Best Medical Alert Systems in 2020
Best Overall Value
A one-stop provider of medical alert solutions, with 24/7 monitoring center, and best-in-class customer service.
Best Customer Service
40+ years of reliable experience and the first service provider to have customer friendly service policies.
Consistently ranked one of the top choices in the industry. Their systems use GPS, and can be set up for “geofencing” purposes.
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Countless surveys have found that one of the biggest fears most seniors have is of falling or becoming very sick, and being unable to call for help. This concern is often shared by family members and friends, particularly if the person in question has a medical history that makes them highly vulnerable to medical emergencies.
These risks don't arise exclusively with age-related problems, however. For example, people with conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's might easily wander off or otherwise become confused and need assistance. Even in younger people, illnesses such as Parkinson's and epilepsy might suddenly leave some sufferers in need of urgent help.
Even if there is no obvious existing medical condition, medical alert systems can be reassuring for a large number of people. For example, statistics show that more than 91 million Americans are living with cardiovascular disease or the after-effects of a serious medical emergency such as a stroke.
But this is really just the tip of the iceberg. Ordinary trips, slips and falls may also require medical attention. And depending on the severity of injuries, they may leave someone unable to call for help when it’s needed most.
Medical Alert Systems operate on a very simple principle: they allow someone who is unable to move to call for help. While there are many types available, most involve pushing a button on a pendant or wristband that is being worn. In some cases, there may also be a box attached to a belt that can detect someone has fallen, even if they're unconscious.
In any of these scenarios, a wireless signal is sent to a device located in the home, which instructs it to make an SOS telephone call for help. Sometimes these calls go to the system provider, which is manned by a 24/7 call center. Other times, they are routed directly to 911.
Although basic versions of these systems have been around since the 1970s, today's products are incredibly sophisticated and offer a range of functionality, depending on needs and preferences. There are also more options than ever.
To help you sort through the options, we’ve put together our top picks for medical alert systems in 2020.
1. Medical Guardian
Medical Guardian is a PA-based provider with an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau that takes a “family-first approach.” Unlike many other medical alert providers, they offer both home-based and travelling medical alert systems, which are easily carried and/or worn, as well as light and waterproof.
In addition to contacting emergency response teams in the area, the monitoring center can also place phone calls or send text messages to individuals on the person’s contact list in the case of an emergency.
While fall detection is only offered on certain plans, necklaces and wristbands will function for up to 1,300 feet away from the base station, which clocks in on the higher side in comparison to most competitors. The system requires a landline for the base and cellular service for the pendants and other devices.
It offers nationwide service both while in the home and away from it. Its mobile plan comes equipped with a GPS device and has an unlimited range.
Pricing starts at $29.95/month, and systems come standard with a dialogue feature so that users can converse with the call center through the base station if able.
Medical Guardian supports 200 languages. They require a 90-service agreement, but do not require a long-term contract. The company also offers a 30-day money back guarantee, and offers discounts for members of AARP, USAA and AAA.
✓ A well-known solutions provider
✓ The device is easy to install and use, which is perfect if you’re a technophobe or just don't like reading manuals
✓ No long-term contractual commitments, nor special “activation fees”
✓ The power supply backup is good for up to 32 hours
✓ There's long-range distance from the base station
✓ They offer a mobile plan with a built-in GPS for unlimited range
✗ No automatic fall detection on every plan
✗ Some people have commented that the font size used in the manuals is rather small, making it difficult to read for people who may have aged eyesight or other vision impairments
✗ No pill or activity monitoring functions
2. LifeFone at Home
LifeFone is a veteran in the medical alert system space, and has been around since 1976. It has earned an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.
LifeFone offers a variety of options and add-ons from which customers can choose, providing an a la carte-like service. The At Home Landline package starts at $24.95 per month and provides a base unit with a 1,300-foot range and a 32-hour battery backup in case of a power outage. The At Home Cellular package starts at $30.95 per month and doesn’t require a landline in the home. The At Home and On-the-Go package is a combination of the two, and starts at $36.95 per month.
In addition to other packages, LifeFone offers ad-ons such as a daily check-in call ($19/month), medication reminders ($6/month) and location service ($9/month).
The variety of options are great for customers, but they can also get a little confusing, too. Customers can see all the wonderful options available to them, but will need to make sure they are subscribing to the right plan to get the features they want.
The At Home medical alert system has a signal range of up to 1,300 ft from the base unit with an enhanced 32-hour backup battery if you lose power. LifeFone offers waterproof pendants and speakerphone capability so you can answer incoming calls with the press of a button on the pendant, allowing you to talk to the other person through the base unit.
✓ Fall detection is standard
✓ There’s also a “free for spouse” option
✓ There are no activation fees, nor long-term contractual commitments
✓ Lots of additional features are available
✗ Expensive pricing for some options
✗ The variety of plans and add-ons can be confusing
✗ Response times from the service centers that are only average in industry terms
3. Bay Alarm Medical + GPS Medical Alert
Bay Alarm Medical has been in the business of saving lives for more than 70 years. The company has built its reputation over those years and is consistently ranked one of the top choices in the industry.
Bay Alarm offers three main packages – an In-Home, Mobile GPS, and In-Home Plus GPS Bundle. The In-Home package starts at an affordable $19.95 per month, with no long-term contract required. In fact, the service is that price whether you decide to pay month-to-month, quarterly or semi-annually.
Their systems use GPS, and can be set up for “geofencing” purposes. This is particularly important for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, since notifications can be sent to a designated person if the wearer of the device leaves a specific location. The range from the base to the wearable pendant is unlimited, which offers additional piece of mind.
The In-Home option comes with a base station with a 32-hour backup battery and a necklace button. The device is waterproof and has a range of 1,000 feet, with a lifetime warranty. A landline is required for this option, unless you select the cellular network option.
The Mobile option comes with a hand-held device that is about the size of a page and connects through a cellular connection. The device is water resistant, has an unlimited range and comes with a one-year warranty. It also provides a backup battery life of 72 hours, which makes it a great feature.
✓ Excellent customer service, and supported by several call centers
✓ GPS and fall detection options are available
✓ No long-term contracts
✓ Affordable starting prices, plus additional upgrades available
✓ Loud two-way communication
✗ Call centers are operated by a different partner company
✗ Some customers have complained about customer service company
✗ Equipment itself is a little outdated
4. Mobile Help
Mobile Help, which also has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, touts itself as the leading provider of solutions involving “M-PERS” (Mobile-Personal Emergency Response System) technology. The company offers coverage in all 50 states and is the industry’s first fully integrated medical alert system based on GSM/GPS technology.
System users can speak to the service provider through the base station, as well as the activator pendant and/or wristband. This allows for seamless two-way communication, regardless of where someone is located around the home in relation to the base station. Its devices offer a range of 1,000 feet from the base monitor while inside the home, and 600 feet from outside the home.
Mobile Help’s devices include a Samsung SmartWatch, pendants and wristbands, a home base unit and a mobile base unit – all of which offer two-way communication. Cellular serve through AT&T is used for mobile connectivity.
In addition to emergency notification, Mobile Help offers a variety of other health care features such as monitoring a person’s blood pressure and providing medication reminders.
Wristbands and pendants are waterproof and come standard with GPS tracking, which is helpful in situations where emergency personnel aren’t exactly sure where someone is.
Mobile Help’s base package is $20 per month. The Samsung SmartWatch package costs about $25 per month. Payments can be made quarterly, semi-annually or annually. Customers must sign a service agreement, but aren’t required to sign up for a long-term contract.
✓ Competitively priced package
✓ No long-term contractual commitments and its associated obligations
✓ Optional fall detection is available for an extra fee
✓ Provides a “connect alert” feature that will text a specified care provider when the wearer has pushed the alert button
✓ Offers Samsung SmartWatch option for on the go
✗ The audio quality is sometimes lacking when talking to the solution provider
✗ The mobile devices are a little larger than some
✗ Home buttons require a “mobile device” to be taken with them when outside of the normal home address
5. ADT Health
ADT has been in business for 140 years and currently has more than 8 million customers. It’s important to note, however, that this includes both home security and medical alert systems. The company operates from roughly 200 locations throughout the United States and Canada, and has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. Out of all the providers on this list, ADT is the most well-known and recognized.
Unlike several other providers, ADT offers a dedicated medical alert system. It’s not just an afterthought of their home security systems.
ADT’s medical alert systems are available in three options, and features vary considerably depending on the equipment selected and desired functionality. It’s important to look closely at the details of each option, however, since ranges vary from the base station, there are a variety of different types of pendants available, and communication technologies differ.
Fall protection is available, and ADT’s devices also allow you to speak to the call center directly, rather than having to make your way to the base station for two-way comms. Panic pendants and other similar devices are also available.
Other bonuses include free equipment and activation, although it’s a DIY installation. No long-term contracts are involved, so it’s a true pay-as-you-go solution. Discounts are available for quarterly and annual contracts, and if you’re already a customer of ADT home security systems, you’ll qualify for a further discounts.
✓ There are no activation fees or long-term contracts
✓ Home temperature monitoring is included
✓ Plenty of service packs/options to choose from in order to match your exact requirements
✗ Slightly limited in additional features and upgrades
✗ Slightly limited in additional features and upgrades
✗ Limited range from the base station, unless you opt for the “on-the-go” GPS solution
✗ Many people feel more comfortable with a dedicated healthcare alert specialist than with a company that’s best known for its property security services
6. Protect America
Quite a few home alarm systems providers try to “bolt on” some form of lackluster medical alert support to their offerings – and it’s sometimes not a happy marriage.
Fortunately, Protect America is not one of them. This provider offers a nice and powerful medical alert system as part of its overall protection. It started in Texas in 1992 and its accumulated experience shows.
The provider uses Alarm.com equipment and mobile app support for its medical monitoring system. Most of that comes with a lifetime warranty, though you don’t own it. Its medical pendants and wristbands come with a two-year warranty.
The solution can connect to emergency stations via cellular, broadband or landline network. The Life Safety options include smoke and carbon monoxide detection, disaster sensors, and a panic pendant that can also be worn as a wristwatch.
The panic button is easy to use, with just one red button on it. The casing of the button is water- and shock-resistant, and can handle temperatures from 0 degrees to 120 degrees.
When triggered, the panic button sends a message to the control panel, which then alerts the monitoring station. Protect America doesn’t specify the range on the panic button, just saying it needs to be “near” the control panel to work. Another nice feature is that the panic button sends hourly supervisory signals.
Protect America also provides some interesting gadgets for medical alerts – such as a GPS tracker. The device is primarily used to track vehicles if they get stolen, but they could potentially also be used to track family members who are, for example, prone to wandering.
The system offers a basic landline-only security package, with no mobile app, for $19.99 per month, with a $19.95 activation fee and a $99 equipment fee. They also offer a $37.99 per-month that includes 10 sensors and a motion detector, and $42.99 that comes with 15 sensors and a motion detector. Medical pendants are not included with the basic setup, though, so you’d need to ask a sales agent about them.
✓ Low initial equipment purchase cost
✓ Reasonable monthly fees
✓ GPS tracker
✓ Easy-to-use medical pendants
✓ Water and shock-resistant pendants
✗ Longer-term contractual commitment
✗ 100% early termination fees
✗ Medical pendant has an unspecified range to the console
✗ Medical pendants are not included with the basic setup
Vivint offer a sophisticated system that manages to bridge the gap between home security and medial alter requirements. It offers medical pendants and Vivint's wireless alarm control panel. It is far from being the cheapest system but is highly regarded.
Vivint’s system is sophisticated, and it all stems from its “SkyControl” seven-inch touchscreen panel. The system comes with medical pendants that can be worn, as well as a wireless alarm control panel that can serve different functions such as locking doors, calling emergency services or adjusting the lights in your home. The control panel allows two-way communication. When the panic button is pressed, the monitoring station contacts you directly to confirm whether you need police or medical help.
The Panic Pendant is temperature- and water-resistant, is compact, light and discreet. It can be worn as a necklace, belt, wristband or lanyard, and also can be attached to a wall or car visor. It also comes with an impressive 300-foot range around the control panel.
Vivint offers both contract and no-contract options. With no-contract, you purchase the equipment up front and pay for the security and medical monitoring you want on a month-to-month basis, with no early cancellation fees. The other option is to enter into a 42-60 month contract where you pay for equipment in monthly installments, but it comes with a 100% cancellation fee for whatever is left on the contract.
There are also two monitoring plans, one without video ($39.99/month) and one with video ($49.99/month). The medical pendants need to be purchased separately, at $34.99 each.
The company has technicians that install the system for you, at a cost of $49.99.
✓ Good-looking equipment
✓ Medical pendant with a panic button and LED light, and great range from base
✓ Wireless options
✓ Very speedy emergency response
✓ Flexible contract-less or financing options available
✗ Bizarrely, replacing a pendant is more expensive than buying a new one
✗ Some of the up-front equipment costs are expensive
✗ There is some history of negative customer reviews
✗ You may be tied into lengthy contracts
8. Frontpoint (Life Safety Facilities)
Frontpoint is essentially a home security system that uses elements of its technical infrastructure to deliver a medical alert system. The company has been operating in this space for 10 years, and has built a solid reputation during that time. It’s based on reliable GE equipment that’s widely available and easily replaced.
Frontpoint is a home security system that provides burglary prevention with professional monitoring. Life Safety is a feature of the home monitoring that comes integrated with all of its plans. With Frontpoint, you’ll be paying for a home security system and getting a medical alert system “free of charge.”
The system comes with a recessed panic button that can be worn as a pendant or wristband, which must be pressed for two seconds to activate. Once activated, the services provider will call to see what the emergency is. If they do not receive a response, they will initiate an agreed upon action as discussed when you purchase the system. The pendants are water - and shock -resistant.
Frontpoint’s security system comes with a touchscreen control panel that has a camera configured to take a photo of anyone triggering the system or trying to disarm it. It also permits two-way voice comms for verification of identity. The system is fully home automation and Alexa compatible.
The system itself is DIY installable, and is easy to do, and the equipment is both ergonomic and attractive.
The pricing proposition involves equipment purchase (e.g. the panic pendant is $39.99) plus a service sign-up fee. Prices start at $34.99 per month. One of the downfalls is that Frontpoint only offers one- and three-year contracts, and a cancellation fee applies.
✓ Can be purchased and installed as part of a total package of wider personal and home security
✓ Although their call centers are outsourced, the company providing service has specially trained medical alert staff available (with Spanish language support)
✓ Easy, DIY installation
✓ Based on high-quality GE equipment
✗ Not a dedicated medical health alert system
✗ Must lock in to a one- or three-year contract, and early termination fees apply
✗ No landline options are available, so not a great option if your wireless service is unreliable and/or spotty
✗ Requires a hard credit-check
✗ Only one medical call button is included
Armorax is a system based around what is essentially a home alarm and security infrastructure that’s supplied by 2GIG and Alarm.com.
Unlike many medical alarm providers on our list, equipment must be purchased upfront. The good news is the kit is compatible with the hardware of other suppliers. The kit itself comes with a three-year warranty, while panic buttons and key fobs fall under a two-year warranty since they are produced by an outside supplier.
If DIY isn’t your cup of tea, you can pay to have someone do the installation for you for $199. They also offer a 30-day money-back guarantee if you’re in any way unhappy with the service.
Armorax’s product is packaged alongside a wide range of home security options and is wireless, so it’s portable and easy to carry with you. Because of this, however, having good wireless service in your area is a must. If you’re prone to “dead zones,” this might not be the best option.
The wireless equipment has a 150-foot range indoors and 300 feet outside the home, which is on the lower side in comparison to others on this list. Activation is through a pendant wristband or key fob. What’s more, the panic button can be set to generate medical alerts only, which is helpful during medical crisis.
What you get for your money is touchscreen control panels with two-way voice comms plus a panic button pendant and key fob. The pendant is showerproof, and documentation states it’s waterproof down to one meter.
The batteries should keep things going for four-six years, the highest on this list, but they are not replaceable.
Prices start at $34.95 a month for service.
✓ Can be purchased and installed as part of a total package of wider personal and home security
✓ Wireless devices work with several carrier systems
✓ Flexible key fob that can be programmed
✗ Armorax does not sell its proposition primarily on health alert provisions. This may suggest a slightly ambiguous service orientation that might be of concern to some customers.
✗ Early termination fees apply in scenarios where you wish to close the contract ahead of its expiration (though there is a “pay-as-you-go” option)
✗ It's relatively new and unproven company
✗ It lacks transparency (e.g. difficult to find manuals) and relies very heavily on sales and technical support staff to deal with client inquiries
10. Link Interactive
Like Lifeshield, Link Interactive is not a specific and dedicated medical alert service provider. It is a home security company that provides medical alert monitoring as part of its packages. It would probably be appropriately described as offering a “basic” medical alert system as part of its wider home security focus.
With Link Interactive, you must buy the equipment instead of leasing it. The downside is it forces customers to pay for the equipment upfront, although it is competitively priced ($22-$122). The upside is the equipment is yours to keep, allowing you to switch monitoring companies if you wish. The equipment comes with a two- to three-year warranty.
The customer will choose the components of the system that they need. For medical alerts, there is a wearable panic button and keychain remote available. The panic button comes with a number of accessories that allow you to wear it as a necklace cord, a wristband, a belt clip or in other ways with multi-functional clips. The panic button is water-resistant, so you can take a shower with it, and has a nice range of 350 feet around the base.
To activate the panic button, you have to hold the button in for five seconds, and it will initiate a help call through the system’s console. The button can be programmed to call for police or medical help and the system panel offers two-way dialogue.
Monitoring plans range from $29.99 to $40.99 per month. Plans cover 12-, 24- and 36-month time periods and early cancellation charges would apply in appropriate circumstances.
✓ Nice and easy “DIY” installation
✓ Flexible contract options
✓ No-quibbles 30-day money back offer
✓ Widely regarded as easy to use and based upon top-quality equipment providers such as GE
✓ Panic button has a variety of ways to wear it
✓ Panic button has a nice range
✗ No broadband or landline connectivity – that might be a concern if you have iffy cellular network connections
✗ You have upfront equipment costs
✗ Lacks some of the higher-function features such as fall detection
✗ Company isn’t dedicated to just medical alert protection
LiveWatch offers DIY home security equipment and monitoring packages. This is another system that is primarily designed for home security, but offers limited medical emergency support for its customers.
The security system’s control panel comes with a built-in panic button that can be pushed to set off an audible or silent alarm. In addition, it also offers a pendant panic sensor that is water-resistant. While the company doesn’t specify how far it works away from the base console, it does say that it should work “just about anywhere.”
To activate the alarm, the panic button has to be pressed for two seconds. The battery should last up to five years, which is nice, but it is also bulky, resembling a plastic doorbell more than a panic button. It can be worn around your neck, on your belt or attached to a wall. There is an additional option of activating the panic button through the remote key fob, which is semi-waterproof and has a range of 500 feet around the control panel, which is a nice distance.
The system does offer two-way communication, which is a great feature, allowing customers to communicate directly with the monitoring company through control panel.
With the LiveWatch solution, you’ll purchase the equipment up front. The company offers a $599 package and a $699 package for equipment, but neither include the panic button or keyfob. Both will need to be requested and purchased separately.
Monthly plans start at $19.95 and go all the way up to $49.95. There is a one-time activation fee of $19.95, and you have to sign a one-year contract. However, you can cancel at any time with no early termination fee.
✓ As soon as possible (ASAPER) support center standards
✓ No early termination clauses and fees
✓ Part of a wider security system that can kill two birds with one stone
✓ Key fob and panic button with nice ranges
✗ Must pay for pricey equipment up front
✗ Panic button is chunky to the point of being bulky
✗ Not renowned for easy or streamlined installation and setup – e.g. oddly complicated manuals
✗ Lacks some of the higher-function medical alert functions such as fall detection
12. Nest Secure
Nest is a relatively new company to the security space. While it has been lauded for its innovation, it falls short in many areas as a medical alert system.
Their basic equipment looks modern and sleek. The Nest system overall is focused on using the latest technologies and trends in the industry to provide its services. While that’s good on some ends, it’s not great for medical alerts.
There is no available panic button or keychain remote, meaning someone needing assistance would need to make their way to the central systems console to press a button to activate the medical alert.
Theoretically, the Nest-Secure system it could be used by someone seeking medical assistance, however, it is not advised in the context of seeking a peace-of-mind type solution for senior citizens, those who are infirm or those with significant medical conditions. It doesn’t have an ease-of-use as a medical alert system.
Nest-Secure just doesn’t offer the necessary minimal requirement equipment to count as a serious contender for medical alert provision with professional monitoring services.
If you have a medical emergency, you’d need to:
- Make your way to the base station to send a medical distress signal
- Respond to a phone call and confirm/discuss the nature of your emergency
- Or wait until the monitoring station service reaches your emergency contacts
In many situations, that might not be feasible.
The basic equipment is purchased up-front at around $499. Monitoring is $19.99 per month on a three-year contract or you can pay as you go for $29 per month.
✓ Easy and intuitive installation
✓ Fairly modern-looking kit
✓ Reasonable monthly fees
✗ Unsuitable for real medical alert scenarios
✗ Only help call button is on the console. There is nothing that can be worn or carried
✗ Help button cannot be configured to differentiate between types of help required
✗ No two-way voice communications
13. Lifeshield Home Security
Lifeshield is a wireless-based solution system. As with several other medical alert providers, this company majors on home security with a limited degree of medical alert provision built in.
The company manufactures its own equipment. You’ll get a free lease on the basic equipment when you sign up, or you can buy the equipment but you’ll then get only a 12-month limited warranty.
The solution is wireless-based, which has the advantage of mobility, but it does necessitate a good cellular coverage location. When you sign up for Lifeshield’s services, the equipment you are provided with includes a control panel, fire and CO detectors, a keypad, a keychain remote, a wireless security tablet, one motion detector and door/window sensors.
The Life Safety features of the system, however, are not as impressive. There is a panic button on the control panel and another one on the keychain remote, but the company does not provide a medical pendant or wristband. A person must either interact with the control panel or have the keychain remote on them to activate the medical alert. One other potential downfall is that you need to be no further than 30-50 feet away from the control panel to trigger the medical alarm.
Lifeshield offers a $20.99 per month offering, but that doesn’t come with the medical alert system. To get that function, you have to opt for the Security Advantage package, which is $24.99 per month.
The one nice feature is that all of the equipment will come preconfigured, and the installation is simple peel-and-stick adhesives and a mobile app with easy-to-understand instructions. A professional technician can also install the system for you for $99.99.
✓ Reasonably priced
✓ The "DIY" flavor will appeal to those who don't like tradesfolk in their home
✓ Equipment costs are included in the monthly service deals
✓ Comes with home security monitoring
✗ No direct contact with support technicians – calls must be requested via an automated service
✗ Longer-term contracts that bring with them a 100% early termination fee (though there is a no-contract option too)
✗ There are no medical pendants or wristbands
Simplisafe is very well-known as a provider of home security systems. In 2018, the company rolled out SimpliSafe 3, which includes a panic button that is configurable to activate specifically as a medical alert device.
The Simplisafe system comes with two options for medical alert monitoring – either through a mounted panic button or a key fob. The panic button needs to be mounted on the wall somewhere, but unfortunately cannot be worn. The key fob can be carried around with you, but only has a range of 50 feet from the base station.
The panic button can be configured to send an audible or silent alarm and can alert either medical, security or fire. One nice feature about the key fob is that you can program it to work only as a panic button by disabling the arm/disarm system features of it. This protects your home’s security in case the key fob is lost, stolen or misplaced.
The company manufactures its own kit which comes pre-configured and benefits from a one-three year warranty (subject to your equipment). If you wish, you could buy new or refurbished items at a discount and construct your own system. You’ll also get a 60-day money-back guarantee.
The pricing is built around the idea of budget costs. The equipment comes in pre-packaged bundles ranging from $374-$499 depending upon the components you require. The panic button costs $19.99 and the key fob $24.99. Monthly monitoring costs range from $14.99-$24.99, with mobile control available on just the higher-priced option. There are no fixed contracts.
✓ Easy DIY installation
✓ Very affordable solution
✓ Avoids long-term and difficult to get out of contracts
✓ Fast response rates
✓ Professional installation available if needed ($199)
✗ The panic button needs to be fixed and can’t be worn
✗ The key fob panic button is portable but only has a range of 50 feet from the base station
✗ No medical wristbands or pendants
✗ Need to purchase the equipment up-front
Best medical alert systems - how to find a medical alert
Say you have an aging loved one who needs additional help getting around the house but isn’t necessarily ready to make the move to an assisted living facility. This might be a grandparent or even a parent. They’re still able to get around on their own and live independently to a degree, but maybe they’ve fallen once or twice, and you’re concerned about their safety when they're alone.
Understanding medical alert systems
Medical alert systems provide that protection and peace of mind for both you and them. However, there are quite a few things to know before making your purchase. You’ll discover several different system types on the market - and they’re not all created equal. This guide breaks down your options to help you better understand what’s available on the market and how these systems work so you're enabled to make an informed choice as to how you'll protect your loved one.
Uses and statistics
Medical alert systems are designed to provide additional safety for aging or infirm individuals living alone. They’re used by seniors, as well as by those with physical and/or mental health conditions that are not severe enough to warrant a supervised living arrangement, but there is still cause for concern over individual safety.
According to the National Council on Aging, up to one-fourth of Americans aged 65 and older will fall at least once per year. This equates to one senior being treated in an emergency room for a slip or fall-related accident every 11 seconds. A senior will die from a slip or fall every 19 minutes, and falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and non-fatal trauma in American seniors. Obviously, there is a significant need for improved safety, and medical alert systems provide exactly that.
Brief history of medical alert systems
While you’re no doubt familiar with the concept of medical alert systems, chances are that you don’t know the specifics about them or how they’ve evolved over time. Today’s systems are very different from those of yesteryear and offer advanced functionality and features. The first medical alert systems actually debuted back in the 1970s as very simple devices. A person wore a pendant with a push-button around their neck, and in an emergency, they pushed the button to summon help. The pendant communicated with a base station tied into the home’s phone line and would send a signal to the monitoring company in an emergency. Many of the systems available today retain this style, but other options have also emerged.
System types and features
While medical alert systems were once very basic, today’s systems offer more advanced features. There are several different types on the market, as well as additional equipment that can be used to expand the protection offered by some systems. All systems include at least one remote device designed as a pendant to be worn around the neck or as a bracelet on the wrist. Some systems offer a remote device that can be attached to a belt, as well. All systems use a base. This is attached to the home’s landline and is responsible for connecting the senior to emergency help when the button on the pendant or bracelet is pushed.
In most systems, the base allows two-way voice communication between the fallen senior and the monitoring company. They should be tied into the home’s power system and use batteries in case of a power outage. The base should also send an automatic alert if the user is unable to speak. In addition to the ability to summon basic help via the push-button, other features available include the following:
This is useful for ensuring protection if the landline is down. This also allows the system to be used outside the home. For instance, it could be used when the senior is shopping or traveling. Note that cellular connectivity does require an additional charge.
This ties into a GPS chip in the pendant/bracelet, or a user’s smartphone and allows monitoring outside the home. GPS technology is also very helpful in monitoring the activities of individuals with mental health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Automatic Fall Detection
This feature is less common than others but provides an automatic notification to the monitoring company if the user falls and is unable to push the emergency help button. The monitoring company can verify the emergency with the individual, or in the case of no response, can automatically send help.
This refers to the distance a user can travel from the base station and still be able to summon help with the push button on their bracelet or pendant. The minimum range is around 300 feet, but some systems can offer a range of up to 500 or 600 feet.
Mobile 911 Phone
Some systems provide a mobile 911 phone for an additional charge that will automatically call 911 in an emergency situation if the user is outside of the covered area or is traveling.
Some systems tie in with a user’s smartphone, allowing GPS tracking, fall detection, and 911 calling. In addition to the features above, some medical alert systems can be tied into sensors around the home which provide greater safety and protection for your loved one. For instance, some can be connected to carbon monoxide sensors or smoke detectors. Base stations can also detect temperature extremes (without a smoke detector) and send a notification to the monitoring company.
When should you consider a medical alert system?
Most medical alert systems are purchased for aging single parents or grandparents who live alone and are at risk for falling. However, some systems are purchased for aging married couples, as well as individuals with poor eyesight, or those with mental health conditions like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Really, these systems can benefit anyone who needs additional protection and fears that help will not be available in the case of an accident. A medical alert system may be a smart purchase for anyone who:
- Has fallen and may fall again, particularly if there is no help nearby.
- Is forgetful or has a dementia-related mental health condition.
- Lives alone and needs additional protection in the case of an accident.
- Is recovering from surgery at home and needs additional monitoring.
- Takes medications that cause dizziness.
- Has a disease like epilepsy or even diabetes and would benefit from additional protection.
Purchasing a medical alert system
You’ll find that purchasing a medical alert system might be easier said than done. Some can be found in brick-and-mortar stores, including drugstores. However, others are only available from the manufacturer and must be purchased online or by phone. Below, you’ll find website links to some of the most popular systems on the market:
Cost, effectiveness, and installation
The purchase of any medical alert system is dependent on several different factors. Obviously, the cost will be a significant concern, but you also need to consider the effectiveness of the specific system in question, as well as the need for installation. Cost is one of the most difficult criteria to pin down when it comes to medical alert systems, simply because it varies significantly from one system to another. There are also additional factors involved, such as whether or not the company charges a device fee or only a monthly service fee. Additional features and advanced functionality like automatic fall detection and GPS will also drive the price up.
For those on a limited budget, it might be best to consider a system that does not require a monthly fee. In this instance, the device itself might cost $300 or $400, but it’s a one-time charge. However, note that these types of systems do not come with monitoring. They are usually designed to be programmed to call one or more phone numbers when the user presses the emergency help button.
For 24-hour monitoring, you’ll pay a monthly fee. This can range from as low as $29 per month to $35 or even $40 depending on the company in question. You may also have to pay an additional monitoring fee for non-landline monitoring. For instance, Life Alert charges $50 per month for landline monitoring, but that cost rises to $60 per month if you want cellular connectivity. If you want GPS mobile functionality, the monthly monitoring fee rises to $70.
It’s also important to note that some companies only charge a monthly fee, while others will charge a device fee, as well as the monthly monitoring fee. For example, Life Alert only assesses a monthly monitoring fee. LifeStation, on the other hand, charges a monthly monitoring fee plus a device fee. However, that monthly monitoring fee is lower than Life Alert. Finally, you should understand that some companies charge additional fees, including the following:
This is generally a smaller fee, but must be paid prior to the system being turned on. Many companies don't charge an activation fee, but some do, including Life Alert and Phillips Lifeline.
Some companies charge a fee if you decide to cancel the monitoring plan. For instance, Rescue Alert charges up to $25 depending on the plan you choose. Other companies charge you the cost of the remainder of your contract (Life Alert, for instance).
Most companies require that you sign a contract when you purchase the system. Some are as short as 90 days, but others are as long as 36 months. Life Alert’s contract is a minimum of 36 months and is only voided if the user dies or enters an assisted living facility. LifeStation requires a 30-day minimum contract, and Medical Alert requires a 90-day minimum contract.
The effectiveness of a particular medical alert system comes down to several different factors. One of those is the range of the base unit. Obviously, a system with a range of only 300 feet will be less effective than one with a range of 600 feet. However, if the user doesn’t usually go very far from the base station, that might not be a concern.
Another consideration here is user error. The single most common reason for medical alert systems to fail in providing protection is the user not wearing the pendant or bracelet. Obviously, if the pendant is on a nightstand while the user is in the shower, it cannot provide protection. Likewise, if the power goes out and the user hasn’t changed the batteries in the base station, then the system will not operate.
Installing most systems is very simple. It requires nothing more than finding a central location in the home for the base station and then connecting it to the landline and the power (and installing batteries in case of a power outage). Most systems come with the pendant or bracelet preprogrammed to communicate with the base station, as well. However, if you purchase a system with additional peripherals, such as smoke detectors or carbon monoxide sensors, additional steps will be required. In some instances, you might require professional installation.
Essentials of Safe Independent Living for the Elderly
For many, living independently for as long as possible is a vital part of aging. Of course, no one wants to age while also feeling like a burden to family. For seniors, aging is a delicate balance of maintaining independence, staying healthy, and relying on family as-needed.
But ensuring safety—for falls, fires, break-ins and health emergencies—needs to be a priority. Having the right security systems and technology in place can make it easier for seniors to live alone.
Here are some of the key essentials to consider when preparing a senior to live alone.
An introduction to independent living
To fully understand independent living, think of it as an evolving lifestyle that may require some flexibility, depending on a variety of factors. For example, the onset of Alzheimer’s may require a senior to eventually transition to a memory care clinic, or a serious fall that results in a hip injury may change the circumstances that allow an elderly person to live alone if they’re suddenly immobile or need to transition to rehabilitation.
But planning for independent living early can help create the safest environment. Sometimes, that’s a stand-alone house in a neighborhood. Other times, it’s a house or condo in an age-restricted retirement community.
Although there are certainly a lot of advantages to 55+ communities—some offer meal options, a pool and fitness center, transportation and social and recreational activities—some seniors prefer to stay in their own home because it’s filled with memories.
The key is to best prepare seniors to live independently in a safe environment while also providing them with access to the outside world. Preparation will likely come in the form of security alarm systems, medical monitoring options, social interaction, meal prep, shopping assistance and transportation, if necessary.
There are many factors to consider as seniors age, but careful planning is the best way to ensure safe independence.
An aging population
In the United States, medical advances are allowing people to live longer, while technological advances are allowing people to live independently longer. In addition to longer life expectancies, there are other reasons older people will outnumber children in 15 years: more international migration and the trend of Americans having fewer children.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in our history in the year 2034. If projections go as planned, 77 million people in the United States will be 65 or older and 76.5 will be under 18. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that by the year 2060:
- One in four Americans will be 65 or older.
- The number of people 85+ will triple.
- The United States will add 500,000 centenarians.
What will this demographic first mean for industries that cater to an aging population? Certainly, there will be a need for more healthcare facilities and providers, more caregivers, assisted living facilities and memory care facilities. But there will also be a demand for more products and services that allow seniors to live in their homes independently for longer, including things like security alarm systems, medical monitoring options, meal and grocery delivery services and door-to-door transportation.
Luckily, there are enough of these products and services in existence to serve today’s aging population.
Expert advice on staying social and self-reliant
Perhaps the biggest concern for seniors living alone—especially if they no longer drive—is that they’ll become lonely due to a decrease in social interaction. It’s a legitimate concern and one that should be planned for, especially if family can’t visit them regularly.
You’ll need to do a thorough evaluation of how much social interaction a loved one will likely get. If they no longer drive, do they have a close friend who still drives? Are there nearby neighbors for them to engage and eat with? Is there a transportation service readily available to them? This could be a senior center bus that takes the elderly to museums and concerts, public transportation, or even ride-sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft.
If transportation is available, do they have someplace to go regularly and someone to spend time with? Just because they can take a taxi to the library doesn’t mean they’ll be engaging with other people.
Some communities offer free or low-cost visiting services to shut-ins. In addition, some churches and other organizations will visit homebound seniors upon request. There may be programs in the community—through the Scouts or even animal shelters—that will schedule regular visits with elderly residents. The key is to do due diligence before making any decisions about whether a loved one can live independently at home with a high quality of life.
Allowing a loved one to live at home alone can be scary, but it’s important to weigh fears against the benefits. Staying in their own home can represent self-sufficiency, privacy and comfort. It may be helpful to remember that no decision has to be permanent.
Common worries and how to overcome them
When someone is about to make the decision to stay in their home alone rather than move to a senior living facility, it’s likely to hear the same concerns—both from the senior and their family members. These fears often include:
- loneliness or boredom
- climbing stairs or falling
- health emergencies
- forgetting to take prescriptions
- inability to complete tasks alone
- lack of transportation
- lack of exercise
- money management
- accessibility in the home
Luckily, there are plenty of assistance programs, security systems, medical monitoring options and modifications that can help address most of these concerns. With some proper research, planning, and implementation, most seniors can live at home independently for many years.
Understanding the fear of crime among the elderly
Living alone can be scary for anyone. In truth, elderly residents who live alone are often at greater risk than elderly couples, those with roommates, families or younger singles.
According to the National Criminal Justice Reference System, there are a number of reasons that seniors have a greater risk of being a victim of a crime than the general population. Older people are more likely to:
- live alone
- live in high-crime neighborhoods
- rely on walking or public transportation
- be unable to defend themselves because of diminished strength and physical ailments
How great is the risk for seniors who live independently? Just consider these statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics:
- Elderly victims of violent property crimes most often resided in urban areas. In 2003-2013, elderly persons living in urban areas experienced violent crime at a rate of 5.1 per 1,000 people 65 or older.
- Among elderly violent crime victims, about 59% reported being victimized at or near their home.
- The ratio of estimates of property crime to violent crime was higher for the elderly (1 to 1) than for younger persons ages 25 to 49 (3 to 1) and persons ages 50 to 64 (5 to 1)
- Seniors 65 and older are more likely to be victimized by a stranger than another other age group.
While it’s common to think that most burglaries happen under cover of darkness, the truth is that most occur between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. Why? Because burglars know more people work during the day and they’ll draw less attention scoping out a house in broad daylight.
Many seniors are retired and are home during the day. While their presence should scare criminals away, it may not. Criminals may see seniors as an easy target and might take advantage of it.
All of this translates to the importance of safety during the day, when many seniors are home.
General security tips for seniors living independently
Seniors living independently can take precautions to remain safe. Here’s a look at general security tips for seniors:
- Go out with friends. Traveling together is safer.
- Don’t carry large amounts of cash when going out.
- Carry a cell phone, even if it’s just for emergencies.
- Have a list of emergency contacts at all times.
- Keep a supply of medication on hand.
- Keep blinds closed when going out.
- Avoid sharing travel plans on social media.
- If an extended vacation is planned, have neighbors collect mail and mow the grass to make it look as though someone is home.
- Move frequently used items to lower shelves.
- Consider adding safety rails in the home.
- Remove or tape down any rugs that could trip the resident.
- Make sure entry points are easy to navigate and free of clutter.
- Ensure the home has good lighting.
Home burglary awareness and prevention tips for seniors
To keep a home from becoming a target for burglary, here are several tips seniors can follow:
- Ensure all doors, windows, and the garage are locked.
- Padlock side gates to keep people out of the backyard.
- Put outside lights on a timer so they automatically go on at dusk.
- Remove tree limbs leading to upstairs windows.
- Trim any bushes that block windows.
- Do thorough background checks on anyone that will be helping at the home.
- Install motion-sensor lights outside.
- Consider adding gravel to the driveways and paths to make them noisier.
- Don’t leave keys under a doormat or flowerpot.
- Install Plexiglas on the inside of your home’s windows to increase the difficulty in breaking the glass.
- Install a peep-hole in the door to identify visitors before opening the door.
- Install a home security system.
Choosing a home security company
Choosing a home security company can be intimidating, but a good place to start is by asking for recommendations from friends, family, neighbors and your insurance agent.
What questions should you ask a home security company?
Once you narrow down your search to a few companies, have a list of questions to ask, including:
- How long has your company been in business?
- Do you have adequate liability insurance?
- Are you employees bonded?
- How many service facilities do you have?
- Do you have a good rating with the Better Business Bureau?
- What features do you offer?
- What’s included in your one-time and monthly fees?
- Will your system lower my homeowner’s insurance?
- Do you offer warranties?
- How long is the contract?
- Do you offer medical monitoring?
- What are the total fees? (e.g., activation fees, equipment fees, monthly monitoring, etc.)
What features should you look for in a security system?
- Motion detectors: These devices are triggered by movement (or body heat) and can turn on a light or sound an alarm.
- Security camera vs. surveillance camera: A surveillance camera is passive. It observes and records what was captured. It’s good for reviewing footage after the fact. A surveillance camera is active and can provide alerts in real time if there’s an incident.
- Alarm systems: These security systems are designed to detect if someone is trying to enter your place of residence without authorization. The alarm is monitored and sends a signal to the company monitoring your security, who then send a police, fire or emergency crew to your home.
- Hidden cameras: These are good for seniors who have frequent visitors that you’d like monitored, including handymen, home health care nurses, cleaning people and house-sitters.
- Smart doorbells: Technologies like Ring can provide a video of visitors to help seniors decide whether to answer the door.
Once you get a home security system, install a visible sign to alert would-be criminals that you’re protected. Also, be sure to inform your neighbors and teach loved one and close family members how it works. This will help:
- Reduce false alarms, which could lead to fines.
- Prevent your neighbors from ignoring what they THINK are false alarms.
- Allow your family members to disarm the system when they visit your home.
Alarms systems for seniors
Today’s security systems go far beyond sounding an alarm if an intruder tries to open a window. From simple self-installation to more advanced systems that require a professional technician to come to your home, there are plenty of options to fit the buyer’s needs and budget.
Security systems can include as few or as many features as desired, such as:
- Carbon Monoxide
- Home alarm
- Doorbell cameras
- Interior and exterior cameras
- Alert buttons to summon help
- Remote access
It’s worth noting that today’s security systems far surpass those from just 20 years ago. For example, the top smart motion detectors can not only react from as far as 400 feet, but also distinguish between humans and pets or other animals, decreasing the concern over false alarms.
To weigh options, here’s a look at popular home security systems.
Alarms with video cameras
In today’s tech savvy world, just about every security company offers video surveillance. Options include:
- Vivint: One of the most recognized and trusted alarm companies out there. Their systems are easy to install, offer 24/7 security monitoring, and remote control of door locks, cameras, and heating system. The company also offers a doorbell video camera.
- FrontPoint: Another trusted security company. Their equipment has high ranks for installation and ease-of-use. The company offers professional monitoring as well, but there is a one to three contract involved for this service.
- Ring: Known for its simple and effective doorbell camera, which could be the perfect solution for seniors. The doorbell camera activates when someone arrives at the door, alerts the homeowner, and takes video - all of which is run through an app. The company does offer additional pieces of security equipment as well.
Alarms with medical alerts
There are certain alarm systems that have emergency alert bracelets and push-button panic tools too, which allow seniors to call for help in the event of a fall or other medical emergency.
Choose from wearable devices like a bracelet or pendant, or place panic buttons in high-risk areas in the home, such as the shower, kitchen or stairs to seamlessly connect your loved one to emergency services. The best medical alert systems include:
- Medical Guardian
- LifeFone at Home
- Mobile Help
Addressing medical concerns
Having a wearable device is helpful, but seniors have other health concerns, such as malnutrition, medical emergencies, and mismanagement of prescriptions.
Malnutrition may be addressed with the help of Meals on Wheels, a home healthcare company doing the cooking or even your own assistance with advanced meal preparation.
Medical emergencies may be addressed by the medical alert bracelet or pendant or panic buttons around the house.
But when it comes to taking daily prescriptions, how do you ensure your loved one is remembering to take their medications at the right time?
Free apps, such as Drugs.com’s Pill Reminder App can help. This clever app can send reminder alerts, send prescription refill reminders and even keep a history of when the person has taken their medications.
There are other tricks that can help seniors better manage their medications:
- Talk to their doctor about any options to change to a once-daily pill, when available.
- Use detailed pill boxes to help sort medications by day and time.
- Create associations between medications and daily activities. For example, keep morning pills next to the coffeemaker and evening pills next to their toothbrush.
- Use sticky notes to create reminders around the home.
- Get help from a neighbor. If a neighbor brings your loved one’s mail in every afternoon, they may be able to ask if your loved one has taken their morning medications.
- Before making any decisions about whether your loved one can live alone, it’s worth getting their doctor’s input. Even a senior is top physical health may be developing the signs of dementia or early Alzheimer’s, which can compromise their safety. Getting a “green light” from a physician should be your first step in evaluating your loved one’s potential level of independence.
Smart technology for the elderly
Although learning to use new technology can be difficult at any age, once you get a product or service set up, the benefits can far surpass the struggle to learn it. In addition to security systems, you may want to consider the following technology to help you or your loved one maximize their independence and safety at home.
- Smart pillboxes: These medication containers offer audible or visual cues to help the elderly remember to take their meds on time.
- Stove alarms: Beyond smoke detectors, these smart alarms alert the resident before toxic gases are produced.
- Bath monitors: Detection devices can turn off the water before the bathtub overflows.
- Smart thermostats: Available in voice command or remote control, these assistive devices adjust the temperature without the need to get out or bed or out of a chair.
- Keyless entry locks: Perfect for those with arthritis or other dexterity issues, these devices come in a number of entry formats, including fingerprint entry, PIN entry and keys.
- Remote curtains and blinds: Like the smart thermostats, these devices can be controlled from anywhere in the room, making it easier to open and close curtains and blinds for privacy and safety.
Safety awareness resources for seniors and their families
Not everyone can visit their elderly relative multiple times per day to check on them, provide meals or take them to appointments. If hiring in-home help is necessary to assist with daily tasks, be sure to use a reputable home care company that is licensed, bonded, and insured.
Before approaching the company, create a list of needs in terms of priority. Budget will also play a factor.
There are also services in most communities that offer free or low-cost meals and transportation for the elderly, so do you research before you pay a home care company for tasks that you may be able to outsource. Programs like Meals on Wheels and senior centers’ door-to-door transport to social activities, stores and medical appointments may be available in your area.
There are also companies that will evaluate a living space for a senior who is living independently and report any concerns and recommendations for change. Ask a loved one’s doctor or local hospital to recommend a home hazard assessment. According to LivHOME, an average home care assessment takes about 90 minutes to assess the home and speak to the senior and involved family members. They’ll be reviewing things like safety, social engagement, functional requirements, emotional well-being and financial resources.
Resources for seniors living alone
Thanks to an aging population that’s living longer and more independently than ever, there are plenty of resources to help seniors looking to live alone. The following list offers a starting point:
- AARP Foundation: AARP’s affiliated charity serves as a resource for low-income seniors who need assistance with things like social integration, nutritious food and other issues that seniors living independently may need help with. Through its website, you can find local advocates, organizations and volunteers who help seniors.
- Eldercare Locator: As part of the U.S. Administration on Aging, this public service helps elderly adults find local support services. The site also offers a downloadable brochure on home modifications for older adults who want to live at home independently.
- The National Directory of Home Modification and Repair Resources: This site is a service of the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence, a project of the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. It offers an extensive collection of tips, videos, links and articles related to home modifications for seniors.
- Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE): This program provides and coordinates all types of care for aging loved ones who want to continue living at home. From transportation and personal care to medications and social interaction, PACE is currently available in 31 states.
- Senior Companions: As part of the Corporation for National & Community Service, the Senior Corps is a network of national service programs for volunteers 55 and older who provide friendship and assistance to seniors. By providing companionship and help with daily living tasks, this program helps seniors live independently longer.
- Elder Orphan Facebook Group: This social media group was created for sharing and discussing issues that are important to people over 55 living alone without a spouse, partner or children.
- Connect2Affect: In collaboration with the Gerontological Society of America, n4a, UnitedHealthcare, Give an Hour and AARP Foundation, this program offers a network of resources to meet the needs of older adults who are isolated or lonely. The website offers self-assessments on isolation, links to volunteer opportunities, articles on voice-automated technologies to prevent loneliness and more.
- Silver Alert Program: This national public notification program broadcasts information about seniors who wander away or get lost. Caregivers can preemptively enroll their loved one by filling out a form at the local police department, as well as any relevant medication information. Your loved one is then issued a bracelet with a unique identification number and a non-emergency police number.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The CDC’s Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injuries (STEADI) initiative features multiple brochures with tips on preventing falls in the home. Similar to materials you might pick up in a doctor’s office, these resources include tips to help prevent falls, chair exercises to increase thigh and buttock strength, checklists to help identify and eliminate fall hazards and more.
- National Aging in Place Council: Dedicated to helping older adults looking to age in place, this organization provides education, collaboration, advocacy and accessibility to services. The website serves as a hub for practical advice, service providers (e.g., home accessibility, products, nonprofits), local chapters and more.
Between isolation and physical impairments, older adults often have more fear of crime compared to their younger counterparts. Sadly, this can lead to a decrease in socialization, travel and even leaving the house to run errands.
But with affordable technologies, such as security systems and health aides for the elderly, coupled with some preparation and community resources, most seniors can enjoy long, healthy, safe and fulfilling lives in the comfort of their own residence.