For independent-living individuals, personal safety is a pressing concern. What happens if you’re home alone and fall, or have some other medical emergency? What if there’s no one with you to call for help? How long will it take for family or friends to find you? Many seniors have addressed these concerns by subscribing to a medical alert service.
Types of Services
Medical alert services typically consist of a wearable device that includes an SOS button, which summons help. UCLA describes several types of services and how they work:
- Monthly fee, monitored: For an initial charge or a rental or leasing fee, plus a monitoring fee running around $35 to $50 a month, help is a button press away 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When you press the SOS button on the device, you are connected to a dispatcher at the monitoring station, and the dispatcher sends help. Comprehensive systems can include sensors that automatically summon help when a fall is detected.
- No monthly fee, pre-programmed call: The system is programmed to call a series of phone numbers in the case of an emergency. Prices vary depending on manufacturer and whether you purchase, lease, or rent the device.
- Monthly fee, monitored, mobile: This device was created for the active individual who spends a great deal of time away from home. These medical alert services have built-in cell and GPS capabilities, so they transmit your location to a dispatcher.
Prices depend on the complexity of the medical alert system, the manufacturer, and whether the device is purchased, leased, or rented.
Why can’t you just call 911? First, you might not be near a phone, and if you’re injured, you might not be physically able to get to one. Second, if you’ve ever called 911, you know that you may have a lengthy wait before speaking with a dispatcher. Once you get through, you may have to answer a long series of questions, some of which may not seem germane to your situation. The monitoring station personnel handle this for you.
Questions to Ask
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests a list of questions to ask when comparing medical alert services:
- Is the monitoring station open 24/7/365, and what type of training have the dispatchers received?
- Whom do the dispatchers alert, and what is the response time?
- Can I use the service if I move?
- What is the repair and replacement policy?
- What are initial and on-going costs, and what features and services do I receive?
Financing Medical Alert Services
Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover the cost of medical alert systems. Some private insurance companies, however, may pay for them and some states have programs to help Medicare recipients cover the cost. Check with your insurance or state before you buy.
Because you may be paying for a system out of pocket, consider your needs and options. It may be well worth it for an active senior, for example, to purchase a monitored mobile device, while it may make more sense to buy merely a monitored system if you tend to stick close to home.
The Bottom Line
Only you can determine if the expense of medical alert services outweighs the cost of worry. Insurance isn’t a sexy expenditure, but it can buy peace of mind. What greater peace of mind can you buy than knowing help is on the way when you need it most?