Medical Alert Systems: An OverviewMedical Alert Systems An Overview

Anyone who loves someone with failing health has had to grapple with a familiar scenario running through their mind. The moment your loved one is left alone, they suffer a fall and get stuck on the ground with a broken hip for hours before someone finds them. Or they have a heart attack and can’t get to the phone to call 911 in time. The details can vary, but the idea is consistent: what if the worst happens when you’re not there to do something about it?

You can’t be around your loved one all the time. No matter how much you worry and try to take care of them, you still have to go on living your own life. One of the gifts technology has given us is the ability to communicate more easily from a distance. But even the usefulness of a cell phone falls short if your loved one can’t reach it in their moment of emergency.

That’s where medical alert systems come in.

What is a Medical Alert System?

A medical alert system is a technological tool that can immediately alert loved ones and/or emergency services when someone experiences an emergency and needs help. They include a device that the owner wears somewhere on themselves, so that they never have to worry about a situation where they can’t reach it due to a fall or other debilitating health issue.

There’s an array of medical alert systems available and they’ve been growing in popularity ever since they came onto the marketing in the 1970’s. As more seniors choose to age in place for as long as possible, they provide peace of mind to seniors and their family members that help can always be reached when needed.

How to Know if Your Loved One Needs a Medical Alert System

The costs of investing in a medical alert system can add up. How can you really be sure it’s worth it for your loved one? There’s not an easy answer, but you can ask yourself a few questions to give yourself an idea of whether or not your loved one has enough health risks to make the cost worth it.

  • Does your loved one have any vision problems? Seniors that have started to have difficulties seeing are at a greater risk of falling. If your loved one hasn’t gotten their eyes checked in a while, then now’s a good time to check and see if their vision is starting to fail. If it is, then a medical alert system is a good idea.
  • Is their home well designed to avoid falls? If they have stairs, furniture that may be easy to run into or trip over, or any other features in their home that make a fall more likely, then a medical alert system is probably in order. You’d also do well to consider making the necessary home modifications to further decrease the risk.
  • Does your loved one have a high risk of heart disease? A fall is one of the main emergencies for seniors to be prepared for, but for many seniors a heart attack is another important concern. If your loved one’s doctor has mentioned the potential for heart problems, then a medical alert system is likely a good buy.

Ultimately, it just doesn’t hurt to have one. Even if there’s no one particular reason for concern, if you find that you spend a lot of time worrying about your loved one being alone, then buy yourself the peace of mind. Reducing your own stress is a good enough reason to make the investment.

What to Look for in a Medical Alert System

When you start looking at medical alert systems, you’ll see that you have a lot of options. These are some of the most important factors to consider in determining which one is right for you.

1. Range

Most home medical alert systems have a device that is worn as well as a base station that the device needs to be able to connect with in order to work. For these systems, if you get too far from the base station, the device won’t be able to connect to do its job. Increasingly, many companies also offer systems that use mobile technology and can therefore work from anywhere, regardless of how far from the base station, but they cost more. If you’d rather stick with an in-home medical alert system, then be sure to ask how wide its range is so you can confirm it will work anywhere within your loved one’s home.

2. Compatibility

Not all medical alert systems are compatible with all types of phone systems, so you’ll want to check with the companies you look into to learn if their system will work with the type of phone system your loved one uses in their house. In some cases, in-home medical alert systems will require a landline to work. For many seniors this isn’t an issue, but with more people than ever before making do without a landline, in rare cases you may need to have one installed for the medical alert system you buy to work.

3. Cost

In addition to buying the device and base station, medical alert systems also charge a monthly fee. Some will also charge an extra setup fee to get started. You want to work out the long-term costs of your medical alert system, rather than choosing the option that seems the most affordable upfront. But be weary of systems that require lengthy contracts. In some cases, signing a longer contract will earn you lower monthly prices, in others you may have to sign the long contract to get the service at all and then be stuck with it whether you’re satisfied or not.

4. Automatic Fall Detection

Basic medical alert systems require your loved one to press a button to get help, but some are designed to recognize if the person wearing the device falls down whether or not they press the button. That way if the fall knocks them out, help will still be alerted. Fall detection often costs a little more monthly to get, but it‘s a pretty standard offering for many systems.

Popular Medical Alert Systems on the Market

When you start looking for a good medical alert system for your loved one, you’ll find you have a lot of options. Before investing in one, check to see what other customers have to say about them. Here’s a basic rundown of what some of the main brands in the space have to offer.

Alert 1

Alert 1 offers several types of medical alert systems. They have the traditional home one, one with fall detection, and a mobile version that doesn’t require being close to a base station to function. Their plans start at $25.95 a month, but cost more if you go with the month-to-month service rather than an annual plan.

Bay Alarm Medical

Bay Alarm also sells a traditional in-home system, one with fall detection, and a mobile GPS help button that will work anywhere. They’re well reviewed by customers and plans start at $25 a month.


GreatCall works on a cell phone network, which means you can take it with you anywhere. Not only do they offer fall detection and emergency services, but they also have operators you can call for help with everyday tasks, medication reminders, and you can set up check-in calls as well. Plans start at $19.99.


LifeAlert is one of the best-known brands due to their commercials. They offer a range of products beyond just those for medical emergencies, including services for issues like home intrusion or gas poisoning. Their medical emergency services start at $29.95, plus an installation fee of about $100. They do require customers to sign up for long-term contracts though, something most other services don’t require.


LifeFone provides medical alert systems for in-home use, mobile use, and fall detection. Their plans start at $24.95, but they don’t charge any fees for set up and don’t require a contract – you can cancel at any time.

Yes, the costs will add up. No one likes taking on a new monthly payment, but for the security of knowing your loved one will be taken care of when the need arises, a medical alert system can easily pay off for many families.  

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based copywriter and lifelong student with an ongoing curiousity to learn and explore new things. She turns that interest to researching and exploring subjects helpful to seniors and their families for


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