When many people hear the words personal emergency response system, the first thought that sometimes comes to mind is an older adult falling while alone and not being unable to get up. Life Alert integrated this scenario into popular commercial with its commercial that depicted an older woman lying on the floor and saying the now-famous line: “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

While this ad captured a lot of attention for this particular personal alert company, the reality is that falls are all-too-common for older adults.

A High Risk Of Falls For The Elderly

Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in an emergency room (ER) for some type of injury related to a fall, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA). Worse yet, every 19 minutes, one of our nation’s seniors sustains a fall-related injury that ultimately causes his or her death, making it the leading cause of fatal injuries for this demographic.

In fact, if you look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Health United States Report 2016, you’ll notice that falls are the not only the number-one cause of emergency hospital visits for individuals 65 years of age and older, but other causes of injury don’t even compare.

Specifically, the CDC reports that there are approximately 645 fall-related ER visits for every 10,000 elderly persons. The next most common reason for seeking immediate medical treatment for individuals in this age range is motor vehicle traffic, which includes injuries sustained in an automobile accident. For this type of injury, there are 35 visits per every 10,000 elderly individuals—quite a bit less than the 645 that occur due to falls.

Based on this higher likelihood of falling, it can be extremely beneficial to have a personal emergency response system if an older person finds him or herself in this type of situation and in need of medical assistance. However, personal alert systems have other advantages as well.

Additional Benefits Of Having A Personal Emergency Response System

If you’re considering a personal emergency response system, there are a few possible reasons why this option may look appealing to you. According to Personal Health News, these benefits include:

  • More affordable than other in-person monitoring options. The National Institute on Aging reports that falls by the elderly can occur due to poor eyesight or hearing, or by having slowed reflexes. Some health conditions contribute to falls as well, such as diabetes and heart disease, as can certain medications. In cases where the risk of falls is elevated without being to the point of the older person needing around-the-clock care, it is more affordable to use a personal emergency response system than to pay for a nursing home, assisted living, or private in-home healthcare. The Department of Health & Human Services reports that the average cost of a nursing home is $225 a day (or more), assisted living is generally around $119 daily, adult day health care is roughly $68, and home health aides typically earn somewhere in the vicinity of $20.50 an hour.
  • Allows older adults to retain their independence. Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home healthcare options aren’t just more expensive, because they also remove at least a portion of an elderly person’s independence. This isn’t to say that these other options are bad. It’s just that if the senior can still do many things on his or her own, using a personal emergency response system can provide some comfort that help is quickly available if needed, while still fostering a level of independence.
  • Provides an immediate response if a problem occurs, anytime. Data provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that that 20 percent of falls occur between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., a timeframe that makes it likely that the fall occurred while going to use the restroom in the middle of the night. Even if the person doesn’t live alone, it may be difficult to arouse others in the house if a fall occurs when they’re asleep. Personal emergency response systems, on the other hand, provide 24-hour monitoring and an immediate response.
  • Offers greater peace of mind. As loved ones start to age, it’s not uncommon for family members and friends to worry about them more, especially if they live alone. Yet, one NCOA survey found that three out of four elderly persons have every intention of staying in their current homes for as long as they live. So, one way for everyone to have peace of mind in this type of situation is to use the services of an emergency response system.
  • Simple to use. Each system is a little different, but many offer easy-to-use wearable devices that require nothing more than the push of a button to connect with an emergency response representative. In cases of falls or where movement is otherwise limited, this enables the older person to get help without having to try to crawl or otherwise find their way to a phone.
  • They offer all of these benefits, even outside the home. With more and more advancements being made in mobile technology, these personal response systems are no longer for use just inside the home. Depending on the system and its monitoring options, you can obtain assistance even while on the go. This provides a greater level of independence and assurance during vacations, while running errands, or otherwise outside the primary residence.

Why Cell Phones Aren’t The Best For Personal Emergency Response

One could argue that cell phones offer these same types of protections, making them just as easy to use as personal emergency response systems without the added costs. However, Senior Alert Medical shares that there are a few issues with relying on a cellular device in an emergency medical situation.

For starters, if you call 911 from a mobile phone, the first responders will not be able to tell who you are or where you are. Only your number will appear on the screen, not your name, and though they may be able to tell which cell tower your phone is using to communicate with them, it will not provide your exact location.

Additionally, even if your phone has GPS, that doesn’t mean that this information will be provided to a dispatcher. And if it is, Senior Alert Medical says that it may be unreliable because “they are only required to be accurate within 300 meters of the caller. That’s three football fields away from where you may be.”

Finally, if the phone’s buttons are too small or difficult to push, they may not be easily accessible in an emergency situation, especially for hands that are unstable or if eyesight is poor. Other factors that may limit mobile phone accessibility include whether or not the phone is charged, or if it is even nearby during a medical situation. For reasons like these, it’s often better to go with an actual personal response system.

Types Of Personal Emergency Response Systems Available

Once a decision is made to sign up for and use an emergency response service, the next step is to decide which type of system is best for your own situation and needs. While there are several available on the market today, most can be placed in one of these categories.

Traditional Medical Alert Systems

Traditional medical alert systems require the push of a button or some other simple action in the event that an emergency occurs and help is needed. Senior Alert Medical notes that there are four types of systems that fall under this category:

  1. Two-way personal emergency response system with 24/7 monitoring.
  2. Two-way personal emergency response system, unmonitored, but calls 911 or another number.
  3. Two-way personal emergency response system with speakerphone pendant, monitored or unmonitored.
  4. Cellular personal emergency response systems, unmonitored, calls 911.

As you can see, some systems are monitored by a call center and others are not, requiring additional action from the wearer if something occurs. However, all of them call 911 (or another number) in the event of an emergency.

Systems That Detect Falls

This type of device will automatically make a call when a fall is detected. It analyzes both unusual misalignments of the body as well as acceleration of movement, essentially sensing if the body moves too fast or is in an awkward position.

Advantages of this type of system include being able to obtain emergency assistance even if the person is unable to push a button. Plus, these types of devices are generally waterproof, so they can still be worn in the bath or shower, an area where we’re more prone to slips and falls.

Disadvantages of fall detection devices are false alarms or instances where they may not detect a fall, which could occur in a slower, sliding type of fall. This option also tends to cost more and could potentially provide a false sense of security.

Systems That Detect Smoke, Fire, Or Elevated Carbon Monoxide Levels

Certain personal emergency response systems also provide services related to home security monitoring that covers the immediate environment for smoke, fire, or elevated carbon monoxide levels.

If you do choose this option, you want to select a service that automatically alerts emergency services to increases the level of safety this type of system provides.

Systems That Monitor Medication Compliance

After surveying 24,017 adults with either asthma, hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, osteoporosis, or depression, research published in BMC Health Services Research found that 62 percent of them forget to take their medications. Another 23 percent admitted to being careless about their medication regimens. Issues such as these can be avoided (or at least greatly reduced) by using a personal response systemthat provides medication compliance features.

Some systems offer assistance by providing actual dispensing devices that alert the elderly when it is time to take the medications and then dispense the pills at the push of a button. Others send reminders or use timers in an effort to improve adherence to medication regimens.

Fitness And Activity (Or Inactivity) Monitoring

Whereas most activity monitoring devices are used to ensure that you’re getting the necessary amount of physical exercise for maximum health, Medical Alert Advice explains that activity monitoring for seniors with wearable personal emergency response systems help ensure “that your loved one is moving around freely throughout the day.”

That’s why they are sometimes call inactivity monitoring services, because they help identify if movement has stopped. In this case, it could indicate that there is an issue, even if the alert button has not been pushed.

This type of monitoring could require the older person to check in at predetermined times throughout the day, with an alarm sounding if they don’t. Others rely on motion detectors to help determine whether movement is occurring in the residence, or whether it has stopped.

GPS Monitoring

If emergency response monitoring is desired outside of the home, systems with GPS can provide this type of coverage by connecting to a cellular network if a problem occurs. This enables the wearer to have access to help in any location where a mobile phone can pick up a signal.

Personal Emergency Response System Costs

While all of these response system options may sound great, if you’re budget-minded or have limited funds available, then you may be wondering about cost. After all, it doesn’t matter what type of benefits a service provides or how many add-ons it offers, because it won’t work for you if it doesn’t match your budget.

In April 2018, Consumer Reports set out to provide this very information by providing a price comparison of eight companies that are well-known providers in the emergency medical monitoring system space. This is what they found:

Service Name In-Home Landline In-Home Cellular Mobile GPS Tracking Fall Detection Activation Fee Cancellation Fee
Bay Alarm Medical $20/mo $35/mo $30/mo + $49 one-time device fee $10/mo None You pay shipping costs if cancelled within first 30 days; otherwise there is no fee
GreatCall Lively Mobile Not offered Starts at $25/mo + $50 device fee Starts at $25/mo + $50 device fee $15/mo $35 by phone or $25 online Shipping costs and $10 restocking fee if cancelled within first 30 days; otherwise there is no fee
Life Alert $50/mo $50/mo $20/mo Not available Ranges from $0 to $95, depending on the plan Varies by situation
LifeStation $26/mo $33/mo $36/mo $7/mo None You pay shipping costs if cancelled within first 30 days; otherwise there is no fee
Medical Alert $20/mo $30/mo $35/mo $10/mo None None
Medical Guardian $30/mo $35/mo $40 or $50/mo depending on plan $10/mo None None
MobileHelp Not offered $30/mo $38/mo $10/mo None None
Philips Lifeline $30 or $45/mo, depending on plan $42 or $57/mo, depending on plan $55 or $65/mo, depending on plan + $100 or $149 device fee $0 to $15/mo, depending on plan $0 to $50 None
Rescue Alert $28 to $33/mo, depending on plan $38 to $43/mo, depending on plan $38 to $45/mo, depending on plan $10/mo None You pay shipping costs if cancelled within first 30 days; otherwise there is no fee

Best-rated Medical Alert Systems

Choosing the best system possible requires factoring in more than just cost. Other things to consider include how easy it is to install, how portable it is, what the company’s response time is, and how long the battery lasts, among several others.

In June 2018, PC Mag researched these factors and published a list of the 10 best medical alert systems available today. Here they are, listed from highest rating on down, as well as the pros and cons for each one:

System Pros Cons
Bay Alarm Medical’s In-Home Medical Alert Installation is easy, response is quick, has a long range, and comes with a free lockbox You have to pay for a spouse pendant and the reset button is small
GreatCall’s Lively Mobile Good response times in testing, clear audio, and portable Tracking is expensive and battery life is limited
MobileHelp’s MobileHelp Classic Easy installation, quick response, and large buttons Backlit buttons cannot be dimmed
LifeFone’s At Home Medical Alert System Easy to set up, loud audio, and the spouse pendant is free Outdoor range is limited
Philips Lifeline’s GoSafe 2 Good audio, good response times, and fall detection is included in the price Fairly expensive and limited services
Bay Alarm Medical’s Mobile GPS Help Button Small, lightweight, good audio, and good response times Costly and doesn’t have a mobile app
LifeStation’s At Home Medical Alert Easy to install, good audio, and also good response times Help button is small and range is limited
LifeStation’s Premium Mobile Long battery life, good audio, and good response times No tracking app or additional services
Medical Guardian’s Active Guardian Good response times, long battery life, and good audio Costly and no tracking portal, mobile app, or additional services
Medical Guardian’s Classic Guardian Good response times, easy installation, good audio, and free lockbox Limited outdoor range and spouse pendant costs more

Choosing The Best Emergency Response System For You

How do you take all of this information and choose the best emergency response system for you or someone you love? The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) recommends that it helps to consider the following before making a final decision:

  • The services you want the system to provide (which type of system you want and/or what you want it to monitor and track).
  • Whether that particular company is available in your area (if you’re unsure, it helps to ask a local relevant agency or senior facility).
  • Where the system will be used on a regular basis (at home or on the go, which brings up other considerations, such as battery life, range of the device, and whether it needs to be waterproof).
  • How the service handles monitoring and response (ask about average response times and how calls are routed to emergency responders and family members).
  • All of the contract details (ask about associated fees and be wary of long-term contracts or complicated cancellation policies; also inquire about discounts, tax deductions related to the service, and whether your insurance will cover the costs).

You may also want to consider the company’s level of customer service. When you call them, do they answer your questions quickly, intelligently, and courteously? This can go a long way, especially if you want a company that you can easily work with you in an emergency!

Final Personal Emergency Response System Considerations

After choosing the emergency response service best-suited for your situation and needs, the only thing left to do is set it up in a way that offers you the most efficient help possible. This begins with choosing the person(s) you want the monitoring agency to contact, other than first responders of course, if a medical emergency occurs.

Ideally, you want to identify more than one person in case the first person on your list isn’t available to take the call. Create a group of contacts that’s aware of who they should contact if something occurs, so you can keep your loved ones informed of what may have happened.

It’s also extremely important that they know your complete medical history. To make this easier, create a simple list of the medications you take (and their dosages), any allergies you may have, and other health conditions you have to share with a doctor.

Personal emergency response systems serve a valuable purpose for the elderly by providing a number of benefits to those who use them. While there are a lot of different options available at varying price ranges, selecting the best system and service for you can help dramatically in the event of a medical emergency. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use it.


Fall-Related ER Visits for Every 10,000 Elderly Persons.

Falls are the not only the number-one cause of emergency hospital visits for individuals 65 years of age and older, but other causes of injury don’t even compare.

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