According to the CDC, one in four older Americans suffers a fall and 3 million seniors are treated in emergency departments for injuries sustained through falling. Medical alert devices are useful for seniors who are worried about such injuries, providing them with an easy way to call for help in the event of an accident. GreatCall and Life Alert are two prominent brands in the world of medical alert devices.
Choosing between these two brands, and indeed any of the most popular medical alert systems, is difficult because the pricing structures, features and contracts offered by each brand differ so much. Our side-by-side comparison helps seniors make the best choice for their needs.
We found that both GreatCall and Life Alert are reliable, high-quality brands. GreatCall is best known for its senior-friendly Jitterbug phones. The company also offers 24/7 medical alert monitoring systems in the form of the Lively Wearable and Lively Mobile Plus. These systems are easy to use and ideal for active seniors since they use cellular communications and GPS. Fall detection is available as an optional extra on both systems. Life Alert is an older brand, best known for the advertising slogan “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” The company offers two in-home monitoring systems with 800-foot ranges from the base units, and a GPS-equipped mobile device. Unlike GreatCall, Life Alert’s products don’t have a fall detection option, however, their products have a longer battery life and are easier to use, which may appeal to some seniors.
Medical Alert System Overview
|Lowest Monthly Cost||$24.99||$49|
|Highest Monthly Cost||$39.99||$69|
|Up-Front Fees||$49.99 device fee,|
$35 activation fee
|$95-$96 fee depending on device|
|Fall Detection||Included with Ultimate Plan||No|
|Optional Extras||Device protection $3/month||Life Alert Mobile App, Bathroom Wall Buttons|
GreatCall offers user-friendly devices that are affordable and easy to get started with, including the Lively Wearable and Lively Mobile. The Lively Mobile device uses Verizon for its cellular connection, unlike most rival manufacturers that use AT&T. This makes it one of the only options for people who live in an area with a poor AT&T signal.
The company offers month-to-month billing with no contracts. Those who opt to pay in advance receive a discount on the monthly fee. Seniors who need to cancel their service, perhaps because they have decided to move into an assisted living facility, may receive a prorated refund for the time left on their plan.
One of the most interesting options with GreatCall is the Urgent Care feature. This feature lets seniors contact a doctor or nurse at any time of the day or night to ask for advice. Seniors can also call the monitoring center if they feel nervous or unsafe, perhaps while walking home at night, and have an operator stay on the line with them until they get somewhere safe.
The downside of GreatCall’s service is that it doesn’t offer an at-home monitoring system. In addition, the company’s wearables require charging quite frequently. This means the devices may not be suitable for less tech-savvy seniors and those who are may forget to charge the wearable.
About Life Alert
Life Alert has been manufacturing monitoring devices for more than three decades. The company is one of the most well-known in its niche in the United States and benefits greatly from brand recognition. The company’s in-home products include a waterproof wall-mountable button for use in the bathroom where there’s an increased risk of falls. The devices are quite bare-bones, with no optional add-ons such as medication reminders or monitored smoke alarms, but do the job they’re designed to quite well.
Life Alert uses U.S.-based contact centers that are open 24 hours a day and are operated entirely in-house for increased quality control. Equipment research and development and manufacturing are also handled in-house. Users who opt for the in-home monitoring system receive help with the set up at no extra cost.
Seniors can choose from a number of billing options, and can get the 12th month free with the annual plan. The cost of Life Alert’s systems is higher than that of most rivals, however, and the company requires a three-year contract that can only be canceled under limited circumstances. This may be off-putting for seniors who aren’t sure if the system will suit them. In addition, the devices don’t come with automatic fall detection.
Both Life Alert and GreatCall offer high-quality service, although they serve vastly different markets. Life Alert is a good option for seniors who want an in-home monitoring system from a trusted brand. There are other manufacturers that offer more features or more innovative hardware, but Life Alert is a U.S-based brand that many seniors are already familiar with, and that brand recognition promotes peace of mind.
GreatCall, in contrast, doesn’t offer a dedicated in-home system, but it does offer easy-to-use, flexible and affordable mobile monitoring services. Seniors who already have a smartphone and are comfortable using it may find that GreatCall’s devices integrate well with their existing lifestyle. Some seniors may already have a Jitterbug, and again might find sticking with a brand they already know and use is easier than having to learn an entirely new system.