Lifeline co-inventor makes home at Peoria memory care facility


Photo by Carolyn Dryer
Andrew Dibner is flanked by his wife, Jean, and daughter, Robin, during a visit at Silverado Memory Care Facility. Dibner, co-inventor of Lifeline, is 92 and has been diagnosed with dementia.

Photo courtesy Silverado Memory Care
Andrew Dibner and his son, Steven, share a happy moment during a visit in 2017.

At 92, Andrew Dibner makes his home in Peoria at Silverado Memory Care Facility. That is where his wife, Jean, and daughter, Robin Dibner, met to talk about his invention — the personal emergency response system that has saved countless lives.
When Dibner saw his wife and daughter approach in the wide entrance way at Silverado, his face bore a broad smile. There were hugs all around. Then, a caregiver wheeled him into a room with windows all around and a large table with comfortable chairs.
In 1972, Dibner was a psychology professor at Boston University and a gerontologist when he first thought about a way to help older people stay at home longer and leave a hospital early. He and his second wife, Susan, founded the system in 1974 and in 1976, Dibner received a patent for his medical device.
In 1975, the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for Aged in Roslindale, Mass., and the Boston University Gerontology Center received a grant from the National Center for Health Services Research to test the efficacy of Dibner’s personal emergency response system (PERS). Dibner conducted the study. A positive report concluded the system worked.
From the Wikipedia summary: “The report, which compared older persons living alone with PERS and a control group, showed important reductions in the need for nursing home days, along with enhanced quality of life and savings in the cost of health care.”
His daughter said, “He actually got results. That was when he felt it was right to go ahead and market it. Every nickel he had, he poured into it. He patented it and eventually got a public offering. Those were fascinating but lean years.”
Anna Sarres, administrator at Silverado, said, “The application of personal devices has expanded so much.”
“And the technology of that, it advanced getting people help,” Robin said. “He did not want to market to people who could not use it. At the time, Dad’s original idea was based on a family member who had fallen. He was on sabbatical and pondered what would someone do who could not use it. It was a time-out process at first. That’s how he got the patent.”
In 1986, Andrew and Susan Dibner became the first to receive the Charles A. Dana Foundation Award in Boston. They received a commendation for “Pioneering Achievement in Health for their LifelineSystem of Personal Emergency Response, now bringing greater safety and serenity to 100,000 elderly or disabled people living alone, a creative integration of technology and community that presage other responses to the needs of an aging population.”
Dibner is considered to be the father of Personal Emergency Response Service in the United States.
He has been a resident of Silverado for a year. He and his third wife, Jean, an artist, made the decision together. They have been married 16 years, and Robin said she’s the best wife her father ever had.
Jean said she had help with her husband at home 24 hours a day, but it was “not terribly pleasant after a while.”
“Andy said, ‘Go and do an initial investigation,’” Jean said. “It was such a gift to me; he was the one who initiated it.”
She said Silverado has so many programs and one of its advantages is the staff, which, she said, are so confident “and they care. The place is very wonderful. I’m very pleased with it.”
Robin recalls her dad’s early struggles when he was coming up with the idea of Lifeline. But his success has touched thousands of lives. It touches her even in her own career.
“As an internist, my entire career, if I mentioned my father invented Lifeline to social workers or case workers, they would say, ‘Really?’” Robin said. “My mother-in-law in Michigan, she wears her button.”
“My mother had one,” Jean said.
“He was and still is the most modest man for his accomplishments,” Robin said.
By the end of the interview, Andrew Dibner was ready to be moved away from the conference table.
Sarres remained to talk about how Silverado attempts to make conditions as comfortable as possible for patients with memory issues. The facility even has personalized head phones with patients’ favorite music programmed.
Robin recalled a sock hop she attended at the facility.
Sarres said a favorite event is Halloween, when patients and staff and their pets dress up in their costumes.
“I never saw anything like it,” Robin said.
Dibner has four children: Robin, Steven Dibner, Nina Dibner and Laura Dibner Garcia; and five grandchildren. With his blended family he shares with Jean, the total is eight children and 15 grandchildren.
Jean stays busy when not visiting her husband. Since the move from back east, she is now focusing on photography, although she does occasionally create bronze sculptures (some life-size).
To learn more about Dibner’s medical invention, visit
Lifeline history
1972 – Andrew Dibner and his wife, Susan, pioneer wireless emergency alarm activated by a button.
1974 – Lifeline Systems Inc. founded by Andrew and Susan Dibner.
1976 – Dibner awarded patent for “Automatic Alarm System.”
1980s – Shift from hospitals providing call centers to centralized service.
1983 – Lifeline Systems goes public.
2006  - Philips acquires Lifeline Systems and product line renamed Philips Lifeline.
2010 – AutoAlert automatic fall detection technology introduced.
2015 – Collaborative group launches AgingWell Hub to research innovative solutions and services.
2017 – GoSafe 2 is launched (fall detection device).

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