that they would do anything to be in their own home. If Lifeline can help a certain percentage of the population reach that goal, then I fully endorse the program.

Noelle Leavitt Riley is the managing editor of the Craig Daily Press and the Saturday Morning Press. She runs the Forget Me Not Foundation with her husband, where they take donated flowers to the elderly in nursing homes to let them know that they’re not forgotten by society. Contact her at 970-875-1790 or at nriley@CraigDailyPress.com.

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