Page Reviewed / Updated – November 17, 2020

An aging population and a desire by older adults to live independently is making medical alert systems more popular than ever. The market for personal emergency response systems is expected to grow from $6.5 billion in 2020 to $9.6 billion by 2025.

Medical alert systems enable seniors to call for help during a health emergency. Advances in technology are bringing a range of options to the market, including fall detection, movement tracking and monitoring of vitals. With the wide variety of features and services available, choosing the right medical alert system can seem overwhelming.

This guide highlights important questions to consider when evaluating personal emergency response devices to help families determine the right level of protection for their loved ones.

What to Consider When Choosing a Medical Alert System

Traditional medical alert systems consist of a pendant worn around the neck with a button that can be pressed to call for assistance if needed. This button press sends a signal to a base unit installed in the home that connects to help through a landline or cellular network.

A variety of new features are arriving on the market to help families looking for more extensive support. Here are some tips for finding the right system for the user’s needs:

  • Decide which medical alert services are needed.
  • Make sure the equipment setup is suitable.
  • Understand how the monitoring response system works.

Decide Which Medical Alert Services Are Needed

1. Mobile Technology

Traditional medical alert systems rely on the wearable device being within a certain range of the base station inside the home. New mobile technology lets the systems work outside of the home as long as a cellular connection is available. This type of setup may be useful for older adults who are physically active and engaged in their community outside of the home.

2. Location Services

Some medical alert systems provide location tracking, which can be important for older adults who have memory problems and can become confused or disoriented. Six out of ten people living with dementia tend to wander. Medical alert devices equipped with location services or GPS can help caregivers find loved ones more quickly.

3. Fall Detection

More than 3 million older adults visit an emergency room each year because of injuries from a fall, which can result in broken bones, hip fractures and head injuries. Some devices can detect a fall based on movement patterns and impact, summoning help immediately without needing to press a button.

4. Wellness Support

In addition to emergency assistance, some companies provide health and wellness support. Services such as daily check-ins, medication reminders, fitness trackers and vital sign monitoring can give families extra peace of mind.

5. Extra Monitoring Services

Those interested in higher levels of protection can choose a company that provides comprehensive monitoring. These plans integrate home security, smoke detection and carbon monoxide alarms into their medical alert safety systems.

Make Sure the Equipment Setup Is Suitable

Once the most important services are determined, take time to review the equipment and hardware supplied by the medical alert system provider.

Device style: Devices are typically worn as a pendant around the neck or on the wrist like a smartwatch. Make sure the device is comfortable to wear and not too intrusive. Consider the person’s motor skills and whether the alert button is easy to access.

Range: If the device communicates with a base station, determine how far the signal reaches and if it works for the size of the wearer’s home and daily routine. Ensure the device functions from areas such as the basement and backyard.

Base station installation: Find out if the base station sits on a tabletop or is wall-mounted and if more than one is needed to provide coverage.

Connection type: Some systems require the base station to be plugged into a landline to connect to the response center. If a landline isn’t available in the home, look for a company that offers cellular connection.

Water-resistance: Confirm if the device is water-resistant or waterproof so that it can be worn in the shower or bath.

Power: Ask how long the device’s battery lasts and if an alert is provided when the charge is low. It’s also useful to know how long recharging takes and if there’s a backup battery in case a power outage affects the base station.

Caregiver dashboard: Families who want additional reassurance about their loved one’s well-being may want to log into a portal or use a mobile app to check in. These apps provide information such as the location of the user and activity levels.

Understand How the Response System Works

It’s important to know how the medical alert system works and whether the company’s response to a call for help is appropriate for the user’s needs.

  • Determine whether calls are directed to a response center, family member or emergency services. If the call goes to an operator, find out if they check in first, how they contact the person and when emergency responders are dispatched.
  • Ask about the average time it takes the response center to answer. Some call centers may have operators who can communicate in languages other than English if necessary.
  • Find out what happens if there’s a false alarm or the help button is accidentally pressed and how the call can be canceled. Some companies may have a fee for false alarms.
  • Ensure there are adequate customer support options if technical problems arise.

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Find the Best Medical Alert System for Your Loved Ones

The right medical alert system offers protection for older adults by helping them connect to assistance during an emergency. Choose a company that can provide the services, specialized hardware and response system that best suits your loved one’s lifestyle and living arrangements.