Choosing a Medical Alert Device


Worried about a loved one who has a medical condition or who is elderly and lives alone? A medical alert device may be just the thing for peace of mind.

A woman, 62, with heart failure lives alone. Her sister in another city worries about her safety.

An elderly man who recently fell getting out of the shower refuses to move in with his daughter. His family fears he’ll have another fall – and this one might be more serious.

A young woman with diabetes wants to move to her own apartment. Her parents are concerned that she’ll have a blood sugar emergency and no one will be there to help.

When a loved one with a medical condition lives alone, it’s normal for you to worry about his welfare. One solution is to ask your loved one to consider using a medical alert device. These are helpful not just in medical emergencies, but if there is a fire, break-in or other crisis.

Medical alert systems

These systems involve wearing a battery-operated necklace or bracelet. In an emergency, the user can push a button on the device that alerts the call center. Your loved one can hear the operator through a console that is hooked up through the phone line. The pendant or bracelet contains a microphone for her to talk into. The operator then contacts an ambulance, the police or a relative, depending on the situation.

The user gives the response center a list of trusted friends, neighbors and relatives in advance. These people are alerted by the response center in an emergency and should have keys to the home. Even if the person loses consciousness and is unable to talk, the call center will still send help.

Special options

Some companies offer upgraded options, including:

  • Soft touch buttons for people who have trouble with dexterity (such as someone with arthritis). This type is easier to activate, but may cause more false alarms than standard devices.
  • Pendants that detect falls and alert the call center. This helps those who can’t activate the button because they’ve lost consciousness.


Medical alert devices themselves are sometimes provided for free. Monitoring fees start at about $30 a month, though this can vary widely. Medicare and most health insurance policies don’t normally cover the costs of medical alert systems, but some states have programs to assist those who can’t afford them. Check with your county aging office to find out if such a program exists in your area.

Questions to ask

Don’t let price be the only factor you consider when buying a medical alert system. The least expensive plan may not be the one that is best for you. Make sure to ask the following questions:

  • Is there a charge for the pendant?
  • How much is the monthly monitoring fee? Are there any hidden costs (such as for activation, termination or battery replacement?)
  • Is the device waterproof? (Many slips and falls happen in the bathtub.)
  • How quickly will an operator respond?
  • Does the console have battery backup in case of a power failure?
  • Are there fees for repair or replacement?
  • How far away can the wearer be from the console and still communicate with an operator?
  • Does the unit do regular, automatic battery tests? Will the user know when the battery is low?
  • What type of training do your operators have?
  • Is there 24-hour customer support?

Another option

If you feel a medical alert device is not the right choice for you, there is an alternative to consider. Motion monitors use infrared motion detectors that are placed around the home. If movement is not detected for a certain period of time, a call center is alerted. These systems may cost up to $100 a month. One disadvantage is that something like a long nap can trigger a false alarm.

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