Health & Wellness

How to Choose a Medical Alert System

A good medical alert system is an effective and affordable tool that can help keep your seniors safe and living in their own home longer. But with all the different products and features available today, choosing one can be challenging. Here are some tips that can help.

Three Key Questions

Medical alert systems, which have been around since the 1980s, provide a wearable help button – usually in the form of a neck pendant or wristband – that would put a senior in touch with a dispatcher who could summon emergency help or contact a friend or family member as needed.

To help you narrow down your options and choose a system that best fits their needs, here are three key questions you’ll need to ask, along with some top-rated companies that offer these products.

Does the User Want a home-Based or Mobile System?

Medical alert systems were originally designed to work inside the home with a landline telephone, which is still an option. But since fewer and fewer households have landlines these days, most companies today also offer home-based systems that work over a cellular network. With these systems, pressing the wearable help button allows you to speak to a dispatcher through a base unit located in your home.

In addition, many companies offer mobile medical alert options, too. You can use these systems at home, but they’ll also allow you to call for help while you’re out and about.

Mobile alerts operate over cellular networks and incorporate GPS technology. They allow you to talk and listen to the operator directly through the pendant button, and because of the GPS, your location would be known in order for help to be sent.

If the user doesn’t leave the house very often, they may not need a mobile system, but if they are still active, they may want added protection outside the home.

Should the System be Monitored or Not?

The best medical alert systems are monitored, meaning that the help button connects you with a trained operator at a 24/7 dispatching center.

But you also have the option to choose a system that isn’t monitored. With these, when you press the help button, the device automatically dials a friend or family member on your programmed emergency call list.

These products can often be set up to call multiple people and to contact emergency services if you don’t get an answer from someone on your list.

Should you Add a Fall-Detection Feature?

Most medical alert companies today now offer the option of an automatic fall detection pendant for an additional fee of $10 to $15 per month. These pendants sense falls when they occur and automatically contact the dispatch center, just as they would if you had pressed the call button. 

But be aware that this technology isn’t fool proof. In some cases, this feature may register something as a fall that isn’t. The alarm might go off if you drop it or momentarily lose your balance but don’t actually land on the ground.

Top Rated Systems

Here are four top companies, rated by Consumer Reports, that offer home and mobile monitored medical alert systems:

  • Bay Alarm Medical: Fees range between $20 and $40 per month;; 877-522-9633.
  • GreatCall’s Lively Mobile Plus: The device costs $50 plus a $25 to $40 monthly service fee;; 800-650-5921.
  • MobileHelp: Monthly fees run $20 to $45;; 800-809-9664.
  • Philips Lifeline: $30 to $50/month, plus a one time device/activation fee of $50 to $100;; 855-681-5351.

Jim Miller publishes the Savvy Senior, a nationally syndicated column that offers advice for Boomers and Seniors.

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