Medical Alert Systems Guide

If you are a senior, have a disability, or just want access to immediate help in the event of an emergency or unsafe situation, a medical alert system might be for you.

Medical alert systems are not just for seniors anymore. This world can be a dangerous place so having a panic button on your person in case of an emergency could ultimately save your life.

Would you like to learn more? Great! Then let’s get started.

We will first talk about how medical alert systems benefit seniors. Then we’ll delve into the details about medical alert systems, such as how they work, what you need to consider, and the various different types of equipment, features, and associated costs.

Why a Medical Alert System?

There are plenty of reasons investing in a medical alert system is a great idea, especially if you are a senior.

Aging in Place

Ask any senior (or yourself if you are already a senior) where they/you would like to spend their/your twilight years and just about everyone will say in the comfort of their own home. Now, thanks to such advanced medical alert systems more and more seniors are able to do just that.

Today’s medical alert systems have so many features, which we will go over in a minute, that a senior can live out their years in their own home while still maintaining their privacy and independence.

Emergency Response

The medical alert systems currently on the market offer a wide variety of emergency response features that include panic buttons, 24/7 monitoring by trained call center professionals, fall detection, GPS location tracking, and more allowing for a more independent, active lifestyle for seniors.

Peace of Mind

The main reason most seniors lose their independence is because of the risk of injury to themselves should an accident occur, particularly if they don’t have the ability to call for help. However, today’s medical alert systems are so advanced that family members and/or caregivers can have more peace of mind that should an emergency occur, at home or on-the-go, their loved one will receive immediate assistance. Additionally, seniors who want to be able to access help should they ever fall, get hurt, become lost, or disoriented also realize the peace of mind a medical alert system will provide them. It’s a win-win solution for everyone!

How Medical Alert Devices Work

A medical alert system consists of a base unit and an alert device such as a necklace, wristband, or watch. The medical alert devices communicate with the base unit which notifies a monitoring center when a help button is pushed. Or, if the system has fall detection, the device will alert the monitoring center if a fall is detected.

Alternatively, there are also some non-monitored medical alert systems out there that if an alert button is pressed, the user won’t be connected to a live person, rather the system will call a series of preprogrammed phone numbers until someone answers.

There are usually two different coverage options available which are in-home and mobile (frequently referred to as on-the-go). There are also several ways these systems communicate which are through a landline, a cellular service, or using GPS tracking.

Considerations When Buying a Medical Alert System

Now let’s take a look at the different types of medical alert systems we mentioned above. This will show you what options are available and will help you decide which type of medical alert system is best suited to your particular needs.

In-Home vs Mobile

An in-home medical alert system is just that—a system that will only work in and around your home, usually within a certain radius such as 600-1000 feet, etc. Therefore, if you or your loved one is homebound, then this type of system would be ideal. However, if you are active and frequently away from your home, a mobile medical alert system is the better choice. Mobile medical alert systems will be able to either communicate using a cellular signal or through GPS tracking to send help wherever you are when you press the alert button. Additionally, many brands offer both options in one bundled package.

Landline vs Cellular vs GPS

Landline-based medical alert systems use your home phone’s landline to communicate; therefore, this type of system can only be used at home and you must have a working landline for it to work.

Cellular-based medical alert systems use a cellular signal (similar to the one that’s used for a mobile phone) to communicate. A cellular-based alert system can be used anywhere there is coverage for whatever cellular service it uses.

GPS location tracking enabled medical alert systems use cellular communication and a GPS tracking feature. This means if you ever fall, get lost, hurt, or have any other type of emergency, you can press the alert button and the device will be able to track your location and send help even if you don’t know where you are. Some of these systems also come with automatic fall detection. So if you fall and are unable to press the button, the device will automatically send an alert on your behalf. Talk about peace of mind…this it!

Senior Health Condition

Another factor when trying to decide which medical alert system is right for you is to assess any specific senior health conditions you or your loved ones might have. For example, if your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, selecting a medical alert system with GPS tracking is essential. GPS tracking will help you find your loved one if they are ever lost. They are also great for seniors who become disoriented and don’t know where they are at any given time. Additionally, these systems sometimes come with an option to send caregiver alerts if the user ever goes outside of a pre-designated range.

User Preference

Other considerations are pretty much personal preference considerations such as how the device looks when you wear it. Do you want one that has a low profile, is lightweight, stylish, has interchangeable different colored faceplates, or one that looks more like a watch than a medical alert device? You might also want to consider how user-friendly they are, especially if you aren’t very tech savvy. Although, most of today’s systems are designed with seniors in mind and are very easy to use.

Equipment

Here is the list of equipment that is most commonly included with just about any medical alert system.

In-Home Base Stations

The in-home base unit is like a central command station that works by connecting the medical alert devices to the monitoring center when a help button is pressed. These usually have either landline based or cellular based communication and a base unit that can be installed by plugging it into a power source and connecting the phone line (if it’s a landline based system).

Bracelets

Some medical alert systems come with an accompanying medical alert bracelet, commonly referred to as a wristband. A medical alert bracelet works by communicating with either the base station or a monitoring center when the help button is pressed. Some bracelets also come with a two-way talk feature and some don’t.

Necklaces & Pendants

When buying a medical alert system, you usually have your choice of which type of medical alert device you want to wear or carry. The most common option is the medical alert necklace, commonly referred to as a pendant. The medical alert pendants work the same as the medical alert bracelets, as far as how they communicate. The only difference is that the necklace is, yep, you guessed it, a necklace that is worn around your neck and the bracelet is worn around your wrist. Some brands provide you with both a pendant and a wristband included with the price. However, if they don’t, most of them will offer add-on equipment for a fee so you can pay for as many extra help buttons as you want and/or need.

Smart Watches

Smartwatches are all the rage and the medical alert service companies have jumped on the bandwagon. You can now get a medical alert button that looks like a smartwatch. This type of medical alert device usually communicates using a cellular signal and sometimes includes a GPS tracking feature. Additionally, some of them come with extra functionalities such as wellness features that include fitness tracking/step counter, heart rate monitors, weather, and access to a wide variety of apps. Many of them also offer fall detection, a two-way talk feature, voice recognition commands, and more. However, to use some of the more advanced features, you have to have a compatible smartphone to use all the functionalities it has to offer.

Another thing to keep in mind is that smartwatches run on batteries, so it is best to research the battery performance of any given product you choose before making your purchase. Some brands include a replacement battery and some don’t.

Features

Every medical alert system will come with some basic equipment, but the features each has will vary. So why not take a moment to learn about the various features. This will help you make an educated decision about which ones you actually need and which ones you don’t.

Fall Detection

Automatic fall detection is probably the one feature you should consider adding to your system regardless of the cost. Almost all medical alert brands offer automatic fall detection; however, very few of them offer it to you for free. That means it will cost you a little extra each month for this service, but this is the one feature that could mean the difference between life and death—so yes, it is that important!

The automatic fall detection feature will detect if you fall and call for help if you are not able to. For example, the fall detection feature will call for help on your behalf if you fall, hit your head, become unconscious, and are unable to press the help button.

GPS Monitoring

GPS monitoring, also known as GPS tracking, is an important feature to have if you or your loved one is active and frequently away from home. Or, if you or your loved one suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s. However, many people opt for medical alert systems that have GPS monitoring to give them that extra peace of mind of knowing that wherever they go, if they become injured, lost, or disoriented, their location will be detectable at all times.

The GPS monitoring feature uses radio satellite signals and a chip in the medical alert device to determine a location. Then when a user presses the help button, the monitoring center will be able to immediately detect the user’s location and send help. So if you encounter an emergency, having a medical alert system that comes with GPS monitoring could ultimately save your life, especially if time is of the essence.

Waterproof

Most medical alert devices are either waterproof or water resistant. However, most people don’t realize there is a difference. Knowing the difference will help you choose which type of device you need.

Waterproof medical alert devices can be fully submerged in water and still work. Therefore, if you like to take baths, swim, or any other water activity, you should look for a medical alert device that is 100% waterproof.

Water resistant medical alert devices are somewhat resistant to water, but can’t withstand being fully submerged in water for long periods of time. However, with that being said, there are some water resistant medical alert devices that can be worn in the shower or during other brief water activities. Consider checking with the manufacturer of your chosen device to clarify exactly what that device is capable of before you make any final decisions.

2-Way Speakers

Some medical alert devices come with a two-way talk feature and some don’t. And whether this option is necessary will depend on your personal preference. The two-way speakers on a medical alert device make it much easier for you to communicate with the monitoring center about the issue you are having while being able to provide enough details so they can determine whether or not to send help. Additionally, if they determine you need help, the monitoring center professional will be better equipped to communicate with EMS about your exact needs versus them showing up not knowing what the problem might be.

Automatic System Testing

Automatic system testing is a feature that regularly tests your medical alert system’s devices. This feature is a huge convenience and one that could save your life. Having automatic system testing means you won’t have to remember to periodically test your medical alert devices yourself. And, if a problem is detected, you will be notified immediately so nothing is left to chance. However, not all medical alert devices have this feature; therefore, you will need to ask about this if that feature is important to you.

App Control & Alerts

Almost all cellular, GPS, and smartwatch medical alert systems come with an associated mobile app. These mobile apps provide many helpful features in addition to their medical alert services. The main benefit of having a mobile app with your medical alert system is so that your family and/or caregivers can receive alerts should an incident occur. Additionally, with the app, you and/or a caregiver can control any facet of that medical alert system remotely. This will allow a caregiver to check in on someone and make any adjustments/changes necessary to ensure the comfort and safety of that person.

There are some brands take their app functionality a little further by adding additional services to them. For example, with some medical alert brands, the app also includes a fitness tracker, heart rate monitor, daily schedule, health goals, weather reports, and more. Some of these additional app services are free and some require you to pay an extra fee.

Costs

If you are like most people, one of the main factors in making a purchase is getting the best quality product and/or service for your money. So let’s go over some of the basic costs you can expect when buying a medical alert system.

Equipment

Most medical alert companies don’t charge you for their equipment; however, you are required to pay a monthly fee for their monitoring and/or other services. Also, in most cases, you can purchase additional add-on equipment if you need it.

There are some brands, however, where you can buy their equipment outright, then pay a monthly fee for the monitoring services. This option is usually only available for the smartwatch options though. In which case, the cost of most medical alert smartwatches is somewhere between $359-$450; however, there are some that cost more.

Plans

Depending on the brand you choose, you will have to select either an in-home system, on-the-go system, or a combination of both.

The in-home plans usually range somewhere between $19.95/mo. and $49.95/mo.

The on-the-go/mobile plans usually range somewhere between $29.95/mo. and $49.95/mo.

The combination of at-home and on-the-go (mobile) plans usually range somewhere between $34.95/mo. and $79.95/mo.

Add-Ons

Most medical alert systems come with the option of adding on additional equipment as needed. There are a wide variety of add-ons and accessories on the market. However, most brands have similar offerings. Here are some of the most common add-ons/accessories and their average costs.

Fall detection is included with some plans; however, most brands charge an extra monthly fee for it. This feature usually runs about $10/mo.

Spouse coverage is frequently offered for free; however, there are some brands that charge for it. This feature usually runs about $2.00/mo. -3.99/mo. if you have to pay for it.

lockbox is another common add-on. This accessory allows you to put a lockbox on your door so those with a code can enter if you are unable to let them in. This add-on is usually somewhere between $1.95/mo. and $2.95/mo.

Extra help buttons and wall buttons are usually offered as an add-on and they generally run anywhere from $2.00/mo. to $5.00/mo.

medication reminder service is another option that’s frequently offered. This service runs anywhere from $4.00/mo to $30/mo. depending on the brand. A medication reminder service is one that provides you with daily calls or similar reminders about what medications you should take and when you should be taking them.

Some brands also offer medical record cards that are made available to emergency personnel to help save time if you are unable to respond. These are usually offered as a free service if the medical alert provider offers such an option.

Contracts

The good news is there are very few medical alert companies these days that require you to sign a contract. This wasn’t the case years ago. Luckily things have changed. However, with that being said, you will still want to read over everything with a fine-toothed comb to make sure there are no surprises.

Medicare & Insurance Coverage

Unfortunately, Medicare and most insurance companies don’t cover the cost of medical alert systems. However, you should still contact your insurance company just to see if they might reimburse you for your system. However, keep in mind that if they do, they will probably require a recommendation from your doctor that a medical alert system is necessary. But even that might not guarantee your insurance company will pay for it.

Other options you could try include checking with your long-term care insurance to see if you qualify for reimbursement. Another place you could try is the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. They have resources for seniors and disabled persons who can’t afford select health services.

Companies

What is the first thing you do once you’ve decided to buy something? If you’re like most people, you head straight to the internet…right? And that’s a good thing because the internet can provide you with in-depth information at your fingertips that would have otherwise taken you days, weeks, and in some cases, even months to research, sort through, and compile.

However, with that being said, the internet, especially when it comes to consumer reviews, can be full of landmines if you don’t know what to watch out for. And here’s why…

Reviews

Reading online reviews is usually a mixed bag of good and bad no matter what you are researching. Have you ever noticed that? But why?

It’s because online reviews are often written by a company’s competitors and/or disgruntled employees, and because some people are just plain mean.

So how do you actually learn the truth? Well, technically, you don’t. However, what you can do is read through consumer reviews on several different websites and make notes of any positive and/or negative trends you find. Then use a little common sense as you compare what you find. Ask yourself what trends fit and make sense, which ones don’t, and why. Then you can take your findings to develop your own conclusions about the product or service you have been researching. Take a look at our highly researched medical alert system reviews below:

 

Summary

Doing your homework before buying anything is always a good idea. In fact, doing so can save you loads of money and a whole lotta hassle. And, if you would like to make the entire process quicker and easier, you can go to a third-party website that specializes in researching and reviewing products and services. This will help ensure you are reading unbiased reviews. In fact, they will usually give you all the information you need in a condensed, easy to read and understand format with side-by-side comparisons and more.

But how will you know if those websites are presenting you with factual information?

Well, because they will provide you with links to the actual brand website they are reviewing along with the pros and cons of each product/service, as well as side-by-side comparisons which makes it sooo much easier when trying to decide which medical alert system is right for your particular situation. Why not check into some medical alert systems today?

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