Aging is the natural progression of life that very slowly but gradually affects a person’s physical and mental processes. Although recent developments in the field of healthcare have improved the longevity of life, the health-related risks and concerns arising from advancing age have not decreased. Physical changes caused by the progression of age such as gray hair or wrinkles can be considered benign compared to the health-related issues that arise. A reduction in the essential functions of everyday life such as sight, hearing, body strength, and other bodily functions can increase the susceptibility of many chronic diseases and disabilities in older individuals. Due to this decrease in functionality, many people turn to medical alert systems for some peace of mind.
Older people are, unfortunately, often alone with no one to take care of them, and sometimes without the means to afford senior living or house care. In such situations, medical alert systems come in handy. Medical alert systems, also called personal emergency response systems, are devices that can aid elderly people in urgent situations. In case of emergencies, such as falling, fire, or health-related concerns, you just need to push a button, or some devices automatically sense urgency, and help is on its way.
Due to technological advances, a lot of new medical alert systems for seniors have been introduced. So how can you choose the device that best suits your needs? To avoid the discomfort of going through a lot of research for the best medical alert system for you, we’ve compiled a complete guide with all you need to know about medical alert systems.
How do medical alert systems work?
Medical alert systems typically have three main components:
- A small push-button device that can be the shape of a small remote control or pager, a pendant, a bracelet, or a wrist-watch. This part of the medical alert system can be kept on your person 24 hours.
- A home-based communication device that, just like a telephone, can be used to communicate with emergency service providers.
- An emergency response center that has a 24-hour monitoring service for responding to emergency calls.
In case of an emergency, the user may press the push button to call for help. The button activates the home-based communication device which immediately connects to the response center. The correspondent at the response center makes necessary inquiries then connects to the user’s emergency contacts or Emergency Medical Services for sending help to the user. The respondent also makes follow-up inquiries to make sure the urgent issue has been resolved.
Today, almost all medical alert companies provide bonus features in their medical alert systems. Following are the most recent features that are offered nowadays:
Fall Detection Sensors
These are sensors that detect rapid acceleration and unusual alignments of the body in case of a fall. These sensors are integrated within the wearable components (pendants, bracelets, watches) of the medical alert systems. In case of a fall or slip, an automated call is made to the monitoring service providers to take necessary actions.
Similar to fall detectors, companies offer the integration service of GPS systems in medical alert systems to add a location tracking feature. This could help if you are caring for a senior with memory problems, who may attempt to leave the house often, or get lost.
Add-ons for Caregivers
New advances in technology allow the caregivers of seniors to monitor the medical alert system’s data related to their loved one. These activities include data related to fall detection, GPS, pushing of help buttons, etc. They can be accessed from an online platform or a mobile phone.
Environmental monitoring system
Companies also offer alert systems for situations that can be potentially life-threatening such as a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Special sensors detect the environment’s condition and send an automated distress signal to the care providers which then take the necessary actions.
Who is a Medical Alert System for?
Medical alert systems can provide benefits to a wide range of users. They not only assist the seniors who have a medical issue but are also equally helpful to independent living, healthy older people who may need or want to be monitored just in case.
Healthy and Self-supporting Seniors
The incidence of falls is near 50% at outdoor locations. Thus active and freedom-loving older people should consider medical alert systems to keep them active and carefree. There are cellular medical alert systems for using outdoors and 23-hour services.
People Who Desire to Age in-Place
After spending a considerable amount of time in a single home, it is a typical desire to get old and spend the remainder of life in the same house. Such wishes can sometimes come with the risk of being alone in times of emergency. In such situations, medical alert systems come in handy.
Conditions that affect the memory of seniors include dementia and Alzheimer’s. Seniors with such conditions are prone to wandering and can greatly benefit from medical alert systems with GPS so that they can be found by emergency services or family if they are lost.
Seniors who have High-Risk diseases
Seniors with heart conditions and diabetes are considered high-risk patients as they can need immediate medical assistance at any time. Many critical situations can be avoided if care is provided to such individuals on time. Thus, medical alert systems can be a life-saving option for older people with such diseases.
Choosing a medical alert system
When choosing a medical alert system, get recommendations from friends, family, or neighbors who might be using one. Also, try contacting local resources for seniors, like AARP, for information they could provide you about the medical alert systems available for your senior.
Moreover, consider the following questions before you select a certain medical alert system:
- What type of features does the medical alert system offer?
- What is the buying or renting policy and what would it cost?
- Is the emergency response center service available 24/7?
- Is the staff appropriately trained to perform their relevant duties?
- What is the average response time of the service providers?
- Who will be alerted in case of any emergency?
- Would you be able to continue using the same medical alert system if you have to move from your current residence to another city?
- What are the costs for maintenance and replacement in case of malfunction?
Types of Medical Alert Systems
Medical Alert Systems can be selected from a wide range of products that vary based on technology and/ or the services they provide. You can choose what types of services and technologies best help with your condition or situation. Types of medical alert systems based on the services they provide are as follows:
Conventional Medical Alert Systems
Traditional medical alert systems require some simple steps such as pushing the help button or calling the helpline in case of an emergency. These systems can be categorized as monitored or unmonitored medical alert systems.
- Usually come with a pendant or button that makes it very easy to get in touch with emergency contacts or emergency personnel
- Much variety and options
- Usually less expensive than automated alert systems
- These are not automated, so they will not detect something like a fall or unconsciousness. The user will need to press a button or otherwise make a call in order to get in touch with someone.
Monitored medical alert systems
These are response systems that provide 24-hour monitoring services. These systems can come with a pendant usually worn around the neck used as a speakerphone for emergency calls.
- These alert systems have their own 24-hour monitoring service that can put you in touch with professionals prepared to handle your issues. This ensures that in an emergency situation, the service will always pick up, whereas, for example, emergency contacts may not.
- These usually come with a monthly fee that covers the monitoring and emergency services.
Unmonitored medical alert systems
These are response systems that do not provide monitoring services and direct the calls to 911 or another number. These can also be cellular or pendant based.
- Usually come with no monthly fee
- Can quickly put you in touch with 911 or friends and family with just one press of a button. Easy to do, even if the user is disoriented.
- No monitoring service provided, simply a device that makes it easier to get in touch with 911 or emergency contacts
Fall Detection Systems
These are medical alert systems with fall detection technology. These systems automatically sense a fall and contact the service care provider. Its sensors are designed to detect odd positions and acceleration of the body.
- Able to call for help even if the person is incapacitated.
- Waterproof (can be used in the bath, or near bodies of water like a lake or river)
- Can give false alarms
- Can fail to detect a fall
- Relatively costly, up to $50 a month
Fire Detection Systems
There are medical alert systems that provide services for smoke or fire detection. They can also detect carbon monoxide in the environment.
- Automatic alert system
- Sometimes susceptible to false alarms
Medication Surveillance Systems
Some medical alert systems offer services for monitoring medication schedules. These monitoring systems can be in the form of reminders or timers and can also include medicine dispensing devices that remind and promote taking medicines on time and prevent people from taking too much medication. These are especially useful if, a) your senior has difficulties with memory, or b) your senior is taking medication that could be dangerous if accidentally taken in high doses.
- Good for seniors with memory disability or potentially dangerous medication
- Cannot improve negligence, as in, if your senior simply refuses to take medication, then this type of device will not be helpful.
Fitness and Activity Detection Systems
These are activity monitoring motion sensors that ensure healthy activity and automatically alert responders if the user is unusually inactive for a certain period.
- Automatic alert system
- No push button or additional action required
- Requires timely check-ins by the user
- Can cause false alarms
Types of Medical Alert Systems based on technology:
While the key working concept of all medical alert systems is similar, there are three different kinds of systems according to the type of situation a user can face:
These are home-based systems that utilize the regular telephone phone system for communication. This is the most common type of medical alert system chosen by independent, live-alone seniors. These systems consist of the main communication device that is installed in the home and are connected to smaller devices that can be worn or wall-mounted. This would then allow the senior to get in touch with emergency personnel from anywhere and in any situation.
- Easy to use
- Relatively cheap
- Short-range devices
Medical alert systems that utilize cellular networks for communication are gaining popularity because of the long-range and easy access to help they provide. These systems consist of a home-based device installed at home and a mobile device that can be used in a long-range. Some systems consist only of mobile devices.
- Completely portable
- Require cellular signal to operate
Medical Alert Systems with GPS
The latest advancement in medical alert systems is GPS tracking. These systems can be plugged into vehicles as well as taken anywhere and can have a backup battery option. Along with GPS some medical alerts also have crash sensors to detect emergencies in case of an accident. Speaking devices and microphones provide an on-spot connection with the emergency response center.
- Can track location
- Require cellular signals to operate
- Battery consumption is high
Costs & Funding for Seniors
For these most devices, there are no actual charges for the devices themselves but the monitoring charges are paid monthly. The devices are leased to the user and should be returned to the service providers in case of termination of monitoring services. The monthly monitoring bills can go as low as $20 a month, and range up to approx. $60/month. The billing depends on the company and type of system that is chosen.
Upon comparison, landline medical alert systems are more affordable than mobile-based systems. While mobile-based systems range from $30-$45/month, landline-based systems have a $20-$30/month monitoring bill.
Generally, there are no medical alert systems covered by Medicare and/or any private insurance company. This can be unaffordable for low-income seniors. Thankfully, there are a few options that can be called upon in case of a low-budget situation. These payment assistance opportunities may vary according to your earnings, medical condition, and location (state).
Free Medical Alert Systems for Veterans
To assist senior veterans and/ or veterans with a disability, the government offers many supportive services. One such assistance includes a device that is very similar to a medical alert system. These devices differ from the medical alert devices in that they have a pre-programmed list of numbers and are unmonitored. To apply or seek more information contact your nearest veteran affairs office.
- These unmonitored medical alert systems are a better alternative over having none at all if your budget does not allow you to opt for monitored systems.
- A major drawback is that in case of an emergency if your pre-programmed contacts cannot be reached then it can take a long time for assistance to reach you as the calls are not monitored
Medical Alert Systems Covered with Medicaid
Medicaid has an assistance program to cover a portion or the complete monthly bill of medical alert systems in most states. For more information, refer to the official website of Medicaid. On the official website, these medical alert systems are referred to as PERS (Personal Emergency Response Services).
Long-Term Insurance plan
If you have a long-term insurance caring plan, there may be chances for cost coverage of a medical alert system. Most long-term caring insurance plans provide coverage for purchasing medical equipment and aiding devices. To be sure, check with your policy provider for medical equipment and home-based service cost coverage.
The Best Medical Alert Systems
After reviewing many products on the market, here we have compiled a list of the five best medical alert systems and their features, costs, pros, and cons in an attempt to help you choose.
|System||Best for||Cost||Features||Add ons||Pros||Cons|
|Medical Guardian||Overall||Starts at $29.95 per month||Landline & cellular in-home devices, |
Cellular as well as a GPS option,
Range of 1,300 ft,
Up to 32-hour lasting battery
|Wrist and neck pendants |
Wall-mounted help buttons,
Voice-activated wall buttons
|Wide range of variety available |
|-Relatively high monthly charges |
-Add-Ons come with an extra fee
|Bay Alarm Medical||Lowest price||$19.95 per month||Landline, cellular, in-home & in-car devices, |
Range of 1,000 ft,
Up to 32-hour lasting battery
|Help buttons |
|No equipment charges |
Lowest Monthly fee
30-Day free trial
|Shipping takes extra time for east coast areas|
|Philips Lifeline||Easiest use||$29.95 per month||Landline & cellular in-home devices, |
Cellular as well as GPS option,
Two-way talking pendant design
Up to 30-hour lasting battery
|Voice commands |
Comes with automated medicine dispenser
|Water resistant help buttons |
Affordable monthly plans
|Requires activation charges |
Add-ons cost extra
No Smart Features,
Low range (200-400 ft)
|GreatCall Lively Mobile||Fastest response time||$24.99 per month||Automated fall detection, |
|Urgent Care: allows you to consult a live nurse or doctor at any time||Water resistant |
30-Day free trial
No cancellation fees
|Daily charging required |
High activation fees
Only available as pendants
|LifeFone||Free spouse combos||$29.95 per month||Fall detection available |
1,300 ft range
|Check-in calls |
Leather carrying case,
|Free spouse combination deal|
High quality equipment
|Not water resistant|
Medical Alert Systems with No Monthly Fees
The monthly bills associated with medical alert systems can be difficult to afford for low-income senior citizens, or even just people who want to seek out alternative payment options. For such seniors, it would be ideal to find a medical alert system with no monthly fee. For that reason, we’ve included below a list of our choices for the ideal medical alert systems with no monthly fees.
These devices work just like the conventional medical alert system but do not have a monitoring system. Instead, these medical alert systems connect the users directly to their pre-programmed emergency contacts or their local 911 services in case of any emergency.
Best Medical Alert Systems with No Monthly Fees
Future Call Pendant Phone
For seniors who want to find an affordable medical alert system with no monthly fee while having the best features, Future Call Pendant Phone is one of the best options for them.
It has an automatic fall detection system, medication alert, two-way calls system, and a signal range of 650 ft.
Another useful feature of Future Call Pendant Phone is its automatic dialing and response detection technology. With one push of the emergency button, the device automatically dials to the emergency contacts and delivers a recorded message, if it does not receive a response, it automatically dials the next number on the list.
- No monthly fee
- Fall detection
- Two-way calls
- Pendant with push-button
- Automatic dial and response system
- Requires alandline connection
- Relatively expensive when compared to other options of medical alert systems with no monthly fee
Freedom Alert Emergency System
Freedom Alert Emergency System provides an affordable alternative to the expensive monthly billed, monitored medical alert systems.
It offers two-way communication, simple phone calls, allows modifications to the list and call sequence of emergency contacts, and offers the option to forward the call to local 911 emergency services.
- Two-way communication
- Pendant as push-button
- Call answering through the pendant
- No fall detection system
- Requires a landline connection, no cellular connectivity
Personal Assistance Voice Dialer II (PAVDII)
This medical alert system with no monthly fee can work as an ordinary landline phone handset. It has a capacity for a long list of emergency contacts and also has a call forwarding option to 911.
- Ordinary phone handset as a main console device
- Allows call forwarding to 911 and two-way calls
- No calls through the pendant
- Low signal range of 150 ft.
- No fall detection system
This no-fee medical alert system offers two-way calls, Bluetooth connectivity, a GPS sensor and it has a silent mode option for calling your emergency contacts for help without alerting others. It has a rechargeable battery and can call any contact number or 911 in case of emergencies.
- Does not need to pre-program emergency contacts
- Modern design
- Available in different colors
- Requires a compatible cellular device and needs to be carried like a cellphone
- Does not work without Bluetooth connectivity
Mace Alert 911
The Mace Alert 911 has a lanyard attached push button that allows the user two-way communication with 911 in case of any emergency.
- Can be carried anywhere with a lanyard
- The battery life of up to one year
- Cellular connectivity
- Batteries and lanyard are included in the package
- Can only be connected to 911 emergency services
This is a small device that has two-way communication with a GPS sensor that connects the user to 911 with the push of one button in case of emergencies. It can be attached to a belt and taken anywhere.
- Easy to use
- Has a 30-day money-back guarantee and a warranty
- The battery life is about one month per charge
- Can only be connected to 911 emergency services
- Very few features
- Expensive compared to other medical alert systems with no monthly fee
Conclusion: A Complete Guide to Medical Alert Systems
Buying medical alert systems for yourself or a loved one can be a frustrating process. So many choices, different features, and costs can create a lot of confusion. It is however very helpful to already be well-informed about the products so that the purchasing process is less overwhelming and no seller can take advantage of your situation.
Medical alert systems can significantly improve response time in emergencies and thus can help save lives. If you or a loved one is a senior and lives alone or cannot afford care facilities, the next best option for you is to install a medical alert system.
Always remember to ask all the relevant questions and get recommendations from past users in your social circle. If buying for a loved one also be sure to ask their preference as this is not a device, one should be surprised with. Find the system that best suits your needs concerning your medical condition, income, and social life.
- Understanding the Dynamics of the Aging Process, The National Institute on Aging, https://www.nia.nih.gov/about/aging-strategic-directions-research/understanding-dynamics-aging
- Personal Emergency Response Systems: Health Information for Older People, Federal Trade Commission, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0316-personal-emergency-response-systems-health-information-older-people
- Comprehensive Guide to Personal Emergency Response Systems, Aging in Place, https://aginginplace.org/comprehensive-guide-to-personal-emergency-response-systems/
- Advances in Personal Emergency Response and Detection Systems, Assistive Technology, https://doi.org/10.1080/10400435.2011.588989
- Seniors and Medicare and Medicaid Enrollees, Medicaid.gov, https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/eligibility/seniors-medicare-and-medicaid-enrollees/index.html
- How to Choose a Medical Alert System, Consumer Reports, https://www.consumerreports.org/medical-alert-systems/how-to-choose-a-medical-alert-system/
- Best Medical Alert Systems of 2020, SeniorLiving.org, https://www.seniorliving.org/medical-alert-systems/best/
- The Best Medical Alert Systems 2020, the Senior list, https://www.theseniorlist.com/best-medical-alert-systems/#Medical-Guardian-scroll