The best medical alert systems provide peace of mind and independence. And never has this been more important than during the Coronavirus pandemic. With the virus posing a greater risk among seniors, having the safety net of a medical alert system means you can get help if you’re sick, hurt, or in need of medical help. A personal emergency response system (PERS) is essential for maintaining independence, preserving a high quality of life, and providing peace of mind for both you and your family.
- How we evaluate medical alert systems
When considering an effective safety net that helps you maintain your independence, a mobile medical alert system is better than an in-home system. And the best mobile medical alert system is the GreatCall Lively Mobile.
Over the years, I’ve tested dozens of medical alert systems many times and GreatCall’s Lively Mobile always had the fastest response time, the best audio quality, and one of the best fall detection sensors. When you consider this with the fact that the basic package is more affordable than most in-home landline systems at about $25 per month, there’s no reason why your loved one shouldn’t have a mobile medical alert system, even if they are confined to the home.
Most medical alert system companies offer three packages: an in-home landline, an in-home cellular, and a mobile medical alert device. Medical Guardian also offers a medical alert smartwatch, the Freedom Guardian, and the Home Guardian, an activity monitoring system that enables families and caregivers to monitor and interact with senior loved ones.
In our tests, Medical Guardian has always consistently been one of the top performers as well. The call response time and call quality is among the fastest and best. The range of the in-home pendants is impressive. And the Freedom Guardian smartwatch is a game changer for seniors who don’t like the stigma of a medical alert system. Each package is competitively priced. If you want options and performance, Medical Guardian is the company to go with.
MobileHelp is one of the few medical alert services in the industry to manufacture medical alert devices. In fact, their systems are so well made that most medical alert services buy and lease the MobileHelp Classic and the MobileHelp Solo and simply slap their brand name on the device.
In addition to making an in-home system used by most of the industry, MobileHelp is also one of the few companies to offer a medical alert smartwatch, the MobileHelp Smart. And when you compare prices, MobileHelp is among the most affordable.
RescueTouch offers a mobile medical alert system that is quite different than other mobile systems, and perfect for senior couples or others who feel like the traditional medical alert system isn’t a good fit.
While RescueTouch works like other medical alert systems, allowing you to call an emergency response center or 911 when you need help, it also has a two-way chat feature that makes it ideal for senior couples. Imagine you just need help getting up in the garden or you’re trying to keep tabs on your husband with early on-set alzheimers. Rather than calling an emergency responder, you can simply chat with your significant other, who also wears the RescueTouch. In this way, it’s much more like a walkie-talkie than a medical alert system.
Best of the rest
- Acadian On Call
- Bay Alarm Medical
- Livewell Alert
- Medical Alert
- Medical Care Alert
- Philips Lifeline
- Rescue Alert
What type of medical alert system is best for you?
On the surface, every medical alert system serves the same purpose - a wearable device that gives you or your loved one quick access to help at the press of a button. That said, you have a variety of options and not every system works for everyone. As such, you need to consider your situation, budget, and personal aesthetics. With over six years of experience reviewing and testing medical alert systems, weknow how to help you find the best system for your needs.
Here are your options:
In-Home Medical Alert System
The in-home medical alert system is a classic, having been around for over forty years with very little innovation. It’s the type of system most people are familiar with - a base station with a loud speaker and a wireless pendant with a help button. When you press the button, the base station calls an emergency response center where a trained emergency response operator evaluates your situation and sends help if needed.
Landline or Cellular?
The landline in-home system is the most reliable and cost effective option. Landlines are easy to set up and these systems are usually the cheapest available. However, that also means you might get a very old system. When wetested medical alert systems in 2018, one service sent a landline in-home system that was manufactured in the late 90’s. The speaker was terrible and we could barely make out what the operator was saying.
The cellular in-home systems are a newer design, which means the speakers are likely to sound better. The cellular models are also very easy to set up. You just turn it on and it automatically connects to the cellular network that the medical alert service runs on. However, since cellular networks are often inconsistent, you need to evaluate your home for dead spots and put the base station in an area where the signal is strongest. It’s also worth checking with the service to see which cellular provider they use and how the coverage is in your area.
Range: Both in-home systems use wireless pendants with a range between 300 and 2000 feet, depending on the model. In many tests, we never found any issue with items blocking the signal to the base station, so you don’t have to worry about walls or appliances getting the way.
However, it’s good to know about the possibility of false alerts when you’re at the edges of a pendant’s range. If you’re in your yard, for example, and you accidentally activate a call for help via an overly sensitive fall detection pendant, you may not be close enough to the base station to know you called for help, much less tell the operator that it was a false alert. And if they can’t communicate with you, you’ll soon find an ambulance rolling up to your door.
Who’s It For?
Classic personal emergency response systems are ideal for seniors who are mostly homebound or on a strict budget.
What’s it Cost?
For a landline in-home system, the most affordable medical alert systems start at around $20 per month, but the average is $30 per month. To get a cellular model, you typically pay between $35 and $50 per month depending on the service.
With most services, you can add fall detection pendants and other add-ons like wall buttons to your in-home system at an additional cost of $5 and $10 per month.
Mobile Medical Alert System
A mobile medical alert system is just what it sounds like - a medical alert system that goes wherever you go. In the most simple terms, it’s a very simple cell phone that you wear around your neck or on a belt clip.
Endless Range: With a mobile medical alert device, you’re not limited to how far a pendant can roam from a base station. In other words, you can go to the park to feed the ducks. Go on a hike. Walk around the shopping mall. Whatever it is you love to do, you can continue doing with the safety of a medical alert system.
Clearer Communication: The speaker is around your neck so you’re never more than a few inches from it, providing much better and clearer communication with an emergency response operator. Don’t underestimate the value of clear communication. It’s essential for keeping you calm until help arrives, receiving instructions in an emergency, or for canceling a false alert.
GPS Tracking: Most mobile medical alert systems provide some degree of GPS abilities. This means if you fall at the park, you don’t have to worry about trying to describe where you are to the emergency response operator. The operator uses the GPS coordinates from the device to track your location and relay the information to the first responders, allowing them to reach you sooner. And in an emergency, every second matters. Even if you’re in your home, the difference between knowing you’re on the west side of the house or the east side can be everything, especially if you’re unconscious or have suffered a stroke.
Fall Detection: I’ve tested fall detection sensors many times over the years. I’ve found most of them to be inconsistent - either too sensitive or not sensitive enough. That said, mobile PERS devices tend to be more accurate than fall detection pendants.
Who’s it For?
Mobile medical alert systems are the best PERS device for everyone because they provide the best communication, excellent freedom and additional features, like GPS, that aren’t available with traditional medical alert systems. That said, mobile devices are tailored for the active senior who isn’t confined to the home but still wants the peace of mind of a medical alert system.
What’s it Cost?
Most mobile GPS medical alert devices are the premium option, ranging from $45 to $80 per month. However, as the value of a mobile medical alert system becomes more apparent, the market has seen a rise in mobile devices, such as the GreatCall Mobile Lively, which starts at just $25 per month - a price that rivals the most affordable landline in-home systems available.
Medical Alert Smartwatches
One of the biggest issues with most medical alert systems is the stigma of wearing a pendant or mobile device. As unfortunate as it may be, many seniors avoid wearing their PERS pendant or mobile medical alert system because of this stigma - Seniors don’t want people to think they need a personal emergency response system. They think it makes them seem frail or needy. But with a medical alert smartwatch, the stigma is gone. It looks and operates like a smartwatch, but provides your senior loved one with the same safety net.
Medical alert smartwatches are also much more than a medical alert system. Most are capable of downloading additional apps and features, giving your aging loved one much more reason to wear it. Some PERS smartwatches include heart rate monitoring, medication reminders, weather updates, and more.
The downside, of course, is a smartwatch might be too technologically complex for some seniors. And the complexity varies from device to device.
Who’s it For?
Medical alert smartwatches are ideal for tech savvy seniors.
What’s It Cost?
Some services require a one-time equipment cost running between $99 and $300 with a monthly fee of around $30 to $45.
If your senior loved one uses a smartphone, then a medical alert app is a great cost-effective option that can call for help, track activity levels, monitor health, and more. It really depends on the app. For example, the GreatCal 5 Star Medical Alert App provides a large button that you can easily press from your home screen (without unlocking your phone), allowing you to call the operating center.
The biggest downside to medical alert apps is the technology is often beyond the comfortability of many seniors. If you haven’t used a smartphone, then an app doesn’t make sense. But if navigating a smartphone’s interface is second nature, then a medical alert app is a great place to start. Not only do most apps either call 911 or an emergency response call center, but they often track your activity, remind you when to take medicine, provide GPS tracking, and more.
One issue to consider, however, is the likelihood you’ll be able to navigate the interface of a medical alert app when you’re in an emergency. It’s not as simple or easy as pressing the button on a pendant or mobile PERS device. And if your phone is in your pocket when you fall, how easy would it be to get the phone out to make the call? These are important considerations. Often, seniors use medical alert apps to supplement their in-home or mobile medical alert system.
Who’s It For?
Any senior with a smartphone can use a medical alert app.
What’s It Cost?
Depends on the app. Some are free with ads. Some are free with a subscription to a medical alert system. Some cost $1 to $2 per month.
Activity Tracking Medical Alert System
Is your senior loved one suffering from dementia? Are they bed-ridden? There aren’t many medical alert tracking systems on the market, but these systems are excellent for helping monitor an elderly family member who needs extra help.
You can go about this in several ways. The best medical alert tracking systems use motion detectors and other sensors to let you know when your loved one has left the bed or the room. This is necessary in situations when the eldery person doesn’t realize they need help to the bathroom. The sensors either alert a nearby caregiver that she needs help or tracks the elderly loved one’s movements so you can see how active they are. This makes it perfect for families with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Often the person doesn’t realize theo help they need, so a medical alert tracking system helps you monitor activity effectively.
Who’s it For?
These are ideal for families with an aging loved one suffering from dementia or in need of more hands-on care. Some include two-way communication, so it’s an excellent tool if your aging mother lives far away and you want to check on her.
What’s it Cost?
It depends on a number of factors, the type of sensors you use, and the service. You can expect to pay around $60 to $70 per month from a service.
What You Need to Know About Fall Detection Sensors
The biggest danger to seniors is falling. About one in four seniors fall every year. As such, a fall detection sensor is an attractive add-on with most medical alert systems. But do they really work?
I’ve tested fall detection sensors many times over the years from dozens of companies. My own mother and grandmother have both suffered injuries from falling. So we recognize the importance of a fall detection sensor. But I’ve found the technology often doesn’t live up to its promise. And in this case, my experience testing fall detection devices suggests most fall detection sensors are either overly sensitive or wouldn’t detect a fall if you went skydiving.
The overly sensitive ones result in many false alerts. In fact, one year during testing, a device kept detecting falls while sitting on the table. And twice it called for help when nobody was around, resulting in an ambulance being sent to the testing lab. On the other hand, if the sensor is not sensitive enough, then it won’t call for help when you need it.
The best fall detection device I’ve ever tested is the Apple Watch 4. This is the only device that didn’t cause false alerts and detected every fall in the tests. A good second choice is the GreatCall Lively Mobile. In fact, as a rule, mobile medical alerts with fall detection performed much better than fall detection pendants.
Fall detection comes at a price. Most services either add the pendant or activate the feature at an additional cost of $10 to $20 per month on top of the medical alert system.
Medical alert system accessory add-ons
Most medical alert companies offer a bevy of add-ons throughout the purchasing process. Before you add the accessory to your cart, here’s what you need to consider:
Lockbox: In an emergency, the lockbox provides a key to your home so EMTs don’t have to break a door or window to enter your house. The combination to the lockbox is recorded by the medical alert service and relayed to the first responders. we recommend buying your own lockbox instead of choosing an add-on that requires a monthly fee. Paying $15 to $30 for a lockbox is better than $5 per month. Some services even include one for free.
Wall buttons: Wall buttons work with in-home PERS systems and are typically placed in bathrooms in the shower or near a toilet. we recommend skipping the wall button unless you have a caregiver. In most cases, the wall button is used by a caregiver who finds you on the floor, as you wouldn’t likely be able to access a wall button in an emergency.
Most services charge $2 per month or a $40 one-time fee for a wall button, but if you’re wearing your pendant, you likely don’t need it.
Voice extenders: If you live in a large home, a voice extender is useful, especially since it can be difficult to communicate through the base station when you’re in the same room, much less in the basement or on the second floor. As such, a few voice extenders can help improve communication in an emergency. However, they tend to be an expensive add-on, costing between $40 to $99 with additional monthly fees. If you’re worried about communication, you’d probably be better off with a mobile medical alert system.
Medication Reminders: If you need help remembering to take your medication, some services offer either a medication reminder device or a service where the operator calls to remind you to take the medication.
Check-In Service: If you’re getting the medical alert system for a loved one, a check-in service is great to make sure the loved one gets a call every day to make sure they are fine.
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- How we test medical alert systems
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