Page Reviewed / Updated – December 16, 2020

Medical alert systems can add an extra layer of protection for independent seniors, people living with disabilities and lone workers. These high-tech systems connect users with a 24/7 emergency call monitoring center at the touch of a button, eliminating the need to dial for assistance.

While all medical alert systems include an automatic phone dialer that instantly connects users with a medical alert operator, there’s a wide variety of personal emergency response buttons to choose from. Two of the most common are the pendant-style medical alert system and the speakerphone medical alert system.

This guide provides an overview of pendant and speakerphone medical alert systems, examines the pros and cons of each style of help button and offers tips on what to consider when selecting a medical alert system.

What Is a Pendant Medical Alert System?

Pendant medical alert systems are in-home personal emergency response systems.

The pendant is a lightweight water-resistant medical alert button that’s designed to be worn on a lanyard or chain. The help button is paired via wireless signals to an in-home base unit equipped with a speaker, high-powered microphone and either a landline phone connection or a cellular transponder. There’s a built-in long-lasting non-rechargeable battery in the wearable medical alert button, and the base unit is powered via a household electrical outlet along with a built-in backup battery that automatically kicks in during a power outage.

To call for help, users simply press their pendant medical alert button within range of the base unit, which is generally between 600 and 1,300 feet, depending on the system and location. Once the operator answers the call, the subscriber can talk with the operator through the speaker and microphone located on the base unit. If the medical alert subscriber is unable to respond to the medical alert operator, or the operator can’t clearly hear the caller, first responders will be dispatched to check on the subscriber.

Pros of Pendant Medical Alert Systems

  • A number of pendant medical alert systems cost less than $20 per month
  • Available with either a landline or cellular base unit
  • Simple to use and maintenance-free
  • Some pendant-style medical alert systems can accommodate multiple users
  • The batteries in the help buttons are non-rechargeable and can last up to 5 years

Cons of Pendant Medical Alert Systems

  • Limited to in-home use
  • User must be relatively close to the base unit in order to be able to speak with the medical alert operator through the speaker on the base unit
  • Maximum range between help buttons and the base unit is about 1300 feet
  • Range is as little as 600 feet or less on some systems

What Is a Speakerphone Medical Alert System?

Also known as talk-through or all-in-one help button systems, speakerphone medical alert systems include a help button, speaker, microphone and cellular transponder in one small, wearable device. Because all of the components are built into the device, there’s no need for a base unit.

Since speakerphone medical alert systems work on wireless networks, these devices provide nationwide coverage anywhere cellular phone service is available. Most all-in-one medical alert buttons also offer GPS location tracking, and some come with optional fall detection as well.

Speakerphone medical alert systems rely on a built-in battery that needs to be recharged anywhere from every 24 hours to every five days depending on the device, usage and signal strength. Many all-in-one help buttons are designed to be worn on a lanyard, while some devices come with a belt clip as well.

Pros of Speakerphone Medical Alert Systems

  • Usually offer GPS location tracking
  • Speaker and microphone in the help button ensures clear two-way communication with call monitoring center
  • Fall detection is often available with this type of medical alert device
  • Works on a nationwide wireless network to provide coverage at home and on the go
  • Many speakerphone help buttons can be clipped to a belt
  • Users can carry the device in their pocket or wear on a lanyard

Cons of Speakerphone Medical Alert Systems

  • Won’t work in areas without wireless signals
  • Need to be removed and recharged every 24-72 hours
  • Help button is much larger and heavier than the help buttons that come with in-home medical alert systems
  • Costs are generally higher than in-home systems
  • Must be worn on a lanyard in order for fall detection function to work (if offered)

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Which Type of Medical Alert System Is Better: Speakerphone or Pendant?

When it comes to medical alert systems, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all device. The system that’s ideal for one user might not be the best choice for someone else, so it’s important to take the time to consider the pros and cons of each style of personal emergency response system, the costs and coverage areas.

In general, in-home pendant medical alert systems are geared towards users who only require coverage while at home, since these systems only work when the help button is within range of the base unit. Since pendant medical alert systems come with lightweight, maintenance-free buttons, these systems are often the best choice for seniors and people living with disabilities who are looking for a simple, low-cost in-home medical alert device.

Speakerphone, or all-in-one medical alert systems cost more than in-home systems, but this extra cost can be worth it for users who want 24/7 medical alert coverage at home and on-the-go. This type of personal emergency response system might be the best option for active seniors, lone workers, commuters and people who live alone. Given that many speakerphone systems also include GPS location tracking, this type of help button can also be useful for anyone living with dementia or Alzheimer’s since emergency operators can track the location of the subscriber remotely.

By carefully considering the pros and cons of all types of medical alert systems, it’s easy to find a system that’s ideal for anyone’s particular needs, preferences and budget.