How to Pick the Best Medical Alert System
1. Who Should Buy a Medical Alert?
Medical alert systems are generally designed for seniors, especially those who live alone. So if you want to keep your independence and not go to a nursing home, you can greatly benefit from these handy devices. Unfortunately, old age comes with an increased risk of illnesses and emergencies, such as heart attacks and strokes, that require urgent medical attention. Every second counts in those situations!
Also, most elderly people dread falls since this nasty incident can leave an old person lying on the floor helpless for a long time. A med alert for seniors is a great solution because knowing that help is one press of a button away can give them peace of mind.
However, old people are not the only ones suffering from serious illnesses. An alert system can be just as life-saving for younger people who live alone. In addition, if you are extra concerned with safety, you can get one to use it in case of a fire or burglary.
As you can see, a med alert can come in handy in numerous situations. The most important thing to keep in mind is that they are only helpful if you wear them at all times.
2. Why Not Just Use a Cell Phone?
You may wonder why you need a medical alert service when you can use a regular cell phone, smartphone, or any other device capable of communicating your problem? Nearly everyone carries them around today. However, senior alert systems have a number of advantages over your phones.
First of all, we have to remember that many older people are not so tech-savvy. They can also suffer from conditions like dementia and other impairments. So it’s best to stick with the simplest solution like an alert button for elderly people. Since they can use them at any given moment, they even beat out regular visits by relatives.
Secondly, phones have some serious drawbacks that medical alert devices for seniors can overcome. Not many phones are water-resistant, so they are not as dependable and reachable when you have to use them in the shower. Furthermore, they can’t detect falls automatically and they don’t share your location by default. Another disadvantage is that their battery life is significantly shorter.
Also, it’s nice to know that help centers are available 24/7. So even in nonemergencies, when you can’t call 911, you can be certain that someone will answer your call and you don’t have to depend on your friend or relative to pick up and be able to help you. Still, if you can’t afford to make monthly payments for one of the best medical alert systems, it’s better to have a phone around than nothing at all.
3. What Equipment Is Required?
Regardless of how advanced features they offer, most medical alert systems operate similarly. A typical in-home setup consists of a base unit and a help button. A base unit, which looks something like an answering machine, uses your telephone line to establish a connection with an emergency center, while you wear a help button as a pendant or a wristband.
A home alert system for seniors is generally very easy to install. Once you connect the phone and the base unit using a phone cord and plug in the power cord, a green indicator should tell you that you’re good to go. However, we also recommend you to run a test. When a live agent answers your call, just tell them that you’re running a test. They won’t mind since most companies encourage this, too.
All the models that we’ve reviewed have a base unit that also serves as a speakerphone. Usually, there’s an emergency button on it as well and this button has the same purpose as the help button on the pendant. In addition, most base units feature a reset button, which you can press to either cancel the call or silence the beeping sound.
However, to make sure that you haven’t confused the buttons, you’ll have to talk to the agent and explain to them it was an accidental call. All the top medical alert systems also allow you to use them even during power outages since they have a built-in backup battery.
The help pendant is a small device that you should wear with you all the time since the medical alert button is placed on it. Most of them are waterproof, so you can use them in the shower as well. Also, they may have embedded GPS technology in order to track your location.
Usually, they can also automatically detect falls, but this feature generally comes with additional monthly costs. Depending on your preference, you can wear it as a medical alert necklace, in your pocket, or around your waist. Many companies also install a help button in a medical alert bracelet.
Pendants that are part of a home alert can operate within a limited range away from the base unit. Since they cover distances in and around the house, they are best-suited for homebound people or those who prefer to stay at home. They are also more inconspicuous than mobile systems. On the other hand, you can speak directly through mobile systems because they contain the technology found in base units.
4. Medical Alert System Types
While the previous paragraph explains all the basics of home medical alert systems, we need to add that you can also opt for a cellular base station. This option is great if you don’t have a landline or if you want to be able to move it around the house. However, cellular options cost more.
As we already said, in-home systems are perfect for people who hardly ever leave their homes. When it comes to the maximum range, even the best medical alert in this aspect can’t cover more than 1500 feet. Keep in mind that a greater range can’t serve you any good because you need to be near the base unit to hear and be heard by the live agents.
Elderly people who maintain an active lifestyle can greatly benefit from mobile medical alert systems with GPS positioning. Since they work wherever you have a cell signal, they give you complete freedom of movement. While you can’t talk through the help button pendant of an in-home system, mobile systems allow you to talk directly through them.
Mobile alert systems also have a few drawbacks. Even though they are small enough to be carried around, they are heavier and larger than a simple portable help button. Moreover, they have a limited battery life, so you’ll have to charge them regularly. In fact, to make sure you’re protected all the time, it’s best to pick up the habit of charging them every day.
Finally, a mobile system comes with higher monthly fees compared to an in-home senior alert. Their final price depends on your choice of additional features, such as automatic fall detection.
5. How Do Medical Alert Systems Work?
Both in-home and mobile systems connect you to the monitoring center in case of an emergency. However, the way you communicate with live agents differs significantly. As we’ve already explained, they can’t hear you through the help button pendant of an in-home alert for seniors. Other than that, the two types of alert systems function pretty much the same.
In an emergency, you just need to press the emergency call button on the base unit or on your wearable device to call for help. Once the system automatically dials up the response center, it’ll start beeping loudly to indicate that it’s trying to make a connection. The response time can differ greatly, but it’s always under one minute. When we tested monitoring centers for our medical alert system reviews, on average, live agents needed around 20–40 seconds to answer the call.
The agent will ask you what your emergency is and whether you need help. Depending on what your crisis situation is, they will call the people on your emergency contact list or 911, and dispatch them to your location. Most of the companies ask you to provide medical information in advance that they keep in your database. This usually includes pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, the medication you take, allergies, your physician contacts, and so on.
The general rule is: the more freedom you get, the more you’ll have to pay for a monthly subscription. With most companies, you won’t have to sign a multiyear contract. But if you’re ready for this type of commitment, look for companies that offer discounts if you sign it. In addition, the majority of companies don’t require that you pay activation and cancellation fees. You can also find some that offer free equipment delivery.
If you’re looking for the best price of a medical alert system, Consumer Reports and other sources confirm that certain companies are willing to bargain to give you a better deal.
If you don’t want to pay any monthly fees, look for unmonitored medical alert systems. However, they are rarely offered. While basic in-home landline systems cost $25–$35 per month, cellular in-home systems are a bit more expensive and cost $35–$45 per month.
The priciest option is a mobile system, which can cost as much as $65 per month. In addition, you may also need to pay for the device upfront. However, many mobile systems have some of the following additional features included in the price. Keep in mind that additional features can considerably increase your monthly payments.
7. Additional Features
Among a number of useful additional features, we believe that fall detection technology is the most important. Since medical alert systems with fall detection are fairly accurate in detecting falls that can lead to serious consequences, they can be of great help to seniors. National Council for Aging Care reports that 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls. Considering that breaking a hip is a life-threatening condition in old age, the sooner you get help, the better. Medical alert systems with fall detectors will automatically connect you to a monitoring center when they detect a fall—you won’t even have to push the help button.
Typically, mobile systems come with this feature by default because you can’t get help unless your location is known at all times. Some companies also offer an option to combine a GPS-enabled mobile device with an in-home system. If you tend to go too far away from the base unit, this additional feature can come in very handy.
Many companies offer a multiperson senior emergency alert system. In other words, you can extend the protection of an in-home system to your spouse or another person in the household for a small additional fee. This is an amazing option for senior couples because instead of paying for an entirely new system, they can get an additional help button pendant for only a few dollars a month more.
A wall-mounted button is another type of additional help button that can be of great use to you. Think of the places where you’re likely to take off your pendant, and place them strategically around the house. An elderly medical alert is most needed in the bathroom since studies have shown that serious accidents most often happen there.
If you live in a large house, you should definitely consider adding this handy feature. Even though the base units of alert devices for the elderly have sensitive microphones and loudspeakers, you may be too far away to hear each other. Therefore, it might be a good idea to place a voice extender in your house. This useful device looks like a smaller base unit of a senior alert system and it allows you to communicate with a live agent.
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.
Fire & Smoke Monitoring
Some base units of the best medical alert systems come with built-in fire and smoke detection technologies, while some companies offer this as an upgrade. One more practical add-on is carbon monoxide monitoring, which you can get for an additional cost. It’s crucial to detect unhealthy levels of this lethal gas since it’s both colorless and odorless, so we are usually unable to detect it until it’s too late.
A lockbox is another practical feature, which you can add to your paying plan. If you decide to get it, you should place it outside your front door and keep a spare key there. It’ll be protected with a code that the emergency responders will get from the service when you call them in a crisis situation. So when you need help, but aren’t able to open the door, they can get in without damaging your doors or windows.