What You Should Know About Medical Alert Systems and Devices

Medical alert devices provide a way for you or your loved one to quickly call for help when a health emergency occurs. Find the right medical alert system to keep you safe.

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Key Takeaways

What You Should Know About Medical Alert Systems and Devices
Medical Alert System. Image/Shutterstock

  • The risk that you’ll fall increases as you age, as does your inability to get up after a fall.
  • Having a medical alert device provides older and disabled adults with peace of mind and a sense of security.
  • It’s essential that you choose the right medical alert system and device for your particular situation.
  • Most people find medical alert devices easy to use.

Medical alert devices provide a way for you or your loved one to quickly call for help when a health emergency occurs. These devices are easy to use, working with just the push of a button. But which medical alert system is best for your situation? There are many things you should know and consider when shopping for a medical alert device.

What is a Medical Alert System?

A medical alert system includes a medical alert device, such as a pendant or bracelet, that is connected to a speaker so you can easily call for assistance in an emergency. You simply push a button, and you’ll be put in touch with a trained operator who can send emergency services to wherever you are.

The response center operator will ask about your situation, including whether you believe that you need assistance from an informal responder such as a family member or neighbor, or if you think the local Emergency Medical Service (e.g., an ambulance, the fire department, or police) should be dispatched instead. Afterward, the operator will follow up to confirm that the help you require has arrived.

Who Should Consider Using a Medical Alert Device?

Medical alert devices are helpful for anyone who requires access to a 24/7 emergency response system.

Falls not only threaten a senior’s safety, but they can also threaten their independence as well. Falls also can result in enormous economic and personal costs [1].

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that one out of every four Americans aged 65 or older falls each year [2]. Another disconcerting fact is that falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the risk that you’ll fall increases as you age, as does your inability to get up after experiencing a fall [3]. When you can’t get up, you can experience complications from lying on the floor for a long time, such as dehydration, hypothermia, pneumonia, and even death.

Due to the fast response they ensure, having a medical alert device can make the difference between a full recovery and a long-term disability.

Medical Alert Devices Provide Additional Benefits

Medical alert devices provide peace of mind and a sense of security for those who use them because they know that they can get help quickly in an emergency situation.


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

Having a medical alert device can enhance an older person’s quality of life by reducing anxiety about falling [6]. These devices also provide seniors with confidence when participating in daily activities, which allows them to be more active.

How Do Medical Alert Devices Work?

Medical alert devices are battery-powered transmitters that are light enough to wear on a cord around your neck or on a wrist band. You can also find devices that you can hook onto your belt or carry in your pocket.

Most in-home medical alert systems will come with a base unit that accompanies the wearable device. When you require emergency assistance, you simply press the button on your device, and a signal is sent to the system which automatically dials an emergency response dispatcher.

You can also opt for a mobile system if you are often on the go or travel often. These systems work via cellular connection, much like your smartphone.

If you fall or need assistance, you simply press the button on the medical alert device to reach a dispatcher who will talk to you over a speaker. They will ask what your emergency is and, if necessary, alert your local Emergency Medical Service to get you the help you need. They can also contact a family member, friend, or neighbor that you’ve authorized.

Some medical alert systems can be used throughout the country. These devices come with nationwide wireless voice, data, and GPS technology. This provides not only real-time monitoring but also location tracking, which enables you to receive emergency assistance anywhere in the United States.

What to Know Before You Shop for a Medical Alert Device

It’s important that you choose the best medical alert device for your individual situation. You can either lease or buy a medical alert device.

Unfortunately, most health insurance companies won’t cover the cost, nor will Medicare. However, some Medicare Advantage plans will cover some of the expenses.

It can be difficult to know which medical alert system will work best for you. There are many different options and services available today. Some even come with fall detection systems that will automatically alert someone if you fall [5].

Your local Agency on Aging should be able to provide assistance. They help elderly and disabled people remain in their own homes and live independently for as long as possible. They may also have information on what medical alert systems are available in your area and help you decide which medical alert device is best for you.

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What Questions Should You Ask When Considering a Medical Alert System?

Here are a few questions to ask any medical alert device company about their products and services:


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

  • Are monitoring and dispatch services available 24/7?
  • Is staff regularly trained to assist in an emergency?
  • What is the typical response time, and who will be alerted?
  • Can the medical alert device be used if you relocate to another city or state?
  • What is provided in terms of repairs or replacements for your device/system?
  • What specific features and services are provided?
  • Are both in-home and mobile services provided?
  • Does the medical alert system come with GPS for outside the home?
  • Does the medical device company also offer a system without monitoring, where you press a button and a family member or friend is alerted?
  • Does the medical alert device include a fall-detection feature to automatically contact the service if you fall and can’t press the alert button?
  • Can you switch between different medical alert systems if needed?
  • Does the service include a money-back guarantee?
  • What are the initial and ongoing costs for the system and services?*

*Remember that you will need to pay for an initial installation as well as a monitoring charge each month when buying or leasing a medical alert system. You may also have to pay for additional charges, such as a cancellation fee if you decide not to use it. These should all be spelled out clearly in any contract the company provides.

What Else Do You Need to Know About Today’s Medical Alert Devices?

For peace of mind when selecting a medical alert device for yourself or a loved one, you should know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates medical alert devices.

The organization posts regular updates about all medical devices on its website (fda.gov), which include valuable information about products, alerts, and recalls [9]. When considering a medical alert provider, be sure to check out the FDA’s information first.

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