Medical Alert Systems

As we get older, many of us try to maintain a sense of independence even though we may not be able to do as many of the things that we used to do. For seniors who still want and can live at home, a medical alert system can provide an extra level of help and peace of mind. Medical alert systems can also be used in retirement communities and assisted living facilities to keep patients safe in the case of a fall or emergency.

How Does a Medical Alert System Work?

There are many companies that manufacture different types of medical alert systems. You can choose a specific one based on your needs, but they generally have the same premise. The person who the medical alert system is for often wears a pendant or some kind of transmitter that they have on them at all times. In the case of emergency, the person pushes the pendant or transmitter which sends an alert signal to a base box or other receptor. From there a pre-programmed number (usually 911) may be first called or the call may go to a call center that will assess the situation. Those in the call center will usually try to talk to the person in distress over the call box. The box has a microphone that can pick up the person’s voice if they are able to talk. If there is no answer, 911 is called. If emergency services are dispatched and you cannot get to the door, many companies include lock boxes with their medical alert systems so that the home can still be accessible.

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 and what’s comfortable.
  • Pendant Style Medical Alert Systems. These are the most basic and the most popular. As was 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. Depending on how it is set up, emergency personnel may be automatically dispatched or the call center will try to call the home first.
  • Speakerphone Medical Alert Systems. This system is a little bigger, but offers more options. It looks like a small phone or walkie-talkie. When there’s trouble, there’s an option to call a loved one or talk to the call center directly to get help. If the emergency button on the phone is pressed and the call center gets no response when it answers, then emergency help will be sent right away.
  • Cellular Medical Alert Systems. These make use of cell phone technology. Basically, 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 works.
  • Activity Tracker. This system is geared more towards seniors who are most mobile and independent. It is essentially a GPS system that allows family members to track activity remotely in case of an emergency. If someone was in trouble, family may not find out until it is too late. This provides peace of mind for family members who have active seniors.
  • Phone/Medical Alert Combination. This is another option that may be best for the most active seniors. It is a cell phone and works as such, but is also equipped with an emergency service that connects to a call center. This call center can alert family members, a registered nurse and even 911 if there’s trouble.

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:
  • Is it wearable and comfortable? If you are thinking of a pendant style medical alert system, you want to make sure the device is wearable and comfortable for the person it is intended for. If there is chance it won’t be worn, then it may not be worth getting.
  • Is it waterproof? Since a lot of falls happen in the tub and shower, it’s important the device still works when it hits water.
  • What is the range? You want to make sure the signal can be picked up long range. If you are opting for a cellular system, you 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 in twenty minutes.
  • What are the cost and fees? You may want to avoid lengthy contracts and look for options that offer month by month fees. If a company has a complicated pricing system or hidden fees, look elsewhere. You want the most straight-forward 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?

Medicare generally does not cover medical alert systems. There are some Medicare Advantage plans that may cover them, so it is worth asking. In some states, Medicaid may 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: