Who Should Wear A Medical Alert System?

A medical alert system is a wearable device that helps you summon emergency assistance when needed. They are commonly worn by elderly or disabled individuals so that help is literally at their fingertips should they fall or experience a life-threatening emergency.

women has fallen on the floor
Medically Reviewed by
Updated onMay. 19, 2022

Most systems include a wearable button and a base station. When the button is pushed, a signal is sent to the base station which calls a pre-programmed number that typically connects to a call center. The call is received by a dispatcher who is able to speak to the person in distress over a loudspeaker. Once they have assessed the situation, they can send emergency assistance or contact a friend or family member depending on the nature of the situation.

When Is It Time For A Medical Alert System?

If You’re A Senior Living Alone

For seniors who wish to live at home longer, medical alert systems can provide valuable security, especially for those who live alone.

When pushed, a button sends a signal to the medical alert base station which calls a pre-programmed number that typically connects to a call center.

A Fall Has Occurred Or A History Of Falls

About one in four adults over the age of 65 falls every year in the US according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Anyone who is at risk of falling can benefit from a medical alert system to receive help faster if a fall does occur. 

Jenny Sanford, an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner and Caregiving Coach in New York, stresses the importance of medical alert systems with fall detection, “It’s fairly straightforward: a good fall detection system may help save lives” 

If you have already fallen, then it is a good idea to seek out options for around-the-clock care, whether that be a nurse, family member, or medical alert system. Once an older adult has fallen once, their chances of having another fall double

See our guide to fall prevention to help minimize your own or a loved one’s risk of falling.

Unsteady Gait Or Weakness

If you have mobility issues due to a past injury or if you have trouble getting around your house, a medical alert system can help keep you safe. You can reduce fall risk by considering potential hazards in your home like rugs, bathtubs, pets, and uneven surfaces.

You Worry More Frequently About Your Safety

Elderly woman holding head in pain upset

As we age, we naturally become aware of our physical limitations and worry more about injuring ourselves. If you find that you are experiencing anxiety due to fear of falling, a medical alert system may help give you peace of mind. Knowing that you have 24/7 access to help can put your mind at ease and allow you (and your loved ones) to feel more confident and live independently for longer.

There Is No One Nearby To Help

If you don’t have friends, family, or neighbors nearby who can routinely check on you or arrive quickly should you need assistance, a medical alert system could be life-saving. Receiving timely help in the case of a fall is crucial. 62% of fall victims who don’t receive help within the first hour won’t be able to live alone again once they’ve recovered.

Your Medications Have Side Effects

While the benefits of most medications outweigh the negative side effects, it is important to be aware of how they affect your everyday activities. For example, if you take a medication that causes you to experience dizziness or vertigo, you are at higher risk for a fall. Dizziness can affect your coordination and balance, making daily activities like walking up and down the stairs extremely hazardous. Make sure to review the side effects of all of your medications with your doctor.

Other Uses For A Medical Alert System

The benefits of a medical alert system extend beyond falls and medical emergencies. They provide access to emergency help 24 hours a day, which can allow you to keep living independently. 

There are a wide range of situations when a medical alert system could be lifesaving.

Some life-saving scenarios include: 

Fires

In the case of a house fire, having access to an alert system could be critical. Even when you are in your home, your phone isn’t always on you or close by and even if it is, dialing 911 can be difficult in moments of panic. With an alert system, an operator can dispatch the nearest fire department within moments.

Fire extinguisher, smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarm.

Robbery

If someone breaks into your home, your alert system is the fastest way to contact authorities. The voice of the operator on the loudspeaker may also act as a deterrent for a robbery in progress.

Wandering

Wandering can be a serious problem for seniors with memory problems, dementia, or Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6 in 10 people with dementia will wander at least once. In medical alert systems that are GPS enabled, locating your loved one can be as simple as pressing a button.

Considerations When Researching Medical Alert Systems

Cost

While some companies put pricing information on their website, it is important to be mindful of the fact that these base prices may not represent a realistic picture of how much you will end up paying on a monthly basis. Take your time researching companies. See our full review of the top 11 best medical alert systems to help jumpstart your research. We compare prices, features, and rate each system according to our firsthand experience. 

Do your research on the top providers in the area and make sure that they don’t charge extra fees.

Once you have created a short list of providers to contact, make a list of the features you need and get clear information about pricing, fees, and contracts when you call.

Fees

Sometimes companies charge additional fees related to equipment, installation, activation, service, and repairs. Do your research on the top providers in your area and make sure they don’t charge extra fees.

Contracts

Never sign a long-term contract with a provider. You want to make sure that you can cancel at any point (with no penalty) if you no longer require the system or dislike the service. Most systems will cost $25-$45 per month, so be wary of any providers with charges that exceed this range.

Free Trials

Always ask for a trial period before you commit to a system or provider. If they don’t offer a free trial, make sure there is a money back guarantee in the case that you are not satisfied with the equipment or service.

Discounts

Companies may offer discounts in a variety of cases, including reduced rates for lower-income individuals. Ask if they offer discounts for multiple people in the same household, veterans, or through a hospital or membership organization.

Insurance Coverage

You should check with your private insurance company to see if they will cover any of your expenses. In general, Medicare and insurance companies do not cover medical alert systems, but this varies from state to state.

Additional Services

studio shot of carbon monoxide alarm

Adding more alerts and services to your system will raise your monthly fees. For instance, fall alerts, fire, carbon monoxide, GPS locators, and smoke detection among others typically cost more. It is important to be clear about your personal needs so that you are only paying for the services that will benefit you the most.

Additional Coverage For A Partner

Some providers require you to purchase separate plans for a spouse while others will let you add someone for a one-time fee. Make sure to ask about these costs if you have a spouse, family member, or caretaker who may want their own device for added protection.

Service Availability

Create a list of national and local companies that provide service in your area. You can visit eldercare.gov to find your local agency on aging and ask them to send you a list of providers as well. If you live in a senior community, make sure to ask them if a medical alert system is part of their included services.

Research all your options by checking sites and organizations that track and report the quality of services and complaints received.

If you have a home security provider that you are happy with, ask them if they offer medical alert pendants that can be monitored through your existing system. You will have to pay an additional fee for the equipment and your monitoring cost will increase, but it may be worth it if you already trust the company. If the price seems high, get other quotes and see how they compare. Research all of your options by checking sites like AARP, Consumer reports, the Better Business Bureau, your local chamber of commerce, and any other organizations that track and report the quality of services and complaints received.

Landline Vs. Cellular

Originally, medical alert systems only worked inside your home as they connected to landline telephones. While you can still find landline-based services, most companies now offer a mobile option that allows home-based systems to operate through cellular networks if you don’t have a landline. Many companies now offer a mobile option as well, which allows you to access help through the system when you are in your house and when you leave. These systems operate over cellular networks and include GPS tracking, so if you were to get lost and press the button for help, the monitoring service would be able to locate you and send the closest emergency responders.

Home Health ER Response

It is important to evaluate your own lifestyle and needs before making a decision about what you need your system to do. If you are a senior who rarely leaves the house, a landline system may be appropriate for you. But if you are more active and spend a lot of time away from your house, a mobile option may be best. Make sure you know the cost of each service so that you can compare and make the best decision for you and your budget.

Features

When shopping for systems, pay attention to the specific qualities of the equipment and service you will be paying for. Here is a list of items to look for:

Make sure your pendant, whether worn on your wrist or around your neck, is comfortable.

Water-Resistant

Your pendant should be water-resistant since the majority of falls occur in the shower. Water-resistant devices can get splashed and temporarily wet, but they can’t be submerged for long periods of time like waterproof devices.

Comfortable And Lightweight

Make sure your pendant, whether worn on your wrist or around your neck, is comfortable. You’ll also want to choose a model that you like the look of—you’re more likely to wear it if you like the design!

Long Battery Life

If your device has to be removed daily to be recharged, chances are you will forget to put it on or give up on wearing it altogether. Make sure that the battery will last for at least a few days, if not longer. Be sure to inquire about how to charge your device and how to tell when the battery is low.

Range

Make sure the range for your system is appropriate for the size of the space you live in. For example, if you spend time in your garage, basement, and yard, be sure to take that into account when determining the range it will need to cover.

Response Center

There are a lot of questions you should find out about the emergency response call center. Make sure they guarantee a response within seconds–the longer you wait, the higher the likelihood of a fall-related adverse event. Don’t be shy about asking plenty of questions about the center itself. Is it certified? Do they have their own call center or do they contract it out? How well are their operators trained? Do they have operators who speak your language? Also be sure to ask functional questions about how you will communicate with the operator if called (e.g. through the device you wear or through the base unit?).

home phone

Customer Service

It is important you are able to reach out to a live person when you have questions or concerns regarding your system. Ask if they offer 24/7 support and check their website for live chat options, email, and an FAQ section.

Money-Back Guarantee

It is recommended that you find a provider that offers a money–back guarantee on their products if you are not satisfied. Typically, you can expect anywhere from 15-30 days to try out the system.

Questions To Consider When Selecting a Medical Alert System Provider

Technology Level

  • There are a lot of newer, more high-tech systems on the market. Am I comfortable trying one of them?
  • Does the technology require regular updates? If so, how are updates implemented?

Take your own needs into consideration and ask yourself some serious questions. Don’t be shy about asking plenty of questions about the center itself either.

Installation and Setup

  • Does someone install this for me or do I install it myself?
  • Can family members connect with the device using a smartphone or computer?

Monitoring Center 

  • Who staffs the call center, where are they located, and what are the average response times?
  • How are they trained?

Additional Features

  • Do I need automatic fall detection?
  • Does the medical alert system come with other services like medication reminders, or anything else?
  • Do those additional services cost extra?
  • Is this device mine to keep, or am I required to return it when I’m finished with it?
  • Am I purchasing or renting the device hardware? 
  • How does the company handle cybersecurity?
  • How do they protect your private information to prevent hackers from accessing your system?

Cancelation Policy, Warranties, and Tax Deductions

  • Can I cancel my contract at any time?
  • Is the medical alert system covered under a warranty?
  • What happens if something goes wrong with the equipment?
  • Is my medical alert system tax deductible as a medical expense?

Summary

For seniors who wish to live independently and safely age in place for as long as possible, a medical alert system is a great investment. When you are ready to start shopping for a system, the most important aspect of the process is finding the right company.

There are many scams these days related to medical alert systems that prey on older adults, so it is important to do your research and select a provider who is well-known for their track record in providing great service, equipment, and pricing. Get a family member on board to help do the research. 

There is a wealth of information online from product reviews to guides that help you understand your options before you even start looking for a service provider. Explore our resources below to help you find the right medical alert system for you.

 

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.