If you’re like most seniors, you’ve learned everything you know about medical alert suppliers from television commercials. So when it comes to shopping for a medical alert service, do you really know what to look for?
Modern Systems for Modern Seniors
Today’s seniors are more active than in previous generations, and many remain on-the-go well into their 80s and even 90s. Medical alert systems have been around since the 1970s, but recent advances in technology have made them more versatile and greatly expanded their utility.
The most basic systems today operate in a similar way to the devices of yesteryear. A panic button is worn as a pendant or on a bracelet, and a press of that button can connect the wearer with a call center operator. With the addition of new technology like fall detection and GPS, these systems can meet the unique needs of almost any senior, while providing an extra layer of security and peace of mind.
Shopping for a Medical Alert System
Cost is an important factor in choosing a medical alert system, especially for seniors on a budget. It’s important to remember, however, that not all systems are created equally. It’s better to spend a bit more on a device that fits your needs than to save money by subscribing to a service that’s less tailored to your daily life. In addition to cost, other factors to consider when comparing medical alert systems include:
- Landline and Cellular Options: Traditionally, these systems plug into a home phone line. Many people today use mobile phones as their primary phones, so not every home has a landline connection. A home-based system that instead uses a cellular connection is available from most service providers.
- Mobile Devices: For active seniors, it’s important to be able to call for help from home or on-the-go. This is especially true for a senior who enjoys walking, hiking, or biking. Some providers offer a mobile pendant, while others provide a mobile phone that can be used in case of emergency.
- Contact Options: Some services connect you to 911 directly, although most of them route calls through a call center. A call center is preferred by most users, because an operator can find the resources you need even when there isn’t a medical emergency. Sometimes, a friend or neighbor can assist you without summoning an ambulance.
- Range: For users who live in apartments or small houses, range probably isn’t much of a consideration. For those who live in larger homes or who enjoy being out in the yard, though, range is critical.The most popular home-based systems have a range of 400 to 600 feet. If it’s farther than that to your mailbox or garden, you may want to consider a mobile device instead.
- Monitoring Center: Most medical alert service providers consider it a responsibility to their customers to operate their own call centers. This ensures that all operators are well-trained and helpful. Call center attendants play a vital role during an emergency, and you’ll want them to be experienced, well-spoken, and highly trained.
Finding a System That Fits Your Needs
Perhaps the most important aspect of selecting a service provider and system is considering your situation and your unique needs. The needs of an active, on-the-go adult are very different from the needs of someone who is homebound. Those who live independently also have different needs than those in an assisted living facility or other senior community.
If you have a condition that frequently leaves you short of breath, a mobile device that only dials 911 and doesn’t include location technology may not be best for you because you may have difficulty telling the operator your location. At the same time, seizure disorders, low blood sugar and other health issues can leave you unconscious and unable to call for help. A pendant with fall detection technology recognizes up to 95 percent of falls and automatically places a call for help.
Comparing Medical Alert Suppliers
- Why You Know the Name: GreatCall’s commercials feature John Walsh, famous for his work as host of America’s Most Wanted. This supplier is perhaps best known for the Jitterbug cellular phone, designed specifically for seniors.
- Recommended For: GreatCall, powered by Verizon, offers an affordable way for active seniors to call for help. For those with large properties, it’s one of the best options available today. It is, however, important to ensure you have a strong Verizon cell signal in your area before subscribing to GreatCall’s services.
- Pros: When it comes to monthly fees, GreatCall’s services are among the lowest available. All their devices can be used at home or on-the-go.
- Cons: There are no landline options available through GreatCall, so it’s crucial that users live in an area with reliable cell service. There are also no fall detection-enabled devices available. The cost of additional services or more advanced devices can add up quickly.
- Costs: The GreatCall Splash device costs just under $50, plus a $14.99 monthly service fee. There is a $35 activation fee, but no contract is required.
- Why You Know the Name: Life Alert is known for the catchphrase, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” This phrase was first used in commercials by LifeCall in 1989.
- Recommended For: Designed for homebound seniors, Life Alert is a great option for those in assisted living facilities.
- Pros: Life Alert operates their own in-house call center, and attendants can contact emergency services or a family member. While Life Alert does not offer a mobile panic button device, customers can get a GPS-enabled mobile phone that is programmed to call 911 for an additional $20 per month.
- Cons: Life Alert systems have a small range of only about 300 feet. As of July 2014, they also do not have any devices with fall detection.
- Costs: A basic system connected to your landline telephone will cost you $30 per month, while a system designed for home use without a landline will cost $40. The devices come free with a subscription. There is, however, a $95 activation fee and a 36-month contract. Customers who cancel within this period will incur a $90 cancellation fee.
- Why You Know the Name: Connect America targets caregivers with their commercials, knowing that a medical alert system can offer peace of mind to both seniors and their family members. Each advertisement tells the story of a senior who uses the system to call for help during an emergency, and includes testimonials of his or her grateful loved ones.
- Recommended For: Seniors who are mostly homebound but who enjoy spending time in the yard or garden may enjoy the range offered by this system. Those with a history of falls may also feel at ease with their fall detecting models.
- Pros: With a range of 600 feet, most users can enjoy coverage anywhere in or around their property. Their mobile Alert 911 device offers an emergency panic button option on the go. Some of the models offer fall detection technology.
- Cons: Connect America is the only major provider who outsources their call center duties. At the same time, the Alert 911 system calls 911 directly and is not GPS-enabled. This means that you must be able to tell the operator your location in order to get help.
- Costs: A landline-based system from Connect America is $30 per month, while a cellular-based home system is $35 per month. The on-the-go device costs $40 per month. There is a 90-day minimum obligation, but Connect America does not charge fees for activation or cancellation.
- Why You Know the Name: Philips Lifeline is the most popular medical alert service in the US, with more than 7 million subscribers. Their commercials offer startling facts about the prevalence of falls among seniors.
- Recommended For: Homebound seniors who want to know that help is never more than the push of a button away, whether they need an ambulance or just the assistance of a family member. Once their mobile system is available, on-the-go seniors will be able to use the same device both at home and while they are away. When they return home, the pendant will automatically connect to the base unit and function as a traditional system.
- Pros: Philips Lifeline’s HomeSafe system has an industry-standard range of 400 to 600 feet, and some devices include fall detection technology. Philips operates their own US-based call center.
- Cons: The Philips GoSafe system is not yet available, but will feature a GPS-enabled panic button, which can be used both at home and on the go.
- Costs: A HomeSafe Lifeline system that connects to your landline costs only $30 each month. A system that connects to a cellular network is $42 per month. The activation fee ranges from $20 to $60, but there is no charge for device rental. Philips does not require a contract, and there is no cancellation fee.