Who Should Buy a Medical Alert?
Seniors, especially those who live alone, who want to retain their independence and not go to a nursing home, can benefit the most from a medical alert system. A lot of illnesses and emergencies associated with old age such as heart attacks and strokes require urgent medical attention – every second counts in those situations. Other nasty incidents dreaded by the elderly are falls. A fall can leave an old person laying on the floor helpless for a long time. A med alert for seniors is a great solution because it can give them a peace of mind that help is one press of a button away.
Old people are not the only ones suffering from serious illnesses, unfortunately. An alert system can be just as life-saving for younger people who live alone. If you’re a person who’s extra concerned with safety, it can come in handy even in events such as fires and burglaries. As you can see, there are numerous uses for alert systems. The most important thing to remember is that they are only helpful if you dedicate yourself to wearing them at all times.
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Why Not Just Use a Cell Phone?
You may wonder, why opt for a medical alert service when you can use a regular cell phone, a smartphone, or any other device capable of communicating your problem? Nearly everyone carries them around today. However, they’re not quite the same thing as it may seem. First of all, we have to remember that we’re mostly dealing with older people who are not so tech-savvy. They can also have conditions like dementia and other impairments where the simplest solution like a help button is the best. In those cases, senior alert systems beat out even regular visits by relatives.
Secondly, alert systems have many other advantages over your phones. Not every phone is water-resistant, and they are not as dependable and reachable when you have to use them in the shower. They also don’t have automatic fall detection, they don’t share your location by default, and their batteries last significantly shorter. Also, in non-emergencies, when you can’t call 911, you’d have to depend on the people you’re calling to pick up and be able to help you whereas help centers are available to you 24/7. Still, if you can’t afford to make monthly payments, it’s better to have a phone around than nothing at all.
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What Equipment Is Required?
The simplest and the best medical alert system with advanced features operate similarly. The most basic in-home setup consists of a base unit that uses a telephone line to establish a connection and a help button you wear on yourself that has a certain range. They are very simple to install – connect the phone and the base unit (which looks something like an answering machine) using a phone cord and plug in the power cord. There’s usually a green indicator telling you that you’re good to go, but it’s also recommended to run a test. When you connect to a live agent, tell them you’re conducting a test. They won’t mind; on the contrary, most companies encourage this.
The base unit of all the models we’ve reviewed also doubles as a speakerphone, and there’s usually an emergency button on it as well as a reset button. Pressing the emergency button does the same thing as pressing the help button on the pendant. Pressing the reset button can either cancel the call or silence the beeping sound. You’ll still have to talk to the agent and explain to them it was an accidental call. This is to make sure that you haven’t confused the buttons. All the top medical alert systems also have a built-in backup battery allowing you to use them even during power outages.
The pendant is the second piece of equipment, the device you wear which contains the help button. They are almost always waterproof, and most of them have embedded GPS technology. Some of them feature fall detection, which comes with additional monthly costs. You can wear them as a pendant necklace, like a watch on your wrist, or around your waist.
The ones that are a part of in-home systems have a limited range away from the base unit which is good for distances in and around the house. Though it limits your movement, it’s much more inconspicuous than a mobile system. Mobile systems contain the technology found in base units so that you can speak directly through them.
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Medical Alert System Types
We’ve already explained the basics of home medical alert systems in the previous paragraph. What’s there to add is that they also come with a cellular base station option. You can choose them if you don’t have a landline or if you want to be able to move it around the house. Cellular options cost extra though. An in-home system is ideal for people who hardly ever leave their home. The maximum range you can expect from them is around 1,500 feet. You certainly won’t need a greater range than that because you’ll have to be near the base unit to hear and be heard by the live agents.
Mobile medical alert systems with GPS positioning are great for people who maintain an active lifestyle. They give you complete freedom of movement, and they work wherever there’s a cell signal. Another huge advantage of mobile systems is that you can talk directly through them whereas you cannot talk through the help button pendant of an in-home system.
Mobile systems come with a few drawbacks though. They are still small enough to be carried around and worn (typically on your belt), but they are heavier and larger than a simple portable help button. Moreover, you’ll need to charge their battery regularly – it’s best to pick up the habit of charging them every day. Finally, they have larger monthly fees than in-home systems. Ultimately, when it comes to additional features, you can get them for mobile systems as well.
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How Do Med-Alert Systems Work?
The way you communicate your emergency to the response center differs greatly on whether you choose an in-home system or a mobile system. As we’ve already explained, the live agents can’t hear you through the help button pendant of an in-home system. Other than that, their modus operandi is the same.
In an emergency, press the help button on your wearable device or on the base unit to call for help. The system will automatically dial up the monitoring center and start beeping loudly to indicate that it is trying to make a connection. The time it takes a live agent to answer is rarely the same, but it’s always under one minute. The average response we got during testing for our medical alert system reviews was around 20 – 40 seconds.
The agent will ask you what your emergency is and whether you need help. If you’re unable to talk to the agent, they will call the people on your emergency contact list. If the agents can’t reach them, they’ll call 911 and dispatch them to your location. Most of the services require you to provide medical information in advance that goes into your database. This usually includes pre-existing conditions, the medication you take, your physician contacts, allergies, and so on.
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If you’re looking for a deal on a medical alert system, Consumer Reports and other sources confirm that you can bargain with certain medical alert companies to bring the price down a bit. The general rule is the more freedom you get, the more you’ll have to pay for its monthly subscription. The majority of companies don’t force you to sign a multiyear contract but look for those that offer discounts if you do sign it. Also, most companies have no activation and cancellation fees. And some even offer free equipment delivery.
Unmonitored medical alert systems come with no monthly fees, but they are rarely offered. Basic in-home landline systems cost $25–$35 per month. Cellular in-home systems are a bit pricier and cost $35–$45 per month. Mobile systems are not only the most expensive, costing as much as $65 per month, but they may also require you to pay for the device upfront. However, opting for a mobile system eliminates the need for you to get some of the following additional features. Each selected additional feature will add to your monthly payments.
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Of all the useful additional features, we find that the inclusion of fall detection technology is the most important. According to the National Council for Aging Care, 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls. Medical alert systems with fall detection are more or less accurate in detecting falls that can lead to serious consequences. Breaking a hip is a life-threatening condition in old age. The sooner you get help, the better. Devices equipped with this technology will automatically initiate a call when they detect a fall.
This feature comes by default with mobile systems since your location needs to be known at all times for you to get help. Some companies also offer relatively inexpensive bundling of GPS-enabled mobile devices with an in-home system. Having this additional feature can be very useful if you wander too far away from the base unit.
Usually, for a small additional fee, you can extend the protection of an in-home system to your spouse, or any other person in the household. This is a great option for senior couples who won’t need to pay for an entirely new system, but only a few dollars more for an additional help button pendant.
Speaking of additional help buttons, you can get wall-mounted buttons as well. You can then position them strategically around the house in places where you are likely to take off your pendant, such as the shower. An elderly medical alert is most needed in the bathroom because researches have shown that the majority of serious accidents happen there.
Voice extenders can be a very useful feature, especially if you live in large houses. In-home systems depend on the ability to communicate through the base unit. Though they do have sensitive microphones and loudspeakers, you won’t always be close enough to hear each other. A voice extender is like a miniature base unit you place around the house. This feature allows you to talk to the live agent just like you would through a base unit.
While most companies charge extra for this feature, some offer a wellness check-in service for free. The agents call you periodically to ensure you’re OK, and that the equipment is working properly. Similarly, some companies offer the option of calling you every day at a certain time to remind you to take your medication.
Some of the best medical alert systems also have fire and smoke detection technologies built inside their base unit or offer this as an upgrade. Of course, for an additional cost, you can also get CO monitoring (carbon monoxide is an odorless lethal gas).
One more practical add-on is the ability to buy a lockbox you place outside your front door. It contains a spare key so that when you call for help, but can’t open the door, the responders can get in without having to knock down your door. The service will give them a code needed to open the lockbox when you call for help.