Medical Alert Jewelry

Many senior citizens live with health concerns such as arthritis, cancer, asthma, emphysema, diabetes or Alzheimer’s. Some wear medical jewelry to convey information about these conditions in case of an emergency. However, medical alert jewelry comes with its fair share of downsides. Monitoring is generally a better option or something seniors should use in tandem with jewelry.

Rundown of Medical Alert Jewelry

Also called medical IDs or mental health IDs, medical alert jewelry sometimes takes the form of a bracelet, necklace or dog tag but can be a watch or charm. There are also USB keys (flash drives). Meanwhile, key fobs are capable of using QR technology for even quicker information transmission.

With traditional IDs, information about a senior is engraved onto the surface of the jewelry. It may include the name of the senior’s condition, emergency contact information and medications that have been prescribed for the condition.

Downsides of Medical Alert Jewelry

Medical alert jewelry doesn’t always live up to its promise. Here’s a look at why.

  • Emergency personnel aren’t trained to search for wearables.
  • No universal standards exist for designs, text and the like.
  • In some cases, there is too much focus on artistry rather than on efficient communication.
  • The effectiveness of high-tech IDs is overstated (traditional IDs tend to be a better choice).
  • IDs may provide a false sense of security.
  • The jewelry can be prone to breaking and getting lost.
  • The information conveyed may be unnecessary.

The sections below expand on these points.

High-Tech Doesn’t Mean a Better Response

The appeal of high-tech IDs is obvious. For example, a flash drive can store more information than a small piece of jewelry. However, simpler is usually better.

Emergency responders have serious, time-critical issues to manage when they first start working on a person. They check airway, circulation, breathing and other important vitals. If they happen to see a medical ID, they’ll probably glance at it. However, they’re not going to take the time to insert a flash drive into a laptop or to scan a QR code. Many ambulances don’t have the relevant technology or WiFi, anyway. Responders’ focus is on transporting patients and saving their lives. Even at a hospital, it could take hours before someone manages to get the information.

Moreover, high-tech jewelry can be so well-designed or handsome that it passes muster as something worn for fashion. Medical professionals may never have any idea about the information it carries.

Responders Can Easily Miss Simpler IDs

OK, so high-tech may not be the best idea, but traditional IDs are still workable, right? Yes and no. If the ID is placed well (like on the wrist) and is obviously medical jewelry, it could get noticed in an emergency. Unfortunately, many lower-tech IDs still get overlooked.

One reason is because they’re more artistic than medical. They may be just one of several charms on a bracelet or necklace, or they’re colorful. They may look like butterflies, flowers or cars. Paramedics are much more likely to recognize old-fashioned silver IDs that have the snake-and-staff symbol (the star of life).

The IDs May Convey Unnecessary Information

Diabetes can be a genuinely terrifying condition for the people who have it. However, it’s so common that responders carry glucometers. They always check the blood sugar of someone who is unconscious, and abnormal readings will be treated as appropriate. Imagine a patient who has artistic medical jewelry, perhaps even with “diabetes” in a hard-to-read script. A paramedic searching for jewelry and trying to decipher the words is wasting time. This all on a condition that would’ve received the same processing and treatment, regardless of jewelry.

Likewise, conditions such as food allergies don’t need to be on seniors’ jewelry. Responders explain the rationale like this: Allergies have similar symptoms and treatments, so it doesn’t matter what’s causing the emergency. It’ll get processed and treated the same. Heart disease, asthma, most allergies and diabetes fall under the “unnecessary information” category. That said, medical jewelry information such as diabetes could potentially be useful to bystanders who help seniors.

As for what’s helpful to first responders, include any allergies such those to latex or to medications that might be given to a senior. Likewise, include information on do not resuscitate (DNR) orders. Always check with local hospitals and with paramedics in the area about what you need to do to ensure the DNR is followed. You may have to include a phone number on the jewelry so responders can get a copy of the DNR order.

It’s recommended to include information on issues that could render you unconscious and/or kill you (diabetes and food allergies being notable exceptions). One example is if you have a brain tumor. In short, the following information may be wise to put on medical ID jewelry:

  • Allergies to medications
  • Potentially harmful medications such as blood thinners that the senior is taking
  • Potentially harmful procedures to avoid such as Pacemaker-No MRI or Cochlear Implants-No MRI
  • DNR orders
  • Any missing organs
  • Life-threatening conditions
  • Conditions such as seizures that may appear life-threatening but aren’t
  • Alzheimer’s or dementia issues

Medical Alert Jewelry Can Create a False Sense of Security

Seniors who wear medical ID jewelry may think that they’ve dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s. After all, they’ve taken the step of wearing something to help first-line responders. However, as touched on above, that jewelry may never get noticed in the first place, or it conveys information that won’t affect how the responders treat seniors. A false sense of security can prevent seniors from exploring other options such as medical alert monitoring that could more effectively help them.

The IDs May Not Hold Up Well

The jewelry may not be as resilient as seniors would like. Fortunately, many bracelets specifically for seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia are not easily removable.

For jewelry to be most effective, seniors would ideally wear it 24 hours a day. It would hold up to water conditions, including chlorine and salt. Experts generally recommend stainless steel bracelets as the most durable. It’s important to measure seniors’ wrists for a comfortable yet snug fit.

Medical Alert Monitoring as an Alternative

Done correctly, medical alert jewelry may be useful, especially for bystanders in the position to help a senior who has diabetes, dementia or another issue. The jewelry is less useful for first responders, though.

In these cases, medical alert monitoring is extremely helpful. Ironically, seniors wear jewelry of sorts for that—for example, a wristband button or pendant button. They press the button when they need help. One exception is fall detection. If seniors fall and are unable to press the button, fall detection automatically triggers pre-established response procedures.

Medical alert monitoring can be done with home-based systems and with GPS systems for use anywhere, including at home. Seniors can even wear smartwatches that have family communications functions or fitness tracking capabilities.

In any case, medical alert monitoring is an effective alternative to jewelry. When the senior’s summons for help goes out, critical information about the senior is transmitted to the alert company’s operators. Seniors or their family members input that information when setting up the monitoring system.

The operators are able to easily communicate vital details to first responders. There’s no slowdown in response times. No confusion, no muddled specifics, nothing that could potentially endanger a senior’s life instead of helping to save the senior. Operators can convey the senior’s illnesses and medications and much more, and get in touch with emergency contacts.

To be helpful, medical alert jewelry should communicate key information and have no artistic flourishes that potentially muddle the waters. Most of all, seniors and their families should understand the jewelry’s limitations and instead (or in tandem) opt for medical alert monitoring.

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