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Medical alert systems, also known as personal emergency response systems, are wearable devices that have an emergency call button.
When the senior wearing them ends up in a dangerous situation, such as after a fall, they can tap the button to connect with a live dispatcher. This dispatcher works out of a 24/7 call center, and will work to immediately assess the person’s location and their level of injury, before contacting emergency services or a family member on their behalf.
Medical alert systems do much to help seniors age-in-place safely. They know that even if they fall, they’ll be able to reach someone quickly. That sense of security makes it easier for them to stay living independently in their own home, able to rest well at night without feeling isolated.
It also gives their caregivers peace of mind. They know that if their loved one is at risk, they’ll be notified immediately and can go help them. They don’t have to stay up all night, worried about whether their elderly parent is really safe living alone.
This extra peace of mind makes it easy for both seniors and caregivers to enjoy worry-free sleep. With better sleep, comes better health. That means better health outcomes for seniors and less stress for caregivers.
The pricing ranges for medical alert systems, depending on the features you need and the type of subscription. Typically, you’ll pay an upfront cost to activate the device, and then a monthly or annual subscription fee for continued access to the live dispatch center.
There’s a lot to understand to ensure you get a good deal on your medical alert device. To help you with this decision, we’ve reviewed all the options out there and picked the best ones. All of the choices on our list have a solid reputation for customer service and fast response times. Read our reviews to find the best medical alert device for your senior loved one.
Medical Guardian is the brand leader in medical alert systems. The company offers a range of home-based and mobile options, and their prices are competitive. They also have a great reputation for customer service.
Their Active Guardian model earned our Editor’s Choice because it boasts the most functionality out of all their products. Not only that, but it’s the only medical alert device that has both GPS and WiFi location technologies. This means you’ll always be able to find your loved one’s exact location. Even if they don’t have WiFi in their home, the device uses local WiFi hotspots to pinpoint their location.
The portable unit is a pendant style with clear status buttons, indicating the battery life, WiFi and GPS signal, and speakerphone. The call help button is easily identifiable by a large surface area and different grey color. The device is also waterproof, so the person can continue to wear it while bathing.
The device is equipped for fall detection, which can be purchased for $10 a month. The battery lasts a lengthy 5 days, and can be recharged in 3 hours—the perfect amount of time for a visit with a loved one or caregiver.
Medical Guardian does offer discounted pricing for quarterly and annual subscription plans. To receive a refund for any months you don’t use, you have to return all equipment. Otherwise, a $350 fee will be charged. Cancellations can take 30 days to process.
The one downfall with the Active Guardian is its design. As a pendant-style designed to be worn around the neck, the portable unit is large and clearly recognizable as a medical alert device. For seniors looking for something a bit less noticeable, we’d recommend the Freedom Guardian smartwatch or the Mobile Guardian which comes in a variety of wearable options.
The Lively Mobile is made by GreatCall, the company behind the Jitterbug cell phones. This company has always been dedicated to helping seniors living full, active lives safely, and their Lively Mobile medical alert device is no different. The device is waterproof, offers two-way voice, and has an unlimited range thanks to its cellular and GPS technology.
This medical alert device is a preferred mobile option for seniors who want something discreet. The portable unit is small, and available in a snazzy silver or gold color. It can be worn as a necklace pendant, on a band around the wrist, clipped to your belt, or attached to your purse or pocket like a keychain.
GreatCall is unique with the way their pricing plans are set up. The device itself costs a one-time fee of $49.99, with three monthly pricing plans, ranging from $24.99 to $39.99. The Basic plan includes the standard 24/7 monitoring service and dispatch agent. The Preferred plan also includes 24/7 access to nurses and board-certified doctors, available for medical consultation without having to make an appointment, and GreatCall Link. The GreatCall Link app helps caregivers and loved ones keep track of the senior’s location on their smartphones. The Ultimate plan includes all of the above, along with fall detection.
Another selling point for GreatCall is their generous 30-day trial period, which refunds you everything less shipping costs and a $10 restocking fee and shipping. The Lively Mobile has also won awards for the fastest agent response time by the Good HouseKeeping Research Institute.
Where the Lively Mobile falls short is its short battery life, which only lasts for up to 24 hours. This is great for active seniors, who can recharge their device quickly at night, but it’s probably not the best option for those with dementia who may wander and get lost.
With over 70 years in the industry, Bay Alarm Medical has been one of the leading medical product companies. Bay Alarm Medical is also known for their responsive customer service. They sell both home-based and mobile medical alert systems, but their 360 Protection Bundle combines both, with additional included features that make it well worth the price of $59.95/month.
The base unit is clear and simple, with a bright red button that says HELP on it in capital letters. The included waterproof Wall Unit matches the design of the base unit, and comes with extra strong sticky tape so it can be placed in humid environments like the bathroom floor, or in a dryer area like the bedroom. The GPS button is small, black, and discreet, and lasts up to 72 hours on a charge. There’s even an in-car medical alert device. The two-way voice communication works on all units.
Bay Alarm Medical dispatchers work out of two separate emergency response centers in Utah and Idaho, so one will always be operating if for some reason the other were to ever experience an outage.
The company offers a 30-day risk-free trial and a price-lock guarantee. Users can receive a refund for any unused months, less any shipping costs to send the device back to headquarters. Adding a spouse or additional user to your account is free; all caregivers have to do is purchase a second pendant.
MobileHelp sells a variety of cellular products. All of their medical alert devices are mobile systems, and come with various wearables and functionality to suit different needs and preferences.
The MobileHelp Duo includes a base station, a mobile device with pouch and cradle charger, a wristband and a neck pendant. The MobileHelp Duo also includes medical alert monitoring, providing audible medical reminders through the base unit. Starting at $41.95 per month, this is one of the best values we’ve seen.
The MobileHelp Duo system wins for its inconspicuous design, but it can be a bit clunky to use. The mobile device works as a base station away from home, so if your loved one wants to enjoy monitoring when they leave, they’ll have to take it with them—along with continuing to wear their neck pendant or wristband.
MobileHelp customers can pay on a monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, and annual basis, with discounted pricing based on the length of the subscription. MobileHelp is unique in that it doesn’t charge an activation fee or shipping. The company also offers a 30-day risk-free trial and a lifetime warranty for all their medical alert systems.
However, there is no price lock guarantee, so your subscription rates may go up at some point after purchase. Fortunately, MobileHelp gives you 10 days to cancel your service during a price increase without penalty.
Lifestation sells no-frills medical alert systems. Their equipment options are easy to understand, with mobile and home-based systems for homes with or without a landline.
The company provides free shipping, bills annually and offers a price-lock guarantee with no long-term contract for $25.95 monthly. That’s less than $1 a day. There’s also a 30-day free trial and a lifetime warranty. Lifestation also offers the cheapest fall detection upgrade of all the devices on our list, at just $7.
The portable unit lasts for 5 days on a battery charge, and works within 500 feet of the base unit, so the device should work for most homes without an issue.
However, this medical alert device will only work in the home, so it’s best for seniors who don’t leave home often. For caregivers seeking an affordable but reliable way to keep an eye on their loved ones and monitor their health, Lifestation is a trusted option.
Because a medical alert device helps you monitor the safety of your loved one, it’s important to understand the common features they include. Not all of these features may be necessary for your situation, and more features tend to translate to a higher price.
Familiarize yourself with the features below so you can decide which ones will be most helpful to you in caring for your loved one.
There are two main types of medical alert systems. Home-based systems tend to be preferred by those caring for someone who is too frail to leave their home often, while mobile systems are a better fit for more physically active seniors.
These medical alert systems are designed to work within your home by plugging into a landline. When the senior presses the call button on their wearable, they’ll be able to speak to the dispatcher through a base unit located somewhere in their house. These were the original model of medical alert systems, and they still work great for many seniors.
These devices use both cellular networks and GPS technology, so they can be used inside and out of the home. With a mobile system, caregivers can find their loved one even if they haven’t pressed the button.
Beyond the type of system, you also have to decide whether you want to pay for monitoring services. While they’re more expensive than an unmonitored system, we recommend including monitoring services because they instantly connect your loved one with a live person at a dispatching center. However, this level of monitoring may not always be necessary depending on your loved one’s health and mobility.
Monitored medical alert systems provide seniors with 24/7 access to a live dispatcher, who can call 911 and their emergency contacts on their behalf. When the senior presses the call button, the dispatcher comes on the line in seconds.
The value of monitoring services is that the senior is immediately connected with someone who can help them reach 911 or a loved one, whichever they need. This can be critical in situations where time is of the essence. The dispatcher will also stay on the line with the senior and provide comfort while they wait.
Because they connect you to a live dispatcher, monitored medical alert systems are significantly more expensive than an unmonitored system. In addition to paying for the device and related equipment, you’ll also pay a monthly fee. There will be more setup involved here as well—even if there isn’t a long-term contract. You’ll want to understand how to cancel your policy once you longer need it, so you don’t keep getting charged a monthly fee.
With an unmonitored system, you receive the system equipment and that’s it. You’ll have to set up the medical alert device yourself and program in emergency contacts, such as family members and caregivers. Whenever your loved one presses the call button, it will automatically dial the people on your list.
Depending on the system, you may be able to program the device to call multiple people at once, or to call 911 if no one picks up.
Unless it allows for 911 to be called, an unmonitored system does not provide any guarantee that your loved one will reach a live person when they are in need. That’s the key difference between unmonitored and monitored medical alert systems. Because of that, an unmonitored system is less expensive. You’ll usually only pay for the device, and there won’t be any monthly fees.
For most people using a medical alert device, a monitored system is the best choice. These are ideal for families and caregivers monitoring a loved one with dementia or a health condition that increases their fall risk. If your loved one is an active senior of sound mind and in great physical condition—and they simply want a medical alert system as an extra precaution—then an unmonitored system may be suitable.
However, since monitored systems are the better option for most families, we review the additional monitoring features available with these systems below.
Your loved one’s experience with the dispatcher is a large part of the overall functionality of the device. Look for monitoring services with short response times of 60 seconds or less.
Outside of emergencies, you want a helpful customer service team you can call anytime to ask for questions about using the device, making sure your loved one is using it as safely as possible, and to understand your different options regarding pricing and add-ons like fall detection.
Many medical alert devices will have seniors complete a short medical history when you sign up. This allows them to relay important information to emergency responders, such as existing health conditions, allergies, or medications.
Most devices come equipped for fall detection, available as an additional monitoring fee. If the devices senses the senior has fallen, it will automatically contact the dispatching service. The technology isn’t perfect, so it may lead to some false alarms. But for seniors with a high fall risk, the additional peace of mind may be worth the false alarms.
Some medical alert systems offer medical monitoring. The base unit will provide verbal medication reminders.
Regardless of whether you go with a landline or mobile devices, medical alert systems come with a standard set of design features. We review these below.
The base unit looks like a small speakerphone with an emergency call button. There’s also a reset button to cancel the call, let the dispatch center know that emergency responders have arrived, or reset the device. Base units are powered by an electrical cord, although they may have a battery backup to ensure they keep working even during a power outage.
Typically, medical alert systems are either pendants, designed to be worn as necklaces, or wristbands, designed to be worn as a watch. The material of the wristband may be velcro or cloth. Some devices clearly look like a medical device, while others may blend in more. Since your loved one will be wearing the device at all times, it’s important they both like how it looks and find it comfortable.
The cellular service provider is usually Verizon or AT&T. Make sure the provider has good coverage in both your part of town as well as the area where your senior loved one lives.
Before purchasing a medical alert device, check that it has been certified by a safety standards organization like Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA). These certifications indicate the device has met certain standards for safe and consistent operation, and that the company’s dispatchers are appropriately trained to respond to an emergency. All of the devices in our list have been certified.
For landline devices, the range indicates how far away the pendant can be from the base unit for it to operate. Ensure the range covers anywhere your loved one may go in the house. Range can vary from 350 up to 1,500 feet. Mobile devices do not have a range; they’ll work as long as there is cellular service.
For home-based systems, the battery life indicates how long the wearable call button will work before it needs replacement. With mobile systems, the battery life indicates how long it will work before it needs to be recharged.
All medical alert systems will call the dispatcher on their behalf, and the senior will be able to hear them speaking to them. Devices with two-way voice capture the senior’s audio and enable them to talk back. They can relay important information to share with emergency responders, such as if they fell or if they think they broke a bone. They can also call off any false alarms. All of the options on our list have two-way voice communication.
The portable unit should be waterproof, allowing your loved one to wear it in the shower or bath. This is an important consideration, considering 80% of falls occur on a slippery or wet surface. All of the devices on our list are waterproof.
Most medical alert systems charge an initial activation fee for the device, as well as a monthly subscription fee for the monitoring services.
Some medical alert systems come with a contract, which defines how long you will have to pay the monthly fee for whichever services you opted into (such as fall detection). Others allow you to pay on a subscription basis. Tuck advises against using a device with a long-term contract. All of the devices in our list offer multiple subscription options.
Not all medical alert devices come with an activation fee, but when they do, this one-time setup fee may range from $25 to $95.
The base monthly fee for a medical alert device, which doesn’t include optional add-ons like fall detection, can range from $20 to $60. Typically, you’ll only pay a monthly fee for a monitored medical alert system.
A device with a trial period can help you ensure the device is comfortable to wear and the range is sufficient for the size of your senior’s home. Trial periods are especially important for seniors with hearing loss. For the system to work at all times, the volume needs to be loud enough for them to hear and respond to the dispatcher without their hearing aid. You won’t know this until you set up the device and start testing it with your loved one.
Some medical alert systems offer a price-lock guarantee, so the amount you’ll pay for the life of the device will stay the same. There will not be any increases in subscription fees.
Review the cancellation terms, as you don’t want to have to keep paying once your loved one passes away, moves into senior housing, or no longer needs the device for another reason. Check if you’re able to get your pre-paid subscriptions refunded entirely, or at least at a prorated rate.
Most companies require you to return the equipment within 30 days when you cancel your service. Fail to do this, and they may charge you a $350 fee.
Are you still not sure how a medical alert device can help you? Below we review the common FAQ caregivers have about medical alert devices.
Medical alert systems rely on cellular technology to connect the wearer of the device with a live dispatcher at a 24/7 monitoring center. Seniors can call for help, simply by pushing a button on their wearable pendant or wristband. Then, the dispatcher can contact emergency services or a loved one on their behalf. If the senior is unable to respond, the dispatcher will immediately call 911 and the contacts on their emergency list.
Medical alert devices with GPS technology help seniors get found even when they can’t call for help, such as when they’ve been knocked unconscious or become disoriented during a instance of wandering. The dispatcher relays their exact location to emergency services.
Many people wonder if the medical alert device is truly necessary. Can’t a smartphone or smart home hub accomplish the same thing? The short answer is no.
Turning location services on your senior’s smartphone is a good start, but they won’t always have their smartphone on their person. When at home, it’s normal to leave it in another room or plugged in to charge. If they fall without their smartphone on them, they may not be able to reach it and call for help.
Seniors with dementia who are prone to wandering may become too lost or disoriented to call for help. If they leave their phone at home, their caregiver won’t have any way to find their location. Medical alert systems with GPS technology, on the other hand, can help caregivers locate them quickly.
Smart home hubs are another helpful precaution toward keeping seniors safe at home. However, the person needs to be in range for Alexa or Google Home to hear them, and they have to say the right phrase for Alexa to respond. If they do fall while they’re in range, these devices are not equipped to call 911, and some are limited in their ability to call cell phone or landline numbers.
Medical alert devices connect the senior instantly to a dispatcher who can call 911 or a loved one on their behalf. All the senior has to do is tap a button, no speaking required.
Both a home-based and mobile medical alert system offers the same basic functionality: when your senior is in need and presses a call button, they’re connected to someone who can help. However, a home-based system will only work within your home, because it uses your landline. This option is ideal for seniors who don’t leave their home, such as those being cared for 24/7 by an in-home caregiver.
However, if you loved one is active and regularly leaves their home, a mobile medical alert system is the best choice. These use both GPS and cellular technology, so they’ll continue monitoring your loved one no matter where they are—both in and out of their home.
As long as your loved one is able to walk—even if they don’t do so often—a mobile alert is the safest option.
All in, a medical alert system can cost you anywhere from $25 to over $100 a month, depending on the type of system you choose and the additional features you select. Monitored and mobile systems are more expensive than unmonitored and landline systems, respectively. Fall detection is usually not included and will cost an additional $10 to $15 per month. There may also be an one-time activation fee of $25 to $95.
Medicare and insurance companies do not cover medical alert devices. However, Medicaid may cover part or all of it, depending on your state.
Most medical alert device companies host promotions throughout the year. Purchase during one of these times to save on your device. You may also be able to save by paying for multiple months up front or by choosing an annual or quarterly payment plan over a monthly one.
You may also be eligible for discounted pricing if your loved one is a veteran, or if you purchase devices for multiple people in the home.
Finally, you can save money year-round by using any of the links we’ve provided above. Tuck negotiates discounted pricing for all of the products we recommend.
If your loved one is very active, you might not consider fall detection to be important. However, 3 million seniors are treated in the ER each year because of a fall, and over 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls. Your fall risk simply increases with age, no matter how fit you are.
The cost of adding fall detection to your medical alert system is low, considering the peace of mind it provides. The $10 to $15 fee can be well worth it—particularly for seniors with reduced mobility or even active seniors who live alone.
The main benefit medical alert devices provide to your sleep is peace of mind. Anxiety is one of the leading causes of sleep problems like insomnia. Many caregivers have trouble falling asleep at night, as they stress and worry about their loved one’s safety. Seniors, too, can have trouble sleeping, as they worry about their own safety living alone.
Many seniors want to keep living independently as long as possible. However, many of them are also living with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, or stroke. Any of these conditions, or the medications prescribed to manage symptoms, can cause dizziness that leads to falls. If your loved one uses a cane or wheelchair for mobility, they’re at increased fall risk as well.
Medical alert devices are one of the best ways they can access help if they fall.
In addition to a medical alert system, there are other ways you can outfit your senior’s home to ensure a safer environment.
A medical alert system is largely audio-based. Your loved one presses the call button, and the live dispatching center, you, or another emergency contact will be able to hear them—unless they’re unable to speak. If you’re nervous about such a scenario, or you simply want to enhance the level of monitoring by adding visuals, consider installing home security cameras.
If your loved one has dementia and suffers from Sundowning syndrome, place an indoor security camera in their bedroom with motion detection. If it’s a smart security camera, you’ll get an alert on your phone if they get agitated at night and move, or try to leave the room.
You could also install security cameras through other, fall-risk areas of the home, such as in the bathroom or kitchen. Keep in mind that with a security camera you’ll be able to see your loved one, so make sure you get their buy-in first, before invading their privacy.
You can also invest in a smart lock that keeps seniors with dementia inside their bedroom or home at night. Smart locks can be managed from your smartphone, allowing you to change settings on the fly as needed—even if you live apart from your loved one.
Depending on your senior’s mobility, you might also consider floor pads, padded bed rails, or a low-profile bed to help them get in and out of bed safely. You can also install motion-activated smart lights along the hallways, should they need to use the bathroom at night.