Best Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS)

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When many people hear the words personal emergency response system, or PERS, the first thought that sometimes comes to mind is an older adult falling while alone and being unable to get up. Life Alert integrated this scenario into popular culture with its TV commercial that depicted an older woman lying on the floor and saying the now-famous line: “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

While this ad captured a lot of attention and was often parodied, the reality is that falls are all too common for older adults.

Top 5 Best Medical Alert Systems

After much research, here are the best medical alert systems on the market today:

Older Adults Have a Higher Risk of Falling

Three million older adults are treated in an emergency room (ER) every year for some type of injury related to a fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Worse yet, deaths due to falls are the leading cause of injury death for Americans 65 and older. Fall death rates rose 30% in the previous decade, and the CDC predicts that by 2030, seven fall deaths will occur every hour.

The National Institute on Aging reports that falls by the elderly can occur due to poor eyesight or hearing, or by having slowed reflexes. Some health conditions contribute to falls as well, such as diabetes and heart disease, as can certain medications.

Not every fall results in an injury — about 37% of those who report a fall require medical attention. That’s about eight million fall injuries each year, a number that’s expected to climb to 12 million in 2030.

Because falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults, it can be extremely beneficial to have a personal emergency response system capable of summoning medical assistance to the home. However, PERS equipment has other advantages as well, in and outside the home. Depending on the system and its monitoring options, you can obtain assistance even while on the go. This provides a greater level of independence and assurance on vacations, while running errands, or otherwise outside the primary residence.

Benefits of a Personal Emergency Response System

inhome set up of emergency response button

Personal emergency response systems not only summon medical responders, many of them also notify caregivers and loved ones. Some systems are capable of helping older adults track medication, monitor the air quality of their home and more. Here’s a closer look at why a personal emergency response system might be right for you or a family member.

PERS Are More Affordable Than In-Person Monitoring

A nursing home, assisted living facility, or private in-home care deliver in-person monitoring, but they are almost always more expensive than a personal emergency response system.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that the average cost of a nursing home is $225 a day (or more), assisted living is generally around $119 daily, adult day health care is roughly $68 a day, and home health aides typically earn somewhere in the vicinity of $20.50 an hour.

Older Adults Retain Greater Independence

A personal emergency response system provides comfort that help is quickly available if needed, while allowing older adults to do many things on their own. Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home care aren’t bad, but they often remove at least a portion of someone’s independence.

Immediate Response, Anytime

emergency-response

About 20 percent of falls occur between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., according to a World Health Organization (WHO) study. Even if the person who falls is able to summon help from someone else in the home, it may be difficult to rouse others in the house when a fall occurs at night. Personal emergency response systems, on the other hand, provide 24-hour monitoring and an immediate response by emergency response agencies such as the fire department.

Greater Peace Of Mind

Most older adults prefer to stay in their current homes for as long as they live. This may be cause for concern for family members and friends, especially those who live far away. One way for everyone to have peace of mind in this situation, particularly loved ones of older adults living on their own, is to use the services of an emergency response system.

Simple To Use

Every PERS device is a little different, but many offer easy-to-use wearable devices that require nothing more than the push of a button to connect with an urgent response agent. In cases of falls or where movement is otherwise limited, this enables the older person to get help without having to crawl or otherwise find their way to a phone.

Help At Home Or On The Go

With continued advancements in mobile PERS technology, personal response systems are no longer for use just inside the home. Depending on the system and its monitoring options, you can obtain assistance on vacation, while running errands, or otherwise outside the primary residence.

Why Cellphones Aren’t the Best for Personal Emergency Responses

calling for help

One could argue that cell phones offer the same type of protection as personal emergency response systems minus the additional cost. However, if you call 911 from a cell phone, first responders may not be able to pinpoint your exact location. Wireless 911 communication is improving, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but operators may still heavily rely on callers for information, something that may not be possible in an emergency where an older adult is unable to give precise directions.

If the phone’s buttons are too small or difficult to push, they may not be easily accessible in an emergency situation, especially for hands that are unstable or if eyesight is poor. Other factors that may limit mobile phone accessibility include whether the phone is charged, or if it is even nearby during a medical situation. For reasons like these, it’s often better to go with a physical personal response system.

Once a decision is made to sign up for and use an emergency response service, the next step is to decide which type of system is best for your own situation and needs. While there are several available on the market today, most can be placed in one of these categories.

  1. Two-way personal emergency response system with 24/7 monitoring by a response center.
  2. Two-way personal emergency response system, unmonitored, but calls 911 or another number.
  3. Two-way personal emergency response system with speakerphone pendant, monitored or unmonitored.
  4. Cellular personal emergency response systems, unmonitored, calls 911.

As you can see, some systems are managed by a call monitoring center and others are not, requiring additional action from the wearer if something occurs. However, all of them call 911 (or another number) in the event of an emergency.

Optional Medical Alert Features

Most personal emergency response systems are capable of doing much more than summoning help. Some features may be included, others may require additional fees.

Fall Detection

This type of PERS unit will automatically make a call when a fall is detected. It analyzes both unusual misalignments of the body as well as acceleration of movement, essentially sensing if the body moves too fast or is in an awkward position.

Advantages of this type of system include being able to obtain emergency assistance even if the person is unable to push a button. Plus, these types of medical alert devices are generally waterproof, so they can still be worn in the bath or shower, an area where we’re more prone to slips and falls.

Disadvantages of fall detection devices are false alarms or instances where they may not detect a fall, which could occur in a slower, sliding type of fall. This option also tends to cost more and could potentially provide a false sense of security.

Smoke, Fire, Carbon Monoxide Detection

Certain personal emergency response systems also provide services related to home systems security monitoring that covers the immediate environment for smoke, fire, or elevated carbon monoxide levels.

If you do choose this option, you want to select a service that automatically alerts an emergency responder to increase the level of safety this feature provides.

Medication Compliance

More than half of adults surveyed by the National Community Pharmacists Association in its most recent report failed to take their medications as prescribed to treat their chronic conditions.

This can be avoided (or at least greatly reduced) by using a personal response system that provides medication compliance features.

Some systems provide actual dispensing devices that alert the elderly when it is time to take the medications and then dispense the pills at the push of a button. Others send reminders or use timers in an effort to improve adherence to medication regimens.

Fitness And Activity Monitoring

Whereas some activity monitoring devices are used to ensure that you’re getting the necessary amount of physical exercise for maximum health, activity monitoring for older adults with wearable personal emergency response systems helps ensure they are moving around freely during the day.

That’s why such monitors are sometimes called inactivity monitoring services, because they help identify if movement has stopped and there’s a problem, even if the alert button has not been pushed.

This type of monitoring could require the older person to check in at predetermined times throughout the day, with an alarm sounding if they don’t. Others rely on motion detectors to help determine whether movement is occurring in the residence, or whether it has stopped.

GPS Monitoring

If emergency preparedness is desired outside of the home, systems with GPS can provide this type of coverage by connecting to a cellular network. This enables the wearer to have access to help in any location where a mobile phone can pick up a signal.

A basic home-based system runs in the range of $20-$40 a month. More expensive systems go up to $70 a month or more, and may include features such as fall detection. Companies sometimes offer discounts particularly if you: pay in advance, belong to AARP and other organizations, or take advantage of special offers.

In addition to the monthly fee, companies may charge activation or equipment fees, and offer add-ons such as warranties and protection plans. If you decide not to keep a system, some companies impose cancellation. replacement or fees.

Choosing the best system possible requires factoring in cost, ease of installation, portability, battery strength and average response times from the company’s emergency response center, to name just a few points.

We’ve put together this list of the best medical alert systems to give you some insight on each system and help you find the best one for you and your situation.

System
Classic Guardian By Medical Guardian
Best ForBest for Active Seniors
Pros– 1,300-foot range – 32 hours of battery backup
Cons– No warranty (protection plan costs extra)
Monthly Charge$29.95
ConnectionLandline
Fall DetectionYes (Addt’l fee)
MobileHelp Classic
Best ForBest At-Home Range
Pros– Three at-home systems to choose from, including the Classic
Cons– App cannot connect with caregivers – No warranty
Monthly Charge$19.95
ConnectionCellular
Fall DetectionYes (Addt’l fee)
Essentials By Aloe Care Health
Best ForBest App for Remote Caregivers
Pros– Enhanced caregiver communication
Cons– Expensive equipment – No free trial period
Monthly Charge$29.99
ConnectionCellular
Fall DetectionNo
In The Home By Bay Alarm Medical
Best ForBest for a Tight Budget
Pros– No equipment fee – Spouse monitoring at no extra charge
Cons– No medication reminders or wellness checks
Monthly Charge$19.95
ConnectionLandline or cellular
Fall DetectionYes (Add’l fee for auto fall detection)
GoSafe 2 By Philips Lifeline
Best ForBest On-the-Go System
Pros– Advanced location technology – Audio beacon
Cons– $50 device fee – No free trial period
Monthly Charge$44.95
ConnectionCellular
Fall DetectionYes

* All prices based on the standard month-to-month payment plan. Discounts may be available for prepaid plans.

Why we chose Classic Guardian:

  • Basic system comes at a reasonable price
    The Classic Guardian system isn’t the least expensive basic system out there, but at $30/month it comes close.
  • Available extras
    For an additional fee, users can get automatic fall detection, lockboxes, and wall-mounted signaling devices.
  • Best wearable range in the industry
    The landline-based Classic Guardian can pick up emergency call signals from wearables up to a quarter mile away, the widest range in the industry.

Pros

  • 1300 foot wearable range widest in industry

  • Provides unlimited button presses

  • Free equipment

  • Offers a 60-day trial and free activation

  • No contract required

  • Lifetime warranty on equipment

Cons

  • Fall Detection not standard with system

  • Doesn’t provide mobile coverage outside the home

Medical Guardian shows up again in this category, with its Classic Guardian offering reliable, attractively designed equipment and some useful extras for a reasonable price—including a base station and pendant and wristband wearable devices—for a reasonable price. Medical Guardian also offers some useful extras (for an additional charge), including automatic fall detection, lockboxes, and wall-mounted signaling devices. If you’re in the market for a basic system, the Classic Guardian is worth considering.

Medical Guardian Classic Guardian
Monthly Rate*
$29.95
Connection
Landline
Fall Detection Available (Add’l Fee)
Yes

* Based on the standard month-to-month payment plan. Discounts may be available for prepaid plans.

Why we chose the MobileHelp Classic:

  • Customization for cheap: MobileHelp allows you to add a partner to your plan for $2/month. For an additional $5/month, you add a warranty and discounts on medication reminders and activity tracking.
  • Great response time: The average emergency center response time from medical alert providers is 40 seconds. MobileHelp acts much faster than that, between 15 and 25 seconds in our tests.

Pros

  • 30-day free trial

  • Long-lasting battery

  • Wide variety of system options

Cons

  • $49.95 processing fee

  • No included warranty

  • Buttons and lights can be confusing

  • Device can feel clunky in warmer weather

MobileHelp Classic is the company’s cheapest at-home plan out of its six choices. It has a 1,400-foot range, waterproof help button, and simple setup steps. MobileHelp offers some of the best health and activity tracking in the business, giving you power to customize your personal emergency response system how you see fit.

An alternative for those who want a personal emergency response system and built-in vitals monitoring is the MobileVitals Duo system. Get updates on blood pressure, weight tracking, and more with every plan. The system works at home or on the go.

Mobile Help Classic
Monthly Rate*
$19.95
Connection
Cellular
Fall Detection Available (Add’l Fee)
Yes

* Based on the standard month-to-month payment plan. Discounts may be available for prepaid plans.

Why we chose Aloe Care Health Essentials:

  • 4G Hub: The Hub is more than a base system at home. It includes air quality, temperature, and motion sensors, plus a motion-sensored night light. It uses a cellular connection, has a backup battery in case power goes out, and it’s voice activated.
  • Aloe Care Health mobile app: Any number of caregivers can log into the mobile app to check location detection, communicate with each other, and call the monitoring center.

Pros

  • Voice activation for both Hub and help button

  • Flexible caregiver communication options

  • TMA Five Diamond-certified monitoring center

Cons

  • $149.99 one-time equipment fee

  • 200-foot range between Hub and help button

  • No fall detection with Essentials

Aloe Care Health Essentials comes with one high-tech Hub system and one comfortable help button to wear. Both are easy to set up and simple to use. Voice activation means you can call the 24/7 monitoring center simply by speaking. We love the Hub’s air quality and temperature checks, and the motion sensors can send movement alerts to the mobile app.

Aloe Care Health Essentials
Monthly Rate*
$29.99
Connection
Cellular
Fall Detection Available (Add’l Fee)
Only with higher plans

* Based on the standard month-to-month payment plan. Discounts may be available for prepaid plans.

Why we chose the In-Home Medical Alert System

  • Quality, affordable plan
    Bay Area Medical offers the lowest-priced basic home-based system of all the companies we surveyed, while at the same time providing the same quality and flexibility offered by many of its more expensive competitors.
  • Affordable fall detection option
    You can add fall detection to the In-home Medical Alert plan for only $10 more. This low price means that you can get this important feature and the basic system for only about as much as other companies charge for their basic systems alone.
  • Discounts on offer
    Bay Alarm Medical will also improve your bottom line by offering discounts through USAA and AARP.
  • Add spouses for no additional fee
    Unlike many companies, Bay Alarm Medical allows spouses to be monitored for no additional money.

Pros

  • Most economical in-home medical alert system in the industry

  • Can use cellular or landline connections

  • Inexpensive automatic fall detection also available

  • Provides AARP & USAA discounts

  • No contract required

  • No charge monitoring for spouse

Cons

  • Relatively narrow wearable range

  • Cellular version limited to AT&T and T-Mobile networks

There’s no question that cost is a consideration when it comes to medical alert systems: many seniors are on fixed incomes, and many also want the most basic and easy-to-operate system they can get. Bay Alarm Medical’s In-Home Medical Alert system checks off both boxes. This system provides a base station (a landline connection is standard; a cellular connection is available for an additional fee) and a pendant wearable device with a 1000 foot range. At around $20 for the basic system, a $10 additional fee for fall detection means that users can get this vital extra feature at roughly the same price as other companies’ cheapest options. What’s more, the Bay Alarm Medical base station is portable, so a user can travel to a new location—for a vacation, say—without hassle, and without any additional fees.

In-Home Medical Alert
Monthly Rate*
$19.95
Connection
Landline or cellular
Fall Detection Available (Add’l Fee)
Yes

* Based on the standard month-to-month payment plan. Discounts may be available for prepaid plans.

Why we chose the GoSafe2 System:

  • Sleek and discreet mobile pendant
    The GoSafe pendant is sleek and small in contrast to the pager-like devices offered by other companies, making it perfect for self-conscious users.
  • Automatic fall detection
    The GoSafe2 pendant comes standard with fall detection, making the device all the more impressive.
  • Advanced location tracking technology
    Lifeline’s GoSafe pendant also provides the call center and emergency responders with several ways to detect your location, in case you’re unable to explain or are unresponsive after a fall.

Pros

  • Slim and unobtrusive mobile pendant device

  • Attractive cellular base station

  • Mobile pendant allows location tracking

  • Comes with fall detection standard

  • Provides protection at home and away

Cons

  • $50 Activation fee

  • No free trial period

As mobile technology gets more common, more companies are providing lightweight, go-anywhere devices for people who want a medical alert solution that travels with them. The Philips Lifeline GoSafe2 stands out among these devices: it’s a waterproof pendant small enough to wear anywhere, even in the bath or shower.

Lifeline GoSafe
Monthly Rate*
$44.95
Connection
Cellular
Fall Detection Available (Add’l Fee)
Yes

* Based on the standard month-to-month payment plan. Discounts may be available for prepaid plans.

How to Choose the Best Emergency Response System for You

Medicare fraud

The best personal emergency response system companies should answer your questions quickly, intelligently, and courteously.

How do you take all of this information and choose the best emergency response system for you or someone you love? The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) says to consider the following:

  • The services you want the system to provide. Which type of system do you want and what do you want to monitor and track?
  • Is the particular company available in your area? If you’re unsure, it helps to ask your local Area Agency on Aging or senior facility.
  • Where the system will be used on a regular basis. Depending on whether you use the system at home or on the go, or both, you may need to consider battery life, range of the device, and whether it needs to be waterproof.
  • How the service handles monitoring and response. Ask about average response times and how calls are routed to emergency responders and family members.
  • Get all contract details. Ask about associated fees and be wary of long-term contracts or complicated cancellation policies; also inquire about discounts, tax deductions related to the service and whether your insurance will cover the costs.

You may also want to consider the company’s level of customer service. When you call them, do representatives answer your questions quickly, intelligently, and courteously? This can go a long way, especially if you want a company that you can easily work with in an emergency!

After choosing the emergency response service best-suited for your situation and needs, the only thing left to do is set it up in a way that offers you the most efficient emergency help possible. This begins with choosing the person(s) you want the monitoring agency to contact (other than first responders), along with their contact information, if a medical emergency occurs.

Ideally, you want to identify more than one person in case the first person on your list isn’t available to take the call. Create a list of people who are aware of what they should do in an emergency, so you can keep your loved ones informed.

It’s also extremely important that they know your complete medical history. To make this easier, create a simple list of the medications you take (and their dosages), any allergies you may have, and other medical conditions that they could share with emergency personnel.

Personal medical alert systems systems serve a valuable purpose for the elderly by providing a number of benefits to those who use them. While there are a lot of different options available at varying price ranges, selecting the best system and service for you can help dramatically in the event of a medical emergency. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Most personal emergency response systems work the same way: they come with a base unit and a wearable device. These devices can come in the form of pendants and wristbands or pager-type devices.

Other Medical Alert Guides And Medical Alert Systems That We Have Reviewed

Learn More About Medical Alert Systems

MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY

Jenny is an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner in NYC with a passion for working with aging adults and their family members. Prior to her clinical training at Vanderbilt School of Nursing, she worked in business and medical research at Harvard Business School and Massachusetts General Hospital. As a Caregiving Coach at Givers, Jenny helps family members manage the financial, emotional, and educational stresses of caring for their loved ones who are aging in place.