A senior couple reading off of a tablet

Advice for Buying a Personal Emergency Response System

Anyone can benefit from emergency alert technology – whether living with illness, remaining independent, or maintaining an energetic life. Yet some seniors and their family caregivers may be unsure they need a personal emergency response system (PERS), or how to choose one. Use the following insights and information to help them make the best decision.

PERS Candidates

Understand how a PERS benefits can benefit you or your loved one.

People with chronic medical conditions, like COPD, diabetes or arthritis may fall and require medical treatment more than others. A medical alert button helps in those emergencies and in other situations. “People can push the button because of symptoms like a headache or numb hands, too,” notes Paul Adams, senior director of product management for Philips Home Monitoring.

Healthy and independent adults benefit from a PERS, too. When out of the house and on the go, a wearable mobile alert system with a speaker and microphone enables a call for help from any location should something happen.”1

Cost-conscious adults and family members appreciate that alert systems can help limit or avoid medical costs, including hospital and skilled nursing admissions (and related insurance deductibles) and in-home care. For example, Philips Lifeline service costs between $539 and $659 per year, far less than the $30,000 average cost of an admission to the hospital2. While a PERS won’t negate the need for the emergency transportation or other health services, it helps users access these services more effectively.

Personal Emergency Response Technology

Advanced technology in PERS devices can help keep seniors safe. Review these criteria for evaluating options:

Automatic Fall Detection. “The most important reason for early fall detection is to make sure that a senior is not down for a prolonged period,” notes Andrew Duxbury, a medical doctor and professor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care. The best medical alert systems, like Philips Lifeline solutions, combine several technologies to detect many types of falls:3,4

1.    Accelerometers recognize a high acceleration force.

2.    Sensors detect very small changes in barometric pressure.

3.    A finely tuned algorithm, based on an analysis of tens of thousands of hours of senior movement and activity, distinguishes between true falls and false alarms.

Automatic Call for Assistance. In about one-third of falls, people can’t or don’t push the medical alert button.5 “More than an hour or so on the floor and risk for dehydration, pressure damage to tissues and [death of muscle fibers] becomes very real,” Duxbury says. “These conditions can lead to hospitalization, debility and even death.” 

Solutions like Philips Lifeline with AutoAlert Fall Detection help reduce risk.6 If AutoAlert detects a fall, it automatically notifies response professionals, whether the button is pushed or not.7 Two-way voice communication lets PERS wearers talk directly with a trained response associate. If associates cannot reach you directly, they call emergency services.

Location Services. Sometimes a single data point isn’t sufficient to accurately identify a person’s exact location. Consider only mobile solutions that deploy multiple location technologies like these:

1.    Assisted GPS (A-GPS) uses a network of satellites to determine location.

2.    WiFi access points locate position indoors and other places where A-GPS isn’t effective.

3.    Intelligent location breadcrumbs gather and store data throughout the day and retrace the user’s steps to determine direction of travel.

4.    Audio beacons emit a loud sound to help responders pinpoint location during a ground search.

Medical Alert System Response & Reliability

You and your family want to know that the service and the people behind it are reliable. Go over these important factors and check medical alert system reviews and other sources for data on:

• Uptime. Less downtime means more security. Choose a solution with a good track record that can be counted on when the power is out or the weather is bad.

• Response Time. Seconds count so a quick response time is fundamental. A good benchmark is 14 seconds, the time in which Philips Response Center staff reacts after a button is pressed or fall is detected.8

• False Alarms. Some systems produce 8 to 20 false alarms a month, an annoyance that makes it more likely the device won’t be used. Pick a PERS that uses highly accurate technology to cut false alarms to only a few each year.

• Quality. “Our medical alert systems are Class-2 medical devices,” Adams explains. “Our help button goes through rigorous testing and validation, and we investigate all the feedback we receive from users because we know people are counting on this device.”

• Response Center Staff. Skilled help from someone specially trained to handle emergencies, interact with seniors, and speak multiple languages is vital. Consider this: Philips Lifeline’s experienced call center staff receives 80 hours of intensive instruction in gerontology and stress management, and regular one-on-one coaching sessions and refresher training.

Use this information to evaluate and choose the best medical alert system.



1 With GoSafe, coverage outside the home is provided where AT&T wireless network coverage is available. Recharging of the GoSafe button is done by the user as needed, when connected to the charger.

2 https://www.genworth.com/about-us/industry-expertise/cost-of-care.html

3 Based on the number of undetected falls reported to Philips Lifeline by U.S. AutoAlert subscribers from January 2012 through July 2012. Undetectable falls can include a gradual slide from a seated position – such as from a wheelchair.

4 AutoAlert does not detect 100% of falls. If able, a user should always push their personal alert button when they need help.

5 Personal Emergency Response System with Optimized Automatic Fall Detection Shows Greater Effectiveness than PERS alone, Philips Research

6 Falls, fractures, and injury, Merck Manual of Geriatrics, Section 2, Chapter 20, Topic: Falls. p.1. www.merck.com/mkgr/mmg/sec2/ch20/ch20a.jsp

7 AutoAlert does not detect 100% of falls. If able, a user should always push their personal alert button when they need help.

8 According to results from an analysis of Philips Home Monitoring internal data collected from Aug. 2015 through Aug. 2016. All data is reported with a +/- 95% confidence interval.

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