When I worked in the Monroe County Home Care Unit, I visited an elderly woman in an extremely dangerous part of town. I wanted to discuss if her plan of care was meeting her needs. Part of her plan was to have a Personal Emergency Response unit (PERS) so she could summon help from anywhere in her apartment, even if she were far from the phone. The unit was attached to her phone with a speaker so she and the responder could hear each other. “Mary” wore her PERS button at the end of a necklace.

When a young man knocked at her door and said he was a friend of her son’s, she let him in. Very shortly he brandished a knife. “Mary” crossed her arms across her chest, setting off the PERS alarm. She cried “Sweet Jesus, help me!” Within two seconds a voice responded, “How can I help you?” And in the next second, the guy bolted out of her apartment, never to be seen again.


In the latest commercial for the Personal Emergency Response unit, the cries from the elderly actress lying at the foot of the stairs sound frightening. They are realistic enough to make anyone consider wearing a personal alert button!

Take it from Queen Klutz. My neighbor did not see me lying on my driveway after my fall on ice when she drove past my house. Fortunately, I was able to get up on my own and suffered only a mild concussion.

So I am a big fan of personal emergency response for every person needing care in the home. It reassures caregivers that their loved one has only to press a button to summon immediate help while they run errands. A delayed home health care aide or companion does not put your loved one in danger because a PERS functions as a lifeline.

How it Works

The client/caregiver gives the response center vital information such as medical problems, emergency numbers to call (neighbor, family member) who can intervene immediately.  Perhaps they can help the person, without the need for EMTs.

Client/caregiver  informs responders how EMTs can enter the home if there is no one to let them in. For example, I hid our house key for emergency access (and if I locked myself out).

One woman had small children, and she left instructions that if she needed transport to the hospital, her children may be taken to her neighbors.

Besides physical emergencies, several people pressed the alert button because they saw strangers  lurking about. Police were dispatched just as if they had called 911 on their phone, which may not be nearby.

Questions to Ask the PERS Vendor

I chatted with Debra Kostiw, owner of No Place Like Home Senior Care, about questions people should ask a potential vendor.

  • What is the range of the PERS? Will it work outside the home? How far away from home?
  • Does it have GPS capability in case the person wanders and gets lost?
  • Does the service provide a daily check-in? Reminders to take medications?
  • What is the cost per month? (Remember the adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”)
  • Is there an installation fee?
  • When it is no longer needed, how does one return it?
  • Must the unit be physically attached to your phone?

Finding a PERS Vendor Near You

In Rochester and the Finger Lakes region, elderly often turn to Lifespan for information about resources. https://www.lifespan-roch.org/ . I drilled down from the site to find a list of area PERS vendors. No doubt, other venders also serve the Rochester area, and many are associated with home care agencies.


Professionally, and as a caregiver, I believe PERS provides safety for the care receiver while allowing a bit of respite for the caregiver. In an upcoming blog, I will write about another “best kept secret” for families as well as care receivers —adult day care.