The fact that you’re even considering a medical alert system means it’s time. Think of a medical alert system like a seat belt—99% of the time you won’t need one, but it can save your life the other 1% of the time.
Here are some questions for you or your loved one to ask yourselves to determine whether you need a medical alert system:
- In the past year, have I stumbled, fallen, or felt dizzy?
- In the past year, have I been in the hospital or the emergency room for any reason?
- Do I suffer from any of the following chronic ailments?
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Heart disease
- Do I take any medications that could make me dizzy or drowsy?
- Do I use a cane, walker, wheelchair, etc. for day-to-day mobility?
- Do I need help bathing, dressing, or preparing meals?
- How often am I home alone?
- Do I have a caregiver or caregivers?
- Do I require long-term care?
If you’re nodding your head as you’re reading these, it’s time to make the investment in a medical alert system.
What should I look for in a medical alert system?
Here’s what to look for when deciding which medical alert system will work best for your needs.
So how much will a medical alert system cost? Most medical alarm companies have month-to-month or prepaid service agreements instead of contracted services. If you pay for six or 12 months up front, you can get a discounted price on your medical alert monitoring services.
Not all medical alert companies offer refunds on prepaid services.
It’s worth noting that not all medical alert companies offer refunds on prepaid services. So if you cancel for any reason (including death), you might not get your money back. We recommend choosing a company with a prorated refund policy.
>>ASecureLife’s recommendation: Bay Alarm Medical is an especially good option if you have concerns about price. With the affordable services and price-lock guarantee, you’ll get a good bang for your buck
Few medical alert companies lock you into contracts. Instead, most give you a discount on your monthly rate for paying up front—typically three, six, or 12 months at a time. Double check whether the medical alert company offers a money-back guarantee or prorated refund for prepaid services—not all of them do.
You won’t pay activation, installation, or cancellation fees with most medical alert companies, but keep your eye out for a few potential pricing pitfalls that feel a lot like fees.
Companies may charge up to a $350 replacement fee if you don’t return the equipment within 30 days of cancellation. Most medical alert companies lease their equipment instead of letting you buy it outright, so if they don’t get their equipment back, it’s like theft. Remember that you’re not buying this equipment and that you’ll have to return it when you cancel your service.
Some companies don’t offer prorated refunds for prepaid services. If you cancel after six months of service after prepaying for 12 months, you’re paying for six months of service you don’t need. Again, we recommend asking the medical alert company you choose whether it offers prorated refunds before prepaying for service. It could save you a lot of money in the long run.
In our opinion, fall detection is the most important feature of any medical alert system. When a fall detection device triggers, it automatically contacts the medical alert monitoring station on the wearer’s behalf.
Most medical alert systems don’t offer fall detection as a standard feature, so you’ll need to spend extra to add it.
More severe falls can prevent a user from reaching or pressing the emergency help button. Automatic fall detection provides aid in instances where the user may be unconscious or otherwise unable to activate their wearable device. It takes the “What if I can’t call for help?” question out of the equation, which is why we recommend it so highly.
Most medical alert systems don’t offer fall detection as a standard feature, so you’ll need to spend extra to add this feature. You can see the minimum entry prices for fall detection in the comparison table.
Most medical alert systems use the same basic setup. There’s the main console, or base station, that connects through either a landline or cellular signal. These base units are lifelines that provide two-way communication to a medical alert monitoring center. The base station has a big emergency button and a two-way audio speaker that lets you communicate with the medical alert central monitoring center.
By range, we mean how far from the base station a wearable pendant or bracelet will work. Choose a medical alert system that allows enough space to roam and live life.
Some medical alert devices have GPS tech that lets the user leave the range of a typical base. Generally, though, at-home medical alert systems are the default.
Cellular vs. landline
Most medical alert companies offer both landline and cellular options. Landline options generally have lower monthly costs but limit your mobility to the range of your base station device. Cellular devices allow for a wider range of use and even function as mobile GPS devices as long as you can get a cellular signal.
>>ASecureLife’s recommendation: Users who don’t have a landline set up can still enjoy home medical alert protection with MobileHelp and GreatCall.
Customer service ranks high on our priority list when recommending services. Many companies use similar technologies and prices, so customer service and the overall experience sets them apart. All five of our top recommendations have well-reviewed customer service.
We like to give the benefit of the doubt to any service that we review, but we do look heavily into what consumers say about the service they receive. We looked at overall comments from existing customers for each company to see whether their experiences were positive or negative. We suggest digging in to customer feedback as well as how the company responded to complaints to help guide you in your decision.
How does a medical alert device work?
A medical alert system gives you the ability to contact family, friends, or professionals during a medical emergency:
- Step 1: Press the Help button.
- Step 2: Speak to a trained medical alert operator to verify you need help.
- Step 3: The medical alert operator will alert a family member or friend or dispatch emergency response on your behalf.
Although a medical alert system will not prevent a medical emergency, it can help reduce its severity by providing immediate emergency response.
What’s the difference between different medical alert devices?
There are some differences between medical alert devices. Here’s what’s what.
Medical alert pendants and bracelets
Many medical alert systems offer both pendants and bracelets with wearable buttons to trigger your medical alert system. We recommend using whichever is easiest and most comfortable for your lifestyle.
A few things to consider with wearables:
- Most fall detection devices are pendants.
- Most wearables aren’t equipped with two-way voice. You’ll have to be within vocal range of the base station or have GPS to speak with a medical alert representative. If the system triggers and the medical alert representative can’t hear you, they’ll automatically dispatch an emergency response team to your location.
- You must stay within range of your base station or GPS device.
If wearables are the main thing you’re looking for in a medical alert device, check out our review on the companies with the best medical alert necklaces or the best medical alert watches.
Like we said, GPS medical alert devices allow you to go anywhere you want, as long as you have a cellular signal. If your daily routine takes you all around the house, into the yard, or away from your home entirely, you may want to consider a GPS medical alert option.
These devices work the same way as standard medical alert systems but are more compact and portable. They’ll easily fit inside a purse or coat pocket.
All of our top recommended options have GPS available.
Why are medical alerts so ugly?
A medical alert device is, at the end of the day, a medical accoutrement. That’s probably why manufacturers tend to focus on the function, not the form.
Happily, though, the market’s moving towards a nicer aesthetic. Medical alert necklaces and bracelets are starting to look like, well, necklaces and bracelets. After all, if you have to wear your device all the time and you’re also paying monthly costs for alert service plus an activation fee, you should like how it looks.
What if English isn’t my or my loved one’s first language?
A user gets more out of a medical alert device when they can communicate with the medical alert operator. Medical Guardian, LifeFone, Bay Alarm Medical, and GreatCall offer services in many languages. Alert1, though we don’t recommend it in other areas, also serves customers in 190 languages.