What can I do when an emergency response system is refused?
January 13, 2020

Joan Hatem-Roy, Chief Executive Officer

Q: My children and I are concerned about my stepmother. She continues to live in her own home alone since my father passed away. She still appears to be mentally sharp but has had falls in the past few years. Fortunately she hasn’t been seriously injured so far. I have mentioned it might be a good idea to get an emergency response system but she doesn’t think this is necessary at this point. We live quite a distance away and don’t get to see her on a regular basis. Is there anything we can do?

A: While your concerns may be justified, you did state your stepmother appears to be alert and capable of making her own decisions. This may turn out to be a wait and see situation. Our staff often encounter similar situations where family or friends are of the opinion an elder needs assistance and the elder feels they are perfectly capable of functioning without outside assistance, or as they may see it, interference. As long as the person is competent and not presenting a clear danger to themselves or others, services can’t be forced on them.
Try and look at this from your stepmother’s perspective. Most older adults want to preserve their independence as long as possible. They may possibly understand eventually a decline in health may make it necessary to accept help. Until they can no longer function on their own, they may not even consider suggestions made by concerned individuals.

An emergency response system may be advised, so don’t completely give up on this idea. You might gather information about the products available in her area and send this to her. Mention you realize she isn’t interested now but you wanted her to have the contacts for the future if she is ever feels a need. Do some research on what services are provided in her town by contacting the Area Agency on Aging (1-800-677-1116). If you know any of her neighbors living close by you might ask them to discreetly keep an eye out for any problems they notice. Unfortunately this could be a situation where you may need to wait until a crisis occurs before your relative will agree to assistance at home.


Are you struggling caring for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our staff is available for a no-cost consultation, set up at your convenience, to help guide you through your caregiving experience. For more details or to schedule an appointment, please call 800-892-0890.

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Please direct your correspondence to or Elder Services of Merrimack Valley and North Shore, Inc., Age Information Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of Merrimack Valley and North Shore.

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