Buying a Medical Alert System

Medical alert systems are used by seniors looking for some reassurance and a sense of safety in their homes. Users receive a wearable help button to call for aid in the event of an injury or if they feel unsafe or unwell. Some devices include automatic fall detection, so if a senior experiences a fall and becomes incapacitated, the device calls for aid automatically.

There are many manufacturers of medical alert systems, each with different pricing structures, contract lengths, features and optional extras. It can be difficult to decide on the most suitable provider. This quick how-to guide helps seniors understand the medical alert system marketplace and choose the best manufacturer for their needs.

How to Select a Medical Alert System

Step 1: Know Your Budget

Pricing varies from brand to brand. Fees can range from $20 for a basic monitoring package to $60 or more for a fully-featured service with multiple wall buttons, fall detection, device protection and monitoring services.

Some companies offer their products with no up-front costs. Others charge installation, activation or shipping fees. It can be difficult to compare like-for-like because some brands may charge a one-off fee for a lockbox, while others might charge $4 per month for the service.

One way of comparing fees is to consider how long the user is likely to need the device. A senior who’s still fairly healthy and mobile, but whose health is declining, may aim to stay in their home for two more years before moving into an assisted living facility. Working out the total cost of the device and desired extras over that period gives an idea of whether it’s worth paying an up-front fee to get lower monthly payments.

Be sure to ask about discounts for veterans and members of AARP or other senior associations. Those who are diagnosed as needing a certain level of personal care may be eligible for support with the cost of a personal emergency response device under Medicaid.

Step 2: Find a Reputable Medical Alert System Provider

Medical alert system providers offer an invaluable lifeline for seniors who live alone or who spend a significant amount of time alone during the day. It’s important to choose a reputable provider so seniors feel confident in the help they receive from the monitoring center.

Be wary of emergency response systems offered for a low one-off fee on major online marketplaces. These devices cost less than a medical alert system because they simply autodial the emergency services or a preset caregiver’s number. The quality of such products can vary massively, especially if the device is an unknown brand or imported from abroad.

For peace of mind, it’s best to stick to the more well-known and reliable medical alert system manufacturers. Read lots of reviews, compare prices and consider how well the system fits the intended user’s lifestyle.

Step 3: Decide If You Want an In-Home or Mobile System

Start by considering whether you want a system designed for in-home use or one that offers on-the-go coverage. In-home systems often have wall buttons for installation in areas of the house that are high-risk, such as the bathroom or kitchen. These units include a base station and a pendant, usually with built-in two-way communication.

In-home devices are generally more affordable, but the base units have a limited range, so the pendants only work in the house and the surrounding garage or garden. Some in-home devices rely on a landline connection for communication; others are cellular. Mobile units usually use cellular and GPS technology.

Step 4: Consider What Features You Would Like

The most basic medical alert systems are bare-bones systems that have a pendant and base unit, but nothing else. Many brands offer premium options or allow users to add extra features and devices to their subscriptions for a nominal fee.

These options include:

  • Automatic fall detection: This feature is typically an additional $10 a month for a pendant that automatically calls the monitoring center if it detects the wearer has fallen.
  • Lockboxes: A lockbox is a secure, wall-mounted box that can hold house keys, giving EMTs easy access to the property if the user is incapacitated.
  • Additional pendants: Some manufacturers provide a second pendant for a nominal fee, representing good value for households with more than one senior.
  • Wall buttons: These buttons can be installed in high-risk rooms, giving seniors easy access to a help button even if they forget to wear their pendant.
  • Voice extenders: Alert1 offers a voice extender to improve call clarity when a user is in a different room than the base station.
  • Extra wearables: Some manufacturers offer stylish wearables that look like jewelry, convenient belt-clip wearables and even smartwatch-style devices.
  • Smartphone apps: Apps such as those offered by Medical Guardian allow caregivers to check in on the device user or have other options, such as medication reminders or wellness calls, all from within a familiar interface.
  • Smoke alarm monitoring: Monitored smoke and CO alarms give extra peace of mind.
  • Device protection: Users can get a free replacement if their wearable is lost, damaged or stolen.

Step 5: Choose Your Contract

It’s important to read the terms and conditions of each provider. Almost all providers offer month-to-month billing, but some have required minimum subscription terms and charge a termination fee to leave the service early.

Many providers offer discounts for quarterly, semiannual or annual billing. Someone who can afford to pay the annual fee up-front could save a significant amount of money over the course of the year. That fee could go to waste, however, if the senior decides to move to a nursing home or assisted living facility before the year is up. Check whether the company offers a pro rata refund on unused subscription time for seniors in those circumstances before committing to a longer period.