A COMPLETE GUIDE TO MEDICAL ALERT SYSTEMS
Aging is a fact of life for everyone. But thanks to advances in medical technology, medications, and tools that make living and workspaces more accessible, people can expect to stay in their homes for far longer today than they used to.
Every year, more than one-fourth of adults 65 and older will take a fall. For those that do, the risk of a repeat fall is doubled.
That doesn’t mean living at home is without its dangers. Every year, more than one-fourth of adults 65 and older will take a fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control. For those that do, the risk of a repeat fall is doubled. One out of five of these falls results in a serious injury to the head or other part of the body, while 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling.
Falls and injuries in the home also bring grave secondary concerns. Not only can the initial fall, stroke, heart attack or other incident be devastating, but if a senior adult lives alone, it may be hours or days before help arrives. Any delay in getting help can significantly worsen the situation: dehydration, pressure ulcers, atrophy, kidney trouble, and more can all occur.
Fortunately, technology has an answer in medical alert systems. These easy-to-use communication tools hold the key to seniors staying safely in their homes as long as possible. You may not look forward to wearing an emergency button or having such a system in your home, but it’s the smartest thing to do if you or a loved one is at risk of a devastating fall.
Don’t wait any longer to make the smart move. Whether you’re taking care of a loved one and want the best for them, or are yourself a senior hoping to live a long and happy life close to your family and friends, medical alert systems can give you dramatically more peace of mind. Choosing the right system for you can be a complicated decision – and we’ve provided a few medical alert system reviews and a comprehensive guide.
How Do Medical Alert Systems Work?
Most people have seen those cheesy “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” commercials. While those ads may seem a little silly, they address a real need. Many seniors fall each year and find themselves unable to reach the phone. Medical alert systems allow seniors to summon help without reaching a phone, so anyone who lives alone or with another elderly individual can benefit from one.
Anyone who lives at home alone, or with another elderly individual, can benefit from a medical alert system.
The basic premise of emergency alert systems is simple. The individual wears a necklace, bracelet, watch, or other device around the home that communicates wirelessly with a central hub. This hub connects to a phone line which allows it to alert an emergency provider. If the resident of the house falls, passes out and wakes up confused, sustains an injury, or needs help for some other reason, all he or she has to do is push the button on their device. Some systems are more complicated than that, but the basic idea is always the same: Emergency personnel will either communicate with the senior through the device itself, alert a friend or family member, or send a response team to the home.
Originally, these systems were all landline-based. But with advances in technology, many now use cell phones, which makes them valuable even for people who no longer have a landline. Not all emergency alert systems are limited to the residence. Some work beyond the home and can summon help anywhere the older person goes.
Major Medical Alert Providers
With today’s huge range of emergency alarm system, it’s important to assess the options carefully and choose right one for you or your family.If you see an option you like among the ones we mention here, be sure to follow up on their website to make sure you get the most use out of the system.
Most companies offers fall detection technology, which is highly accurate at detecting falls.
Medical Alert has three basic system types: at home with a landline, at home without a landline, and “on the go.” Each system offers a combination of necklace and wrist devices which, when pushed, signal to the company that the wearer has a problem. The company then passes the message on to emergency responders, who arrive either at the home or wherever the senior needs help. Like most companies, Medical Alert also offers technology that is highly accurate at detecting falls and can contact emergency systems in your place when you cannot. Plans start in the $27 range and increase based on how often you pay and what type of plan you use.
Bay Alarm Medical
As one of the leaders in the medical alert industry, Bay Alarm Medical offers the same features as most other companies, and its prices are comparable. It also offers a range of extra features that not all companies do. They include a keybox with a combination (allowing loved ones to get into your house when you’re not responding), wireless wall buttons, and the ability to take your plan with you to someone else’s house when you travel.
The Lifeline program is one of the best-known on the market for a reason: It is extremely reliable, used by many, and has detected more falls than any other medical alert service on the market. The Lifeline phone system uses either a landline or a cellular connection and integrates with a necklace or alert bracelet to signal for help. They also offer a medication dispensing device, which can be very helpful for seniors who are growing forgetful as they age. Prices are comparable to other companies.
Life Alert is another well-established medical alert system on the market, and its customers are very devoted. According to its website, a study conducted by ACNielsen Research concluded that Life Alert members head to the retirement home a full 6 years later than their counterparts. While it offers most of the same senior alert devices and options, as well as a waterproof shower emergency button, the company doesn’t list prices on their website, so you’ll need to contact them to learn more.
Another gold standard in home alert systems, ADT has been helping seniors stay safe at home for decades. While their systems are much like anyone else’s, one thing they do offer that many find appealing is a few more options for their wearable devices. They have two styles of medical pendants and their wristbands come in either black or white. The ADT medical alert system is reasonably priced, starting at $29.99 a month, but not quite as affordable as some other options.
Life Station offers a reduced-frills option and is priced on the lower end of the spectrum. While they do offer an option for those who don’t have landlines, they don’t specify what that is on the website, so you’ll need to call. They also offer a few neat additions, such as extra buttons for the bathroom or hallways and an alert device for an additional user for only $3.99 a month. Like others, they offer options for a fall alarm. Depending on whether or not you have a landline, this could be an affordable option.
One of the longer-established companies on the market, Life Fone offers many of the same options as its counterparts. Life Fone covers spouses for free: the same plan can provide both people with devices and emergency protection at no extra cost. And while some other companies up their prices $15-$20 per month for fall detection, Life Fone charges only $5 to $10 extra, depending on the situation. Life Fone makes medical safety particularly simple by combining their alert systems with fire, smoke and carbon monoxide detection in their Complete Package.
Medical Alert System Costs: Not Always Obvious
It’s important to understand from the outset that the per-month prices you find quoted on a company’s website frequently don’t represent the total that you will pay for a medical alert system. While that doesn’t mean these companies are scamming anyone, it does mean that you should pay careful attention when you’re researching and comparing prices and talking to representatives about the system that works best for you.
Not all companies will let you add spouses on the same plan.
Be aware of some common ways in which prices can go up beyond the stated per-month price:
- Additional Coverage for Spouses: Not all companies will let you add spouses on the same plan. Some require that you purchase separate plans, while others will let you add the spouse for a one-time fee or a monthly fee.
- Additional Devices: You will typically pay a one-time fee for each device following the first one. This isn’t always the case, however, as some companies will give you up to three or four before they start charging.
- Cancellation Fees: Many companies offer a discount to pay in advance, usually in annual or semiannual sums. But if you have to cancel for some reason (say, to move to a nursing home), you want to make sure you can get that money back. Most companies will refund your money if you cancel within the specified time frame, but there may be fees involved.
- Fall Detection: Adding a fall alert to your medical alert plan is usually not included.
- Other Alerts: Carbon monoxide, fire, smoke, burglary and other types of alerts may be compatible with your medical alert system, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to integrate them into your system for the base price. Be careful not to assume that adding services will be included.
Before you sign on for a medical alert system, make sure you have the flexibility to get out of the contract if needed, and to completely cancel if you don’t like the system or its functionality. Most come with a trial period during which you can get your money back completely. Make sure to get a system that offers this so you can test the system out.
Be aware that most senior alerts are based on leasing rather than purchase models. When you’re done with the system, even if it’s years later, you’ll need to give your devices back. Companies generally charge customers for any devices that aren’t in good working order when they are turned in.
Insurance and Other Ways to Pay
Unfortunately, while no one doubts the effectiveness of the personal emergency response system model, neither Medicare nor most insurance companies will pay for them. But depending on your insurance provider, you may qualify for reimbursement on a medical alert system if you have long-term care insurance. In rare cases, a doctor’s signature attesting to your need for the device can also qualify you for reimbursement.
Depending on your insurance, you may be able to qualify for reimbursement on a medical alert system.
If you don’t qualify for reimbursement, the next step is to contact area resources and see if you can get financial assistance for your elder alert system, medical pendant, or other accessories. Find out more about this by contacting the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
In many cases, the medical alert companies themselves will provide discounts. You can sometimes get monthly discounts through memberships in organizations such as AARP, AMAC or USAA. Also ask about referral programs, specials, or breaks for paying in advance – though, again, be careful that you understand the cancellation policies. You may also get discounts for spouses or other people on the same plan, for military service, or for being below the poverty line.
If your doctor has deemed a senior alert medically necessary for you, find out if you qualify for a tax deduction as well.
Implementing Alert Systems and Overcoming Stigma
Wondering whether an elderly medical alert is appropriate? Fair question. Especially as seniors are living a longer and longer time, with increasing levels of autonomy, a medical emergency bracelet might seem like an unnecessary and expensive addition that doesn’t satisfy a true need. So here are some of the main reasons to consider getting a system immediately:
- When seniors are living alone
- When no one checks on a senior routinely, as is the case with seniors who have no family in town
- When there are stairs in the home
- When pets live in the home, which can contribute significantly to the risk of falling
- When the other caregiver is also a senior
- When seniors go out often, but don’t regularly bring a cell phone or other device with a simple way to call for help
A medical alert system may eliminate the need to hire caregivers or receive daily visits from family members.
In those cases, medical alert services are a good investment because they not only provide an alarm for seniors when there’s no one else to call, but they may eliminate the need to use expensive or time-consuming options such as hiring caregivers or requiring daily visits from family members.
No matter how carefully thought out, however, a personal emergency response system is only as good as the dedication with which the user keeps their devices on hand. As you decide whether or not to implement a home medical alert system, acknowledge any feelings of discomfort you have up front. The truth is, while the majority of people who have medical alert systems most likely won’t use them, they can be lifesavers. Each company website has its own tales of people who wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that handy little button to press. Why, then, is there so much stigma attached to wearing and using one?
The reasons vary quite a bit. Some just don’t like how they look, with their plastic casings and giant buttons, and see them as a sign of weakness. Others don’t like to call for help if they don’t “really” need it, or they set their device aside so often “just for a minute” that by the time they need it it’s somewhere else. If you are going to take the time to implement an emergency alarm system, you need to recognize and respond to this possibility.
If you want to make the most of the system, it’s important that you keep the device on you at all times.
If you want to make the most out of the system, it’s important to keep the device on you at all times. This means making a plan for putting it on when you wake up, for keeping it somewhere safe while showering, and for setting it down in the same place the night before so it can easily be found again. If the alert system is for a loved one, it’s important to discuss this with him or her and make sure they’re on board before you make the purchase. If you are considering it for own use, be honest with yourself about your likelihood of actually using it. If you can’t commit to keeping your alert devices handy, there’s no point in paying for it.
Medical Alert Integrations and Accessories
While the fundamentals of an in-home emergency alert system are pretty much the same across companies, the range of technological options available today make emergency alerts truly customizable.
For starters, any in-home devices can be turned into a medical monitoring device with just a few simple tweaks. Amazon’s cutting-edge computerized home aide Alexa, for example, has a skill called Ask My Buddy that enables you to tell Alexa—in plain English—that you need help. She will then contact the person you’ve set as your emergency contact, who will receive a text, call and email letting them know you’re in trouble.
For seniors who are younger, a smartphone app may prove to be the perfect low-cost option.
For seniors who are younger, still in great shape, and living successfully on their own, a smartphone app may prove to be the perfect low-cost option. Apps enable one to turn a cell phone or other device, such as a smart watch, into a mobile medical alert system. For Apple users, good options include Family Alert, which sends text messages to a preset list of emergency contacts, and 5Star Medical Alert Service, which enables live emergency help 24/7. For Android users, iMedAlert is a good alternative, letting emergency professionals know when help is needed. Cell phone alternatives such as GreatCall offer easy alternatives to confusing cell phones, with a limited array of apps and emergency options front and center.
Silver Mother is another excellent alternative to complete medical alert systems. Instead of using an emergency bracelet, it employs sensors that attach to medication dispensing devices, doors and other objects to track sleep habits, comings and goings, and pharmaceuticals. This lets caregivers know when everything is well and alerts them when something goes wrong.
If you want to pay a one-time fee, consider a personal alert system. This is much like a medical alert, except that the system hub connects to emergency contacts instead of a company call center. The FreedomAlert System, for instance, costs $249.95, which, while expensive, never needs to be paid for again.
In some cases, you may wish to incorporate additional monitoring services along with emergency alert systems. Life Alert, for instance, offers monitoring for home intrusion, fire, smoke, carbon monoxide, and emergency response when you’re not at home. Life Fone, as mentioned above, includes the same except for the burglary service. You can discuss the different monitoring aspects of life alert systems with customer representatives by calling.
Especially if you or your loved one are still leaving the home frequently, remember that several companies offer medical alert jewelry. These alerts emergency personnel to your allergies, previous emergencies and other health conditions so that they can treat you effectively even if you are unconscious. This can be a life saver in cases such as diabetes, epilepsy, heart conditions and more, in which people often die if emergency personnel have to guess at courses of treatment.
The MedicAlert Foundation is the original provider of medical identification jewelry. They offer a huge range of options, including medical alert necklaces, emergency pendants, medical alert charms, medical ID alert bracelets, medical dog tags, and medical alert watches. Their attractive medical bracelets for women and understated medical bracelets for men, for example, can be worn every day with a huge variety of outfits. You can even choose a few options and change them according to your mood and outfit.
These bracelets may incorporate all of your information, or they may focus on a particularly pressing aspect of your health needs. For instance, some people have epilepsy, while others have Alzheimer’s Disease and are prone to wandering off, especially at night. A medical bracelet helps the people who find them contact the right people and return them to their own homes and safety. People with deadly allergies do well to wear medical ID bracelets as well, alerting emergency responders to the proper course of treatment if they arrive and find the person in anaphylactic shock, coma or another allergic response.
The best medical IDs are large enough to contain all the necessary information, and are both attractive and easily spotted.
While appearances certainly aren’t the most important aspect when it comes to lifesaving technology, a bit of bling can definitely help. The best medical IDs are large enough to contain all the necessary information and are both attractive and easily spotted. This means that their owners are more likely to wear them and that they’re more likely to be effective in an emergency. So before you purchase anything, spend enough time looking through the options so you or your loved one is sure about the choice.
Shopping for a System
That said, one of the best health and safety choices by far is a full medical alert system in the home. People spend most of their time at home, especially as they age. Moreover, most accidents happen in the home. According to the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence, 55% of falls happen in the home and an additional 23% outside it. Considering the range of many medical alert systems – some as far as 1,000 feet – this makes home a lot safer, especially if you have fall protection enabled.
According to the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence, 55% of falls happen in the home and an additional 23% outside it.
Just because emergency alert systems are a good option doesn’t mean it’s easy to find the right one. With more technological advances coming every year, you’re bound to find a system that works for you – but not without careful research.
Start by thinking about your individual needs. Do you have specific health conditions that make a fall more likely? Have you fallen before? Do you have a spouse in the home who has special needs, or is he or she simply elderly and therefore more accident-prone like yourself? Whom do you want to be able to contact? Do you, or your loved one, have speech difficulties following a stroke or other condition that might make talking with emergency personnel more complicated?
After you consider your health conditions, it’s time to evaluate needs specific to your residence. How many bathrooms are in your home? Are there isolated rooms that need special safety attention? How often do you go in and out? Do you have medications that you need to remember? Can you operate the system yourself? Is your house too big for a single hub to reach everywhere? Write down your situation in as much detail as you can before contacting companies so that you can get the exact information you need…then do a few comparisons.
To make the best decision, keep the following steps in mind:
- Consult all seniors living in the home
- Take activity level and lifestyle into account
- Make a decision about fall protection
- Know the process for contacting emergency personnel
- Compare options
- Understand buying and leasing regulations
- Determine whether you can afford the system of your choice
- Read the fine print
After you choose a system, make good use of the free trial period, which is usually two to four weeks. During that time, pay special attention to the system. Test it out several times, making sure the buttons work well for you (especially if you have a condition such as arthritis that makes hand movement difficult), and contact the company with any questions you might have to ensure you understand the full range of its functionality.
Technical Support: A Critical Factor
Of course, emergency alert systems are only worthwhile if the service you receive comes up to the same standard as the product. Most reputable systems offer 24/7 tech support, but some route you to other providers or organizations. Make sure you feel comfortable with your support options before signing on.
The service you receive should come up to the same standard as the product.
Additionally, you need to test your system routinely. You can get technical support on how to do this by calling your emergency service provider. A full test should include testing the main hub as well as all signal buttons — those on wearable devices, those mounted on the walls, and those elsewhere.
Don’t Be a Victim: Avoid Scams
Sadly, scams are on the rise when it comes to medical systems. If you receive a call from a company that sounds like your alert company or another emergency alert company claiming that you need to give them information to ensure your personal alarm system keeps working, it’s a scam. If you’re asked for identifying information, such as a Social Security number, bank account number, or any other form of private information, decline and call your company to let them know about the scam. If you’re ever in doubt, hang up immediately and report the caller. Even if they are legitimate, you’re better off safe than sorry.
Overall, though, using emergency alert systems is a risk-free way to feel safe and secure without spending much money every month. If you, like so many others, want to age in place, at home, close the people and communities you love, you’ll find a medical alert system essential for your peace of mind.