As we get older, we want to maintain a sense of independence. It’s only natural. And while we might not get around like we used to, the freedom that comes with living on our own and staying mobile has never been more important.
So if you or your loved one wants to continue living at home, a medical alert system provides the peace of mind and confidence you deserve. Medical alert systems can also be used in retirement communities and assisted living facilities to keep patients safe in the unfortunate event of a fall or other emergency.
These devices certainly save lives and restore confidence and freedom. But there’s one problem. There are just SO many options on the market that it can be overwhelming. Narrowing down your choices to find the right alert system can be an uphill battle.
That’s why we created this trusty guide on medical alert systems. We share everything you need to know about these life-saving devices, and how you can find the right system to suit your budget and lifestyle.
How Do Medical Alert Systems Work?
Medical alert systems come in many different styles, each with different features. These systems are incredibly easy to use, and thankfully, they all function pretty much the same way. You or your loved one wears a discreet pendant alert device with a help button built-in to it. If you experience an emergency (like a slip or fall), simply press the help button and an emergency monitoring center will pick up the signal.
If you happen to be at home during an emergency, the friendly emergency personnel can speak with you through the microphone on the base station. They will assess the situation and dispatch the appropriate responders. If you’re away from home, rest assured that many mobile alert systems offer two-way voice built right into the device itself. Mobile systems also offer GPS tracking technology so that responders can find you no matter where you are.
Types of Medical Alert Systems
The type of medical alert system you choose for yourself or your loved one will depend on the level of independence you desire.
- Pendant Style Medical Alert Systems. These are the most basic and the most popular alerts. As mentioned above, a pendant is worn and dispatches an emergency call when the distress button is pushed. These systems are typically hooked up to a landline phone, but cellular-based systems are also available (see below).
- Cellular Medical Alert Systems. These alerts are powered by cell phone technology. You don’t need to be near a call box for a signal to be transmitted. These medical alert systems work off of the same cell signal as a mobile phone. As long as there is cell service, your system will function just fine. These alerts are ideal for seniors who live an active lifestyle.
- Activity Tracker. This system is geared more toward seniors who are most mobile and independent. The built-in GPS allows family members to track activity remotely. In the event of an emergency, locating your loved one is fast and easy. This provides peace of mind for the family member who cares for an active senior.
- Phone/Medical Alert Combination. This is another option that’s ideal for active seniors. This cell phone is capable of making calls like any ordinary cell phone, but it’s also equipped with an emergency service that connects to a call center. The call center can then alert family members, a registered nurse, or even 911 if there’s serious trouble.
Are Alert Systems Easy to Use?
We understand that many seniors can be intimidated and overwhelmed by new technology. And really, who isn’t? But rest assured that most medical alert systems are quite easy to use. In fact, most alerts offer simple plug-and-play setup. Just plug your landline-based system into a phone jack and follow a few easy setup steps.
If you have a cellular system, just charge the device, turn it on, and you’re basically ready to go. There is some configuration, but it’s never been easier to get setup with quality emergency alert coverage.
Today’s best medical alert companies are competing to make their products more accessible and easy to use. So if you’re considering a medical alert system for yourself or a loved one, you’ll be glad to know that today’s DIY systems are a breeze to setup and use.
Medical Alert System Equipment
Seniors and caretakers are often curious about what’s included with the average alert system package. And we understand, you want to know exactly what you’re signing up for. So here’s a basic rundown of medical alert system equipment:
- A wearable device, such as a necklace pendant, a bracelet, a smartwatch, a hip device, etc. with help button built-in.
- A base station with a help button and two-way communication (microphone and speaker).
- Optional fall detection. This is usually sold as an add-on upgrade (~$10/mo.), and while it’s not truly considered ‘equipment’, it is another helpful element of medical alert systems.
Other add-on equipment includes accessories like a lockbox key holder, a medication reminder or organizer, wall-mounted emergency buttons, voice extenders, and more.
In-Home vs Mobile Medical Alert Systems
Are you an active senior always on-the-go? Or do you stay at home most of the time? You’ll want to consider your pace of life, as it will influence whether you get an in-home or mobile medical alert system.
In-Home Medical Alert Systems
In-home systems are ideal for less active seniors who live alone. These alert systems are usually landline-based (requires a phone line), but cellular in-home systems are also available. The range on in-home devices extend from just a few hundred feet to 1,600 feet or more (from the base station). If you or your loved one enjoys spending time in the garden out back, or in the front yard chatting with friends, a long-range in-home medical alert system is the way to go. Almost every company offers an in-home alert setup.
Mobile Medical Alert Systems
On the other hand, mobile alert systems use a cellular signal to connect you to the monitoring center should an emergency arise. Mobile on-the-go medical alert systems are a wise choice for seniors who enjoy trips to the grocery store, the mall, to church, walking nearby trails, and really anywhere away from home. These systems will work pretty much anywhere with a decent cell signal (via cell tower). And mobile medical alert systems are also ideal for seniors who sometimes travel to different states. The best medical alert companies now offer mobile alert solutions.
So which is best for you? Should you get an in-home or mobile alert system? Well, that’s a choice you or your caretaker must make. But if you take an honest look at your lifestyle, the decision should be easy!
Features of Medical Alert Systems
It’s important that you or your loved one enjoys all the right features at your fingertips. Thankfully, today’s alert systems offer outstanding features that are easy to use. These features include:
- Water-resistant or waterproof help buttons
- GPS location services for activity tracking
- Long-lasting battery life
- Optional fall detection
- Two-way communication
- Long-range functionality
- Redundant monitoring centers
- Ultra-fast response times (as fast as 12 seconds)
- Nationwide coverage (on cellular systems)
- Multi-lingual support
- 30, 60, or 90-day money-back guarantees
- No contract, cancel anytime service
- Lifetime equipment warranty (on select systems)
- And more!
Other upgrades and add-ons include: medication reminders; medication dispensers; activity tracking; daily fitness reminders; vital signs monitoring (blood pressure, weight, blood oxygen saturation levels, etc.); price-lock guarantee; caregiver tools; and more.
The Latest Medical Alert System Technology
You might be the type of person who cares about new technology that can make your life easier and safer. If that’s you, you’ll be happy to know that medical alert companies have come a long way with technology in the past couple of decades. With this in mind, the latest medical alert technology includes:
- Automatic fall detection: This technology is still being refined. It utilizes advanced algorithms, gyroscopes, and accelerometers to detect sudden slips or falls. It then automatically contacts the monitoring center on your behalf. We’ll discuss fall detection in greater detail in just a bit.
- GPS Location Services: Seniors can opt for a built-in GPS tracker that enables them to be found by friends, family, caretakers, or emergency responders. This adds another layer of emergency alert coverage for active seniors.
- Mobile caregiver tools: Many of today’s alert systems include a helpful companion app. And oftentimes the app has a nifty caregiver portal that allows caregivers to watch over their loved one, receive activity alerts, get event notifications, and more.
- Environmental monitoring: This technology is especially important for seniors who live alone. Environmental monitoring keeps seniors safe from life-threatening hazards like fire and carbon monoxide leaks.
- Support in 140+ languages: For many seniors, English is not their first language. That’s why today’s best monitoring stations staff employees with a wide-range of language abilities. As you might imagine, it’s critical to receive help in your native language when you need it most.
Fall Detection (does it really work?)
There has been a lot of talk about fall detection among the senior and caregiver communities. What exactly is fall detection? Does it really work? And is it worth it? We’re going to share it all, good and bad, and let you make the judgement call on whether or not it’s right for you.
First off, fall detection is normally sold as an upgrade for an extra $10/mo. or so. The technology is built into your pendant device, smartwatch, or other wearable. If you fall, the accelerometer technology detects it immediately, and the device signals the monitoring center. This helps to alleviate the fear of a potentially devastating slip or fall. And seeing that many falls happen in the shower, the technology is usually 100% water-resistant and meant to be taken into high-risk fall zones like the bathroom.
Sure, fall detection can (and does!) save lives. It can also deliver peace of mind just knowing that you or your loved one has the feature ready to go. But it’s far from perfect. In fact, sometimes the fall detection will send a signal when any type of fast movement is detected. Other times, when a real fall occurs, it might not sense it as a true fall, and therefore won’t alert the monitoring center.
However, while the technology is not yet 100% accurate, it’s safe to say that having an imperfect fall detection device is still better than having no fall detection at all.
So if you want to feel more confident in your home, or when you’re out and about, then fall detection might make sense for you. Or if you feel that your loved one or the senior you’re caring for is at risk of falling, you should seriously consider this affordable upgrade. But if you or your loved one is relatively active and not prone to sudden falls, you can probably pass on this upgrade.
Medical Alert Monitoring (is it fast and reliable?)
When searching for a medical alert system for yourself or a loved one, you will want to consider response times and overall reliability. After all, an alert system is only as effective as the monitoring personnel behind it.
Thankfully, the top companies are outfitted with TMA (CSAA) Five Diamond Certified monitoring centers that deliver surprisingly fast response times. To give you a better sense of response times, this is the time it takes for an agent to contact you or your loved one after the help button is pressed. This normally happens in a matter of seconds (typically 15-45 seconds), and these seconds can save a life.
Also, today’s monitoring centers are highly reliable. It’s their one job, to process an emergency alert as fast and accurate as humanly possible. So rest assured you will likely have a professional, friendly agent on the line if/when you experience a medical emergency. They will then follow protocol to decide the best course of action. This might mean contacting a caretaker or family member, or it could mean dispatching police, fire, or EMS for more serious emergencies.
Medical Alert System Costs
When considering the costs of medical alert systems, you have to consider your monthly budget. But you should also ask yourself what your safety or the safety of your loved one is worth to you. You will quickly come to realize that $25-$35 per month is money well spent, especially when it can save a life.
Medical alert systems cost anywhere between $20/mo. to $50/mo. or more. But it’s entirely possible to find a quality alert system in the $20-$30 range. This price includes the equipment and the required monthly monitoring. Then, if you so desire, you can purchase fall detection for approximately $10 more per month, and other add-ons to suit your needs. When all is said and done, you can get full-service 24/7 coverage for well under $50 per month.
It is important to note that mobile alert systems are generally more expensive than in-home systems. You can expect to pay about $10-$15 more per month for a cellular system with on-the-go coverage. But the benefits of mobile alerts certainly outweigh the costs.
Medical Alert System Contracts
There are certain alert systems that require a long-term contract of 12 months or more. But the majority of systems offer 100% contract-free, cancel-anytime coverage. While signing a contract can make the monthly monitoring fee cheaper, we always recommend going with a no-contract medical alert system. After all, you don’t want to be on the hook for $30 or more every month if you no longer need or use the alert system.
Questions to Ask Before Buying a Medical Alert System
In order to choose the medical alert system that’s right for you or your loved one, you should ask the following questions before pulling out your pocketbook or purse:
- Is it wearable and comfortable? If you are thinking of a pendant style medical alert system or a smartwatch system, you want to make sure the device is wearable and comfortable for you or your loved one. If there’s a chance it won’t be worn, then it may not be worth buying.
- Is it waterproof? Since most falls happen in the tub and shower, it’s important that the device functions in and around water. Thankfully, the best alerts available today all work in wet conditions.
- What is the range? You want to ensure the signal can be picked up long range. If you are opting for a cellular system, you will want to ask about the cell service as well.
- What is the average response time from the call center? If the call center has a poor response time, you may need to look into another company. The point of the medical alert system is to get help immediately, not after the fact.
- What are the cost and fees? You may want to avoid lengthy contracts and look for options that offer month-to-month coverage. If a company has a complicated pricing system or hidden fees, look elsewhere. You want the most straightforward plan you can find.
- What company is the best? There are a lot of options when it comes to medical alert systems, which is why it's important to read reviews. To help, we have compared some of the most popular medical alert systems to help you with your research process.
Does Insurance Cover Medical Alert Systems?
Unfortunately, Medicare generally does not cover medical alert systems. However, there are some Medicare Advantage plans that may cover them, so it’s always worth asking. In some states, Medicaid might cover the cost. Since coverage is on a state-by-state basis, check the rules where you live. You may also want to check with your private insurance provider, if applicable. If you are paying out of pocket, ask about discounts for Veterans or other groups that you may belong to. Also ask to see if the cost is tax deductible.
Medical Alert System Companies & Brands
The following are some of the most popular and reputable medical alert system companies on the market. You can also see our ranked list of the best medical alert systems for seniors here:
- ADT Health
- Bay Alarm Medical
- Life Alert
- Medical Alert
- Medical Care Alert
- Medical Guardian
- One Call Alert
- Philips Lifeline
As we age, safety becomes all the more important for ourselves and our loved ones. Since medical emergencies like slips or falls can happen without warning, it’s important to wear a medical alert device that delivers fast and reliable coverage.
The good news is that there are loads of affordable options on the market. It’s now possible for every senior to live with peace of mind and confidence in their alert system. So if you’re a caretaker or a senior who’s looking for all-around peace of mind, look no further than a quality medical alert system.
Most alert systems offer 24/7 in-home coverage for as low as $20 per month. And if you’re an active senior who enjoys spending time away from home, you can find a cellular system in the $30-$40 range. Then, for added protection, consider upgrading to get automatic fall detection.
Overall, your lifestyle is the most important thing to consider when purchasing an alert system. When you sit down and ask yourself what makes sense for you or your loved one, you’ll find that the right alert system is well within reach.