Happening Hero: Jim Reidy

For Palm Beach resident Jim Reidy, the necessity was to develop something that would enable the home aides to know when his 101-year-old mother-in-law was attempting to leave her bed. Several years ago, she was frail and prone to falling. She had injured her back falling against her bed, and current technology would only detect her movement once her feet hit a pressure-sensitive pad on the ground.

“By that time, it was too late. If she tried to get out of bed, she would have fallen again,” Reidy said.

Reidy developed a device to solve the problem and named it the “Wander Alert,” which works by sounding an alert when his mother-in-law would break the light beam emitted from the infrared proximity alarm. A combination of pre-existing components, the Wander Alert is about the size of a digital camera mounted on a tripod stand. Reidy incorporated several, commonly available parts to make the Wander Alert portable, lightweight, easy to manipulate and effective.

Now, whenever the patient moves to exit the bed, the movement breaks the light beam, setting off the alarm, and aides are immediately notified. The system took Reidy approximately five years to research and develop. The design, originally comprised of PVC plumbing parts and cardboard visors, was modified to include vinyl shields that limit the beam’s field of motion to a six-inch-wide view. The result was a success.

“She has not fallen since the Wander Alert has been stationed at the end of her bed,” Reidy said.

For others in similar situations, Reidy will make the Wander Alert available for $50 each through Clinics Can Help, where he volunteers. Proceeds from each sale will benefit Clinics Can Help, which accepts gently used and new durable medical equipment from individuals and companies and makes it available to patients who may not otherwise be able to afford such expensive equipment for their physical recovery.

The Wander Alert is not Reidy’s first invention. He patented a hair dryer holder, manufactured 2,500 units in 2010, and tried to sell them on eBay. While he does not count that invention as a success, it did not stop him from fixing, modifying and improving other things by incorporating technical systems to make life easier for both his mother-in-law and his sister, 62, who has coped with rheumatoid arthritis since the age of two. Reidy has had lots of time and plenty of opportunity to create solutions for those in need.

“I’m not sure that I necessarily invent things, as much as I find solutions to problems. As my mother-in-law had more problems moving around, I found more solutions,” he said.

Reidy lives in Palm Beach with his wife, Pat.