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Is a Personal Emergency Response System for You?

Is a Personal Emergency Response System for You?

If you live alone or spend time at home alone, the thought may have crossed your mind, “What if I fall? How will I get help if I can’t get to the telephone?” Those are valid questions, and the answer is a personal emergency response system, also called a PERS. They provide you and your family members with peace of mind. In fact, Texas A&M suggests that these systems “may help further independent living,” and that’s welcome news to seniors who value their independence.

What Is a Personal Emergency Response System?

The system is an alarm that allows you to call for help with a push of a button. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) defines the PERS as a three-part system, consisting of

  • A battery-operated transmitter (most are waterproof) that you carry or wear
  • A console or base station connected to your telephone
  • A monitoring station

When you press the button on the transmitter, it sends a signal to the console, which automatically dials one or more predetermined phone numbers, usually a monitoring station. The monitoring station personnel will then summon help for you. Even if your phone is off the hook or in use, most systems can “seize” the line and place a call.

The transmitter is small, and you can wear it or carry it in your pocket. It can be worn as a pendant around the neck, on a wristband like a watch, or looped through a belt.

The transmitter can typically operate hundreds of feet from the base station, but it may not operate when you’re away from home.


Costs vary depending on whether you rent, lease, or purchase the system. When purchasing a personal emergency response system, expect to pay between $200 and $1,000 plus a monthly monitoring fee of $15 to $50. Rentals range from $15 to $50 a month, including the monitoring fee. Long-term leases and lease-to-own terms vary widely.

Purchasing or Renting a Personal Emergency Response System

Always purchase or rent from a reputable source — never from an unsolicited stranger. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re looking for a system:

  • Compare features and costs of several systems.
  • Look at the operation of several systems and find one that you’re comfortable using.
  • Test the system all over your house and outside in the yard so you know where the system works in and around your home.
  • Read the agreement and make sure you understand it before signing on the dotted line.

Questions to Ask

The Federal Trade Commission has posted a list of questions to ask before purchasing a personal emergency response system:

  • What are the hours of operation at the monitoring station? You want a station that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  • Can you use the system with other monitoring stations? Will it work if you move across town or to another state?
  • What kind of training do personnel at the monitoring station receive?
  • What can I expect when the monitor stations tests the system, and how often do they test it?
  • What are the terms of the warranty, and can I have 30 days to return the system if it doesn’t suit my needs or work as advertised?

According to the AARP, experts and doctors agree that the key to success with a PERS is a “motivated user.” This means that you must be motivated to keep the transmitter with you for it to be effective.

If you want to know that help is only a button press away, you should consider a personal emergency response system. There’s nothing like knowing that whatever happens, regardless of the time of day, help is available. As an added benefit, a PERS can put your loved ones’ minds at ease.

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