Finding the Right Medical Alert System for You
What exactly is a medical alert system, and what does it do? Do you really need one? And how do you choose one from so many available options? Our detailed guide will answer these questions and more!
What Are Medical Alert Systems?
Medical alert systems are devices—usually consisting of a base unit and a wearable element—that provide seniors with help in the event of a fall or medical emergency. During an emergency, press the help button on the bracelet or pendant, and you’ll be connected to a trained operator who will get you the help you need as quickly as possible.
These operators are available 24/7 and have all your info, including your medical history, your allergies, and any treatments or medications you might be on. They will evaluate the situation and decide on the proper course of action.
Let’s say you’ve taken a slip and just need some help getting up. In this case, the operator will contact a neighbor, friend, or family member to come and help you out. They will also stay on the line with you until help arrives.
How Are Medical Alert Devices Different From Calling 911?
Let’s look at the same situation mentioned above.
When you call 911, the dispatcher will immediately send an EMS unit to your address regardless of the severity of your injury or condition. After dispatching a unit to your house, they will end the call and tend to other emergencies and callers. The EMS unit will most likely have to break down the door, causing considerable damage to your property in the process, which in this situation would be completely unnecessary.
With a medical alert system, an EMS unit is sent only if absolutely necessary—for instance, if you’re unresponsive or the operator can’t reach anyone on your emergency list. Moreover, most of these emergency alert systems come with plenty of extra features, from fall detection to location tracking, which you can’t get with a basic cell phone or a call to 911.
Who Should Buy a Medical Alert System?
The main purpose of these systems is to help you when you need it, but they can actually do so much more than that. They provide you with security and the chance to have an independent, active, and stress-free life.
So who can benefit the most from them?
- Active seniors who enjoy the outdoors and an independent lifestyle would benefit most from a mobile unit, especially the one with GPS tracking.
- Seniors who want to stay in their current home can age happily in place without the constant presence of a caregiver.
- Seniors who have dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other age-related cognitive conditions and use emergency alert systems can help caregivers easily locate them if they wander or get lost and disoriented.
- Seniors with high-risk medical conditions can benefit from even the most basic system. They can prevent serious injury or death, particularly among seniors with heart disease or other high-risk conditions.
Choosing an Emergency Alert System
Here are the most important aspects to consider when buying a medical alert system, whether it’s for you or for someone in your family.
Mobile vs. In-Home Alert Systems
The first decision you have to make is choosing the type of system. Med alert systems usually fall into two categories: home-based and mobile.
Home medical alert systems consist of a stationary base and a wearable device. The base unit has a speaker and microphone for easy, two-way, hands-free communication with a dispatcher at the monitoring center. The wearable device, on the other hand, is a small help button that you can wear around your neck or wrist. These devices are usually lightweight, waterproof, and can communicate with the base unit within distances of up to 1,400 feet. This means you’re covered even if you’re taking a stroll in the backyard or live in a larger home.
An in-home alert system uses a landline telephone connection but can work with a cellular connection as well. For most older adults, a classic in-home system is a good way to go. It’s reliable, the connection is clear, and the device is always on because you don’t need to charge it. However, if you’re an active senior, investing in a mobile system is something to consider.
Mobile alert systems come with many advantages. They’re portable, so you can use them anywhere with good cellular coverage. Plus, they have GPS tracking, allowing medical services or a caregiver to pinpoint your exact location. The only downside to mobile systems is that you have to charge the devices. Some of these systems are equipped with an alarm reminding you that your battery needs charging, making this process easier for forgetful users.
Some users also report that mobile devices are bulkier than pendants or bracelets. However, thanks to advances in technology, there are now lighter and smaller mobile units that can fit in your purse or pocket or be clipped on your belt.
For seniors who can’t decide between the two, there are dual systems that combine at-home and mobile devices for full protection.
Find a Reliable Company
The next step is finding a trustworthy company. When looking for a reliable manufacturer, consider:
- Transparency: Does the company post all its fees on the site? Do its sales representatives give clear answers to all your questions? Does its website include both positive and negative comments by customers? If the answers to any of these questions are no, then you’re likely dealing with a shady company.
- Reputation: Look at customer reviews and the Better Business Bureau. When it comes to medical alert systems, ratings like these offer a better understanding of the company so you can decide whether it’s trustworthy or not. It’s also a good idea to look for certifications—such as TMA’s Five Diamond certification and the Electronic Security Association—to check the company’s dedication to quality and safety.
- Look at the return policy: Before you buy a medical alert system for yourself or a family member, carefully read the terms and conditions, particularly in the area of refunds and returns. Try to find companies that allow you to return equipment or cancel a subscription or service without additional charges. Steer clear of companies that require you to sign lengthy contracts, and focus on flexible plans instead.
- Check locations of monitoring centers: Stick to companies with monitoring centers in North America for the fastest access to trained agents. In addition to being located in the US, the company should have trained staff consisting of nurses or medical supervisors who can offer their expertise, especially during high-risk calls.
Comfort and Convenience
For a medical alert system to work properly, it has to be worn at all times. This means the wearable elements or mobile device must be comfortable, light, and waterproof so they can be worn in the shower, where most slips and falls happen.
Advanced medical alert systems come with a wide range of additional features, from intruder alerts to consults with board-certified doctors. Some of the most common and useful features include:
- Automatic fall detection: This is one of the most common and helpful features of alert systems. Medical alert systems with fall detection have built-in sensors that detect falls and automatically call the dispatch center.
You should remember, though, that this technology isn’t 100% reliable. The device is prone to false alarms and might register a fall even when you’ve only lost your balance or dropped the pendant by accident while you slept. However, if you’re one of the 25% of Americans over 65 who experience falls every year, it might be wise to invest in a fall alert system.
- Caregiver tracking: Depending on the system, this extra feature can track your location, monitor battery life, and notify your caregiver when you leave a predetermined area, such as your home. The latter feature, known as geofencing, is a handy tool, particularly if you have Alzheimer’s or dementia, as it allows your caregiver to determine your exact location, or at the very least, your last known whereabouts.
- Medication reminder: Having your base or mobile unit remind you when it’s time to take your medication can be extremely helpful, especially if you live with a chronic condition or have a complex medication schedule.
- Wall buttons: Wall buttons are battery-powered and can be placed anywhere in the house, including high-risk areas like the bathroom, stairs, or by the bed. This is a great backup solution if you’ve damaged or lost your wearable device or simply don’t feel like wearing it.
- Lockbox: A safety lockbox is used to store an extra key so that emergency services won’t have to break down the door to enter your home. A simple solution like this can save you a lot of money in terms of damaged property, as well as the hassle of home repairs.
Some Final Tips
- Whether you have a home-based or mobile system, be sure to check the connection immediately after installation to see if everything is working.
- It’s a good idea to get a base unit with a built-in battery backup in case of power outages.
- If English isn’t your first language, look for companies that offer several language options. Some providers support over 200 languages.
- Consider plans that allow for multiple contacts to be added to your emergency list, just in case.
- A word of caution for caregivers: If you’re thinking of buying an emergency alert system for your parents, grandparents, or other family members and friends, consider their needs. A senior alert system isn’t a gift, so make sure you discuss the purchase beforehand.
Medical alert systems are the ideal solution for older adults who want to age in place, preserve their independence, and continue to lead active lives. They’re also an excellent tool for caregivers, providing them with security and peace of mind regarding their loved ones’ health and well-being.