Who Should Wear a Medical Alert System?
Updated for October, 2021
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.
Some of the links on this page may link to our affiliates. Learn more about our ad policies.
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.
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 of family member depending on the nature of the situation.
There are a wide range of situations when a medical alert system could be lifesaving.
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:
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.
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 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, a problem that can occur even in its earliest stages. In medical alert systems that are GPS enabled, locating your loved one can be as simple as pressing a button.
Do your research on the top providers in the area and make sure that they don’t charge extra fees.
While some companies put pricing information on their website, it is important to be conscious of the fact that these base prices may not be a realistic picture of how much you will end up paying on a monthly basis. Take your time researching companies. 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.
Here are a few things to be aware of when evaluating costs:
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 that they don’t charge extra fees.
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.
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.
Oftentimes, companies will 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.
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.
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 you extra. 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.
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 up front if you have a spouse, family member, or caretaker who may want their own device for added protection.
Research all of your options by checking sites and organizations that track and report the quality of services and complaints received.
Create a list of national and local companies that provide service in your area. You can visit eldercare.gov to find your area 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.
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 do it that way, most companies now offer a mobile option that allows home-based systems to operate through cellular networks if you don’t have a landline. A lot of companies now offer a mobile option as well, which allows you to access help through the system when you are in your house as well as when you are out. 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 can locate you and send the closest emergency responders.
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, then 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 the best route. Make sure that you understand the cost of each service so that you can compare and make the best decision for you and your budget.
Make sure that your pendant, whether worn on your wrist or around your neck, is comfortable.
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:
The vast majority of falls occur in the shower, so it is imperative that your equipment is at least water resistant, preferably waterproof.
Comfortable and Lightweight
Make sure that your pendant, whether worn on your wrist or around your neck, is comfortable. Make sure it is attractive and low-profile enough that you will wear it.
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.
Make sure that 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.
There are a lot of questions you should find out about the call center that will be responding should you need assistance. Make sure they guarantee a response within seconds–the longer you wait, the more dangerous your situation will become. 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 ask functional questions about how you will communicate with the operator if called, through the device you wear or through the base unit?
It is important that 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.
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.
Questions To Consider When Selecting A Provider
- 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 they implemented?
- Does someone install this for me or do I install it myself?
- Can family members connect with the device using a smartphone or computer?
- Who staffs the call center, where are they located, and what are the average response times?
- How are they trained?
- 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 purchasing the device hardware? You’ll want to ask this question to be clear.
- How does the company handle cybersecurity?
- How do they protect your private information to prevent hackers from accessing your system?
- 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?
For seniors who wish to live independently for as long as possible, a medical alert system is essential so you have the peace of mind and security you need to age in place safely. When you are ready to start shopping for a system, the most important aspect of the process is finding the right company.
There are so many scams these days related to medical alert systems that aim to prey on older adults, it is important that you 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. That way you are armed with the right questions and can make a decision confidently.