Medical alert systems were designed to give loved ones and family members peace of mind about letting seniors continue to live independently. Knowing that help is just a button-press away brings reassurance and alleviates worry about falls and health emergencies.
One out of every four U.S. citizens aged 65 and over falls every year, according to the National Council on Aging. Falls may cause minor harm for young adults but can lead to life-threatening injuries in seniors, especially in the case of concussions and hip fractures.
Medical alert systems may give seniors easy access to medical advice. Seniors may have recurring confusion about their medications and feel hesitant to bother family members with their questions. Most medical alert systems provide round-the-clock support to answer questions and provide over-the-phone assistance when needed.
Life Alert and Medical Alert are two well-known medical alert systems that have been in business for many years. The basic features of these systems are similar, but the pricing and some features are different.
|Side-by-Side Comparison||Life Alert||Medical Alert|
|Up-Front Fee||$95 – $198||$0 free ground shipping with annual and semiannual plans 30-day money-back guarantee less shipping costs|
|Monthly Fee||$49 to $89||$18.29 to $22.95/month for the At Home Landline plan $27.45 to 32.95/month for the At Home No Landline plan $32.04 to $37.95/month for the On The Go plan|
|Contract||3-year contract||Monthly, semiannual and annual plans|
|Add-Ons||N/A||Device Insurance – $5 Fall Detection Pendant – $10 ($9.17 for monthly contracts)|
|Water Resistance||Yes||Yes, pendant and wristband|
|Connection Type||Landline or cellular, mobile + GPS||Landline or cellular (AT&T network)|
|Battery Life||72-hour backup for an in-home device 7-year battery life on the pendant||N/A|
|Fall Detection||N/A||Optional monthly add-on with all products|
|GPS||Included with the HELP On-The-Go GPS device||Included in On The Go GPS products|
|Outdoor Cover||Included with HELP On-The-Go||N/A|
|Call Center||24/7 support, U.S.-based||24/7 support, U.S.-based service available in up to 140 languages|
|Range from Base Center||Up to 1,000 feet||N/A|
|Two-Way Voice Communication||Included as standard||Through in-home base for At-Home products or wearable pendant with On The Go service|
|Optional Extras||N/A||Free lockbox with annual plan|
Founded in 1987, Life Alert has established itself as a trusted brand well-known for its catch-phrase, “Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.” Life Alert has its own call center with a fully trained staff that has access to its customers’ health records in the event of an accident or emergency.
Life Alert includes a wearable pendant that seniors won’t have to worry about misplacing or trying to find in the event of a mishap. The Life Alert system sends a message to family members and the call center, so nonemergency situations that are better handled by a neighbor or nearby family or friend can be intercepted before a call is made to costly emergency services. This is also a reason why some family members prefer a system without automatic fall detection because they tend to generate false alarms and charges for unnecessary emergency calls.
The one area where Life Alert generates a lot of complaints is its very long contract period. The minimum contract is for three years. Many seniors and family members may not want to commit to such a long period in the case of seniors who may need to move to assisted living or a nursing home within that time period.
Life Alert excels in its hardware, response times and the fact that family and friends can be notified via text anytime the user presses a call button. The system includes an in-home bass unit, wearable pendant and wristband, and it also offers an in-shower call button.
Medical Alert is a product made by Connect America, which is based in Pennsylvania and is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of home security for seniors. Connect America was founded in 1977 and specializes in the distribution and development of monitoring systems for patients.
Connect America supplies medical alert products to more than 1,000 managed health care organizations and long-term care providers in over 30 countries. Connect America distributes its medical alert products through a network of contracted resellers, which include drug store chains and monitoring companies, and doesn’t sell its products directly to the public.
Connect America’s Medical Alert excels with its waterproof pendant that is safe to wear even in the shower. Also, Medical Alert provides an optional portable base with a built-in help button for its On The Go system for those seniors who prefer not to wear a pendant.
The best option would depend on the priorities of the family and the needs of the senior. Because of Life Alert’s long contracts, it might not be the best option for older seniors who may need to move into supervised care within the next three years. Also, Life Alert has a higher upfront cost and a higher monthly cost. On the upside, the texts to family members and the lack of fall detection might eliminate unnecessary first responder calls that could end up being very costly. Eliminating these calls may make up for the higher costs of the system.
Medical Alert has a much lower start-up cost and monthly cost. Although the contracts are shorter, family members need to be aware that equipment is typically only free if it’s returned after the contract ends and the service is no longer required. Also, because the equipment is returned at the end of service, the free equipment is most likely used.
Customer reviews cite long contracts and the difficulty in canceling them as the main reason for customer dissatisfaction for Life Alert. After weighing all of these factors, we prefer the Medical Alert system as one of the best medical alert systems.