Many people find medical alert systems worthwhile because they make calling for help during a medical emergency easier. They can be particularly helpful for older adults who live alone, but they can also be useful for anyone with a health condition or limited mobility.
A medical alert device, also known as a personal emergency response system (PERS), helps you contact emergency services when you have a medical emergency.
Medical alert devices are useful because you might not be able to reach or use a phone to call for help in a medical emergency. Most medical alert devices are designed so that you can request help by simply pressing a button. Some devices automatically detect when you fall and call for assistance.
Although anyone can use a medical alert device, they’re often used by older adults and people with limited mobility or health conditions. Medical alert systems are especially helpful for older adults who are alone most of the day because they can help them feel safe and comfortable while living independently.
If you’re alone for most of the day, a medical alert system can be worth the investment. Not only can it keep you safe, but it can also provide peace of mind for you and your loved ones.
Not all medical alert systems have the same features: The costs and benefits can vary from one model to the next. Before you buy a medical alert device, make sure you’re aware of the full cost and the features included in your package.
According to a 2017 study, people who purchase medical alert systems generally feel safer and confident enough to be more active around their homes.
However, when compared to people without alert systems, they generally spend the same amount of time in the hospital after an emergency. This suggests that the outcome may be the same whether you have a device or not.
- directly contacts emergency services or your loved ones
- simple to use
- some have fall-detection technology
- some include location tracking so that an agent can see where you are
- improved peace of mind
- may be stressful to use
- some have long-term contracts
- some have hidden costs
- some are unmonitored, meaning they contact your loved ones but not emergency services
Features vary from model to model. While some are in-home devices that work from nearly anywhere in your residence, others are mobile, which means you can use them when you’re out exercising, shopping, or running errands.
The following features are particularly helpful:
- Monitoring: Some medical alert devices are unmonitored or unstaffed. In other words, there is no middle person. By pressing the button, you’re connected with local emergency services or your emergency contact. But with 24/7 monitoring, a trained agent will speak with you first and then call emergency services if needed.
- Mobility: Consider opting for a product with a wearable option. These are usually wristbands or pendants with an emergency button. This allows you to call for help, even when you’re not near the base unit. If you leave the house frequently, consider opting for a mobile medical alert device, which works even when you’re not at home.
- Waterproof wearables: Most wearable medical alert devices are lightweight and waterproof. This is a good idea because you can use them in the bath or shower, which is where you might encounter fall risks, like wet floors or slippery bathmats.
- GPS tracking: GPS tracking allows an agent to see your location, which means they can easily direct emergency services to you.
- Cellular or landline connectivity: Medical alert systems can usually connect to your landline. If you don’t have a landline device, PERS can also use a cellular provider. If you opt for a cellular connection, ensure the provider gets a signal where you live.
- Automatic fall detection: Falls can be particularly dangerous for older adults, according to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some medical alert devices automatically detect when you fall, which means they can send for assistance even when you can’t get up or reach the emergency button.
Not all medical alert systems offer all the features listed above, but most do. Most companies charge extra for wearable products and automatic fall detection.
Although the following features aren’t a must-have for most people, they can be useful:
- Connectivity to loved ones: Some medical alert systems allow your loved ones to check in on you, usually through an app. With your permission, your loved ones can see whether you called for help. They might also be able to access your location and see your device’s status.
- Medication reminders: Certain devices can remind you to take your medication. You or a loved one can program it to remind you which medication to take and at what time of the day.
If these features sound useful to you, it’s worth keeping a lookout for medical alert companies that offer those benefits.
Anybody can get a medical alert device if they feel it will help them. However, they’re usually marketed to older adults.
Medical alert systems can be particularly useful for:
- older adults who want to live independently
- older adults who are alone for some or most of the day
- older adults who are prone to falls
- older adults who want to feel safer at home
- anyone with a health condition that may result in a medical emergency
- anyone with mobility difficulties that can prevent them from reaching a phone in emergencies
If you’re unsure whether a medical alert system will help you, consider researching the benefits and speaking with a doctor or your loved ones.
Although there are not many drawbacks to medical alert devices, there are some people who might not benefit from them.
Medical alert devices are very simple to use, but if someone has advanced dementia or a very limited range of motion, they might be unable to use them correctly.
A medical alert device isn’t a substitute for frail care or palliative care. Although these devices can help older adults live independently for longer, it may be necessary to hire a caregiver or consider moving into an assisted living facility.
Because medical alert systems can vary from company to company, it’s important to know the included features and costs.
If you’re looking for an easier way to choose a medical alert device, we have a vetted list of the best medical alert systems as well as the best products to help older adults at home.
Onetime device fees and monthly fees
All monitored medical alert systems charge monthly fees. Some companies sell the devices with a one-time fee, while others lease the devices to you at an extra cost.
You might also be charged other one-time fees for:
- installation and setup
- bonus features like a lock box
Certain features, like automatic fall detection, might incur additional costs.
Not all companies offer a money-back guarantee on their devices. However, some offer a risk-free trial period so that you can try the device before committing.
Most companies allow you to exchange defective products, but not all of them have a warranty that covers accidental damage.
Very few companies offer month-to-month contracts that allow you to cancel anytime. Some charge cancellation fees. A few companies, such as Life Alert, lock you in with long-term contracts that can be difficult to terminate.
Where to read real customer reviews
Many medical alert companies have positive reviews and testimonials on their websites. These may be real, but they’re usually cherry-picked and they don’t give you a full idea of the benefits and drawbacks of their products.
For more balanced reviews, we recommend looking at customer responses on:
- Google reviews
- Better Business Bureau
- social media
It’s best to read reviews, both positive and negative, on a number of sites. This gives you a better idea of the positive and negative aspects of dealing with the company.
For more unbiased intel, check out The 9 Best Medical Alert Systems for 2023.
What is the average cost of a medical alert system?
Costs for monitored medical alert systems can range from around $25 to $95 per month. If you’d like to opt for additional features, like automatic fall detection, you might be charged extra.
One-time fees — for the device as well as delivery, activation, and installation — can range from around $50 to $250.
How sensitive are medical alert devices?
If you have a device that automatically detects falls, it’s possible to accidentally set it off — for example, if you drop the device.
The sensitivity of fall detection devices varies depending on the company and device.
While it’s possible to set it off accidentally, you can tell the agent who calls you that you set it off accidentally.
How do I turn them off?
Medical alert devices usually have a clearly marked “off” button. Consult your user manual if you can’t find it. Alternatively, you can call the company’s customer care line and they can take you through the process of turning it off.
Are medical alert devices private and secure?
Yes. Most have privacy policies that protect your personal information and location details.
Some companies have apps that allow you to connect your device to an app on your loved one’s phone. These apps sometimes allow your loved ones to view your location. However, you’d have to give your consent.
If you’re concerned about your privacy, consult the company’s privacy policies.
Will Medicare pay for a medical alert device?
This depends on your plan. While Original Medicare doesn’t cover them, some Medicare Advantage plans may pay for medical alert devices. If you have Medicare Part C, your plan might cover medical alert systems. But it’s best to check with your plan provider to find out if they offer this benefit.
Does AARP recommend a medical alert system?
The AARP recommends using medical alert systems. However, it doesn’t recommend a specific brand or device.
Medical alert devices can be worthwhile if you’d like to feel safe while living independently. They can especially be helpful if you have limited mobility or are prone to falls.
If you’re interested in trying a medical alert device, you can get started with our list of reviews and comparisons:
Healthline’s list of medical alert device reviews
- Review of Bay Alarm Medical Alert Systems
- A 2023 Review for LifeFone: Is It Right for You?
- Review of MobileHelp Medical Alert Systems
- Philips Lifeline Medical Alert System: Who Is It Best For?
- Review of Lively Mobile Plus
- Life Alert Reviews for 2023: Who Is It For?
- ADT Medical Alert Systems Review: Everything to Know Before Buying
- GetSafe Medical Alert System: Is It Right for You?
- Medical Alert Reviews 2023: Pros and Cons, Features, and More