How to Choose a Medical Alert System
Dear Savvy Senior,
I am interested in getting my mom, who lives alone, a medical alert system with a wearable pendant button that will let her call for help if she falls or has a medical emergency. What can you tell me to help me choose one?
Too Many Choices
Dear Too Many,
A good medical alert system is an effective and affordable tool that can help keep your mom safe and living in her 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 your mom 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 your mom’s needs, here are three key questions you’ll need to ask, along with some top-rated companies that offer these products.
Does your mom 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 your mom doesn’t leave the house very often, she may not need a mobile system, but if she is still active, she may want added protection outside the home.
Should her medical alert 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 foolproof. 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 Medical Alert 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; BayAlarmMedical.com; 877-522-9633.
- GreatCall’s Lively Mobile Plus: The device costs $50 plus a $25 to $40 monthly service fee; GreatCall.com; 800-650-5921.
- MobileHelp: Monthly fees run $20 to $45; MobileHelp.com; 800-809-9664.
- Phillips Lifeline: $30 to $50/month, plus a onetime device/activation fee of $50 to $100; Lifeline.Philips.com; 855-681-5351.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.
Jim MillerContributing Writer
Jim Miller is the creator of Savvy Senior, a syndicated information column for older Americans and their families that is published in more than 300 U.S. newspapers and magazines. Jim is also a contributor to NBC’s “Today” show and KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, and is the author of The Savvy Senior, The Ultimate Guide to Health, Family and Finances for Senior Citizens.
Jim is frequently quoted in articles about issues affecting senior citizens and has been featured in numerous national publications, including Time magazine, USA Today and The New York Times. In addition, he has made multiple appearances on CNBC, CNN, Retirement Living Television and national public television. Read more from Jim Miller.