Also known as personal emergency response systems, medical alert devices make sure that help can get to you when you need it.
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Most medical alert systems are designed to be worn at all times. They may take the form of a pendant that you keep around your neck or resemble a bracelet or watch that you keep on your wrist.
The defining feature of any medical alert system is a button that you press that immediately connects you with medical help or an emergency contact person.
Healthcare professionals believe that medical alert systems reduce hospital admissions and prolong the ability of people who have them to live independent lives.
The greatest benefit of these systems is the peace of mind they can provide to other family members and loved ones.
With so many types of medical alert systems to choose from, it can be hard to shop for one that meets your needs. We put together a list of some of the best out there, along with some tips on how to find your match.
The most common medical alert systems include:
- Home-based medical alert systems: These systems have two parts: a two-way speaker that is mounted and kept in a permanent place in your home, and a button that is typically worn as a pendant or watch. You can press the button or activate the speaker at any time. These systems only work when the activation button is within range of the base. Home-based medical alert systems can be monitored, meaning the device calls into a live, trained professional who directs care if you need it. They can also be unmonitored, meaning that the device simply calls a preprogrammed emergency contact or calls 911.
- Mobile alert systems: These systems don’t work with a base, but they are enabled with built-in cellular service. These systems also work with a wearable pendant, watch, or bracelet, but they don’t require you to be in range of a base to work. That means they can be used on the go, not just in your home. Just like home-based medical alert systems, mobile alert systems can be monitored or unmonitored.
Standard features of medical alert systems
The features in your medical alert system will vary. There is no FDA criteria for allowing a device to call itself a medical alert system.
That being said, all medical alert systems come with a button to press in case of an emergency.
More deluxe models (and many of the models on this list) also come with a base. The base has a two-way speaker that allows you to connect with an agent or a pre-programmed emergency contact number.
Most medical alert systems also come with a wearable device that you can wear as a pendant or as a watch.
Many, but not all, medical alert systems come with an app that pairs with your smartphone to help you manage your device. These apps can also provide information to trusted caregivers and loved ones, who can log in to it from their device and check on you without having to send a text or make a phone call.
Best medical alert system with landline access
Price: $29.95 per month, plus a one-time activation fee of $50
The Philips brand has been in the medical alert business for 40 years. This unit comes with pendant or wristband options, so you can choose what you prefer to wear.
Automatic fall detection is included. If there’s a medical emergency that triggers the system, Philips operators will reach out to your contacts on file as well as a medical professional, if you so choose.
Its app can help you share information and plan care with your contacts.
Some customers find that the self-installation options aren’t as intuitive as they’d like, so you might want to spring for the technical setup at checkout.
You don’t need to remember to recharge the battery, but you will need to replace it eventually.
Note that this device requires a landline phone. There’s also a cellphone version of this device.
Best medical alert system for in the garden
Price: $104.85 quarterly, $209.70 semiannually, or $384.45 per year; no setup fee
This system is designed to go outdoors with you. It keeps help within reach even two football fields away from your home.
What’s different is the two-way communication system (think of a short-wave radio) that allows you to speak directly into a speaker if you need to call for assistance. The wearable device can be worn on a lanyard, carried in your pocket, or attached to your wrist via a Velcro strap. It’s also waterproof.
This device requires a landline. You can hook it up to your landline phone so that you can answer your calls from anywhere in your home or yard.
There’s also a 14-day trial to decide whether you want to keep the device. Automatic fall detection is not included but can be added for an additional $10 a month.
Most modern-looking design
Price: $39.99 per month, plus a one-time hardware cost of $249.99
This system from Aloe Care Health is meant to be unobtrusive and easy to use. The wearable wrist device and pendant come with 4G technology, so you don’t have to worry about Wi-Fi or a landline.
The devices are specifically designed to not have a “medical” look, and they may be easier on the eyes for some people.
The Aloe Care Smart Hub can connect you to medical assistance or family members, depending on what you need. Automatic fall protection is included, and there’s even a motion-activated nightlight. The device also monitors things like the temperature in your home and alerts your emergency contacts if anything is out of the ordinary.
Aloe Care devices have more expensive startup costs than others we saw, and you still need to pay for it every month. To get automatic fall protection, you have to get the Aloe Care Essentials Plus package or higher, which costs slightly more per month.
The system comes with a 30-day trial.
Easiest to use without a landline
Price: $29.95 per month; no activation or hardware fee
The Bay Alarm Medical Alert System features four additional “Help” buttons you can place around your living space, which makes it great for multilevel homes.
It’s equipped with 4G, so you don’t need a landline to use it. You can choose to wear your device as a wristband or a pendant. There’s a free app and no contract. Automatic fall protection is included, and the device is water-resistant.
Bay Alarm is one of the more affordable options that include automatic fall detection. The battery is designed to last for up to 5 years, with no charging required.
Bay Alarm offers a 30-day trial to decide whether this is the system for you.
Best 2-for-1 medical alert system
Price: $44.95 per month; quarterly, semiannual, and annual plans also available; no activation fee
Not everyone who needs a personal alert device lives alone. If you’re looking for protection that covers two people in one space, this alert system may fit the bill.
It comes with two GPS-enabled personal alert devices. It’s waterproof and doesn’t require a landline.
It does cost more per month than most other medical alert systems, and that’s without automatic fall detection monitoring, which costs extra. There’s also no guarantee that the cost of the service won’t go up in the future.
You can try the device for 30 days to see whether it’s worth it for you.
Simplest mobile medical alert system
Price: $37.95 per month; no activation fee
This no-frills, GPS-enabled system comes with a wearable help button that you can wear on your wrist or as a pendant. It doesn’t require a landline. It’s enabled with a two-way voice system that lets you speak with someone right away if you need help.
This device is also water-resistant. The on-the-go product is meant to work even when you’re not at home.
Fall detection is not included but can be added for an additional monthly fee. Pricing options for plans range from payments every month, quarterly (every 3 months), semiannually (every 6 months), or annually.
One Call Alert is also one of the more readily available medical alert systems you can get. It’s available at many physical stores like Walmart, CVS, and Rite Aid.
Best medical alert system for the price
Price: $35.99 per month; no activation fee
This is ADT’s “no landline required” option. The pendants are waterproof, and for an additional fee, you can add a waterproof wall mount button that’s great for the shower.
ADT also locks you in at the contract rate when you purchase, so you don’t have to worry about the monthly cost going up later.
You can pay for monthly, quarterly, or up to a year of the monitoring subscription for this ADT system. Prices start at $35.99 a month, with some savings when you purchase 3 months or a year of coverage.
The Plus package guarantees 600 feet of range from the wearable pendant or bracelet. You can buy additional pendants or wristbands for around $15 each if you’re interested in switching back and forth between the wearable options.
Fall protection is available for $10 more per month.
Most affordable fall protection
Price: $22.95 to $32.95 per month; no activation fee
The lightweight, waterproof LifeStation emergency button can work as a pendant or a bracelet (though it does appear to be mostly designed as a necklace).
LifeStation emergency support staff stays on the phone with users while dispatching help, offering comfort until assistance arrives. Installation is simple and do-it-yourself.
It’s one of the least expensive medical alert systems on the market, with many of the same features as its pricier counterparts.
You do need a landline to use this system. If you don’t have a landline, LifeStation does offer other options that cost a bit more per month.
Fall detection costs extra. You might also want to consider the “Find My Loved One” add-on. It’s available with LifeStation’s GPS-enabled systems and allows contacts to track people who are at risk of getting disoriented.
Best nonwearable medical alert device
Price: $27.95 per month, plus $79 to $229 for equipment
ADT’s GetSafe system doesn’t require a landline and operates off of 4G. The system is meant to function without the need for a wearable device, but it still comes with a lightweight wearable button just in case that’s what you’d prefer.
The Standard package, which the company suggests for homes of two or three bedrooms, comes with two voice-activated wall buttons that you can use to call for emergency help.
The monthly monitoring fee is on the lower end of what’s available, but you’ve got to pay upfront to buy the equipment that comes with the system.
You can try the system out for 30 days and return it if you’re no longer interested.
How do medical alert systems work?
Every medical alert system has three major parts. How the components function varies, according to the company:
- Electronic hardware and medical device: This typically consists of an emergency response button mounted on a wearable device. It’s meant to be within arm’s reach at all times. There may also be mobile or installed sensors and an electronic console that allows you to call for assistance as you would with a landline phone.
- An emergency response center: This center may be managed by the system’s manufacturer outsourced.
- Dispatch of emergency assistance. This is the component that connects emergency help (like sending an ambulance) to the person who needs it.
Other considerations and important differences for medical alert devices involve what type of device it is and the position or location it can be used. This might involve a sensor device worn on the wrist, neck, or arm, or a device placed in the room or around the home.
Who should consider a medical alert system?
The following groups may benefit the most from medical alert systems:
How much do medical alert systems cost?
Medical alert systems vary in cost. Pricing structures resemble a cellphone contract, when long-term contract commitments can sometimes mean no startup cost for equipment.
The low end is around $25 per month with no startup fees. Higher end services that include automatic fall detection and app monitoring can be close to $50 per month.
Does insurance cover medical alert systems?
Some insurance plans cover some medical alert systems, but it’s not a standard offering.
You may have to get in touch with your provider and ask them over the phone if they offer any coverage for medical alert systems.
Plans where “long-term care” is included are more likely to provide some type of coverage for this particular need.
Does Medicare cover medical alert systems?
Original Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of a medical monitoring system.
If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you might have some coverage.
Who responds to system alerts, and how long does it take?
If your device calls into a monitored system, you will speak with a live, trained professional at a call center. This person will then either call emergency services or call a loved one. If you’re not able to communicate, emergency services will automatically be called and will come as quickly as possible. (The response time will vary, according to where you live.)
If your device is part of an unmonitored system, it automatically dials an emergency contact. You can also program the device to call 911.