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How to choose the best medical alert system

Nearly 7,100 Americans turn 65 years old each day, and as technology evolves at a rapid pace, so too does its effect on how these seniors age.

Nearly 7,100 Americans turn 65 years old each day...

Technology has become increasingly essential to seniors by helping them live longer, healthier, and safer lives. Especially those that are independent or are aging in place.

A medical alert response system can give you security knowing assistance is only a press of a button away. Here is a comprehensive medical alert buying guide to assist you in deciding whether to buy a medical alert system for yourself or a loved one.

What is a medical alert system?

Medical alert systems, also known as personal emergency response systems (PERS), are an extension of a senior's safety net. These systems use a combination of multiple technologies designed to communicate an emergency, demanding urgent attention and to request emergency medical personnel. By pressing the help button, a signal is sent to a 24-hour emergency call center where a trained operator can evaluate the situation and dispatch the paramedics, or call listed emergency contacts.

What are the key features for medical alert systems?

Medical alert systems save lives every day, however not all systems are created equally. Keep these features in mind when shopping for a medical alert system.

Connection type. In-home stationary units use a landline telephone connection. Mobile medical alert systems and in-home base units with built-in cellular circuitry are also available. These units use cellphone technology and integrate the use of nationwide wireless voice, data, and GPS technology.

State-of-the-art equipment. An emergency call button is your link to receiving the help you need, when you need it. That’s why medical alert systems providers have created convenient wearable devices intended to be discreet and give the appearance of a regular bracelet, necklace, or watch while still providing the assistance needed in an emergency. In-home units are intended to be used inside your home, and have an easy-to-install base unit that looks similar to a speakerphone for two-way hands-free communication and can connect you to a live emergency response agent. Mobile help buttons use GPS technology, so you can travel away from your home, using cellphone, smartphone, or other wireless technologies to connect the user to response agents.

Reliable battery. For systems that do not plug into an electrical outlet, it is important to know how long the battery will last on the device. Speak with your service provider about the longevity of the battery or a replacement schedule to ensure you are always protected.

Ease of installation. Medical alert systems are designed for easy installation. Here are a few basic steps for various types of systems. Contact your service provider for setup directions specific to your unit.

  • In-home units

    . First, plug in the power cord into a wall outlet. Then, plug in one end of the telephone cord into a phone jack and the other end into your base unit before testing your new medical alert system.

  • Mobile medical alert systems compatible with a smartphone

    . Download the accompanying app to your smartphone, pair, and test the device.

  • Stand-alone mobile medical alert systems

    . Charge the emergency button, then test the device.

Product reliability and quality

The reputation and reliability of the company is an important element when considering a medical alert system. Ensure that the product will function the way it was intended when you need it to. Here are a few things to look for.

Ease of use. Some seniors can use new technology effortlessly, while others may have some trouble understanding how to use the device. Make sure the medical alert device is easy to use and has simple access to request assistance.

Fall detection technology. A fall-detection device can do everything a regular help button pendant can, but it also has built-in sensors that alert the monitoring station if a fall is detected. This is an important feature in the event the fall causes unconsciousness or the inability to reach or use the device. These devices automatically detect falls and activate an emergency call (typically available for an additional monthly fee).

Water resistance. Not all medical alert systems are waterproof. It is important to invest in a system that is waterproof and can accompany individuals on the go, as well as at home while bathing or taking a shower. Some emergency call buttons are water-resistant, while others are not waterproof whatsoever. 

things to look for in a medical alert system infographic

Pacemaker friendly. Not all medical alert devices are pacemaker friendly. It is suggested that users maintain at least six inches between the medical alert device and an implantable medical device— a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator— to avoid potential device interference.

Emergency backup. Even though most in-home medical alert base units are plugged into an electrical outlet, it should contain an emergency backup battery too. If you lose power, you need to be assured that your equipment is still functional for 24 hours or longer.

Pendant battery life. Ensure you understand the battery life on your emergency buttons pendant and recognize when the battery is getting low. Most pendants can operate for two years on a single battery, others may need to be recharged periodically. Discuss battery replacement schedules with your medical alert system provider to ensure uninterrupted service.

Product replacement. Accidents happen, so be sure to research the service provider’s product replacement benefits and/or warranties in the event the phone or device gets lost, stolen, or broken.

Customer service support

Quality customer service is imperative. Ensure that expert support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer questions about the medical alert system service, technical issues, and billing. Product or service support should be accessible via through an online FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section, telephone, or by sending a message through the online contact form.

FAQ: Monitoring center support

Immediate access to assistance from a monitoring center during an emergency greatly decreases the risk of an even greater emergency from happening.

What is a monitoring center? Top providers have their own monitoring and response center and do not subcontract their monitoring services. This means the company directly manages your quality of care.

Where do the calls go? Calls are connected to a 24-hour monitoring center where highly-trained response agents can assist you.

Calls are connected to a 24-hour monitoring center...

Who answers the calls? Look for services that can easily connect users to IAED (International Academies of Emergency Dispatch) Certified Response Agents who are trained in CPR and other emergency procedures. IAED agents can verify your location, assess the situation, and dispatch emergency medical services to get you the assistance you require quickly. After emergency responders have been contacted, the emergency response agent will remain on the line to monitor the situation until help arrives.

Can agents communicate in your preferred language? Be sure that your service can provide translation support in your preferred language.

What is the average response time? Once the button is pressed on the pendant or wearable, an emergency response agent should answer the call in one minute or less.

FAQ: Types of medical alert systems

With the costs of caregivers, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, and private in-home healthcare services increasing annually, medical alert systems continue to evolve as an affordable alternative option for seniors and people with medical conditions living at home. There are two types of systems available on the market today, in-home medical alert systems and mobile medical alert systems.

Who needs an in-home medical alert system? In-home medical alert systems are a great option for people who seldom leave the house.

Who needs a mobile medical alert system? Mobile medical alert systems are beneficial if you are still driving, have an active lifestyle, or are independent at home and in the community.

What is an in-home medical alert system? An in-home, stationary medical alert system uses a base unit that is plugged into a landline telephone jack and electrical outlet. This base unit acts like a speakerphone with a speaker and microphone for two-way communication embedded in the unit. The call button is worn as a pendant around the neck, as a watch, or clipped to a belt. When pressed, the call button sends a signal to the base unit, which then contacts the emergency response call center. The range for in-home systems is 300 to 1000 feet.

What is a mobile medical alert system? Mobile medical alert systems can be in the form of a help button on a specialized cellphone, an app accessed from a smartphone’s home screen, wearable, or pendant that initiates a call to the response center. The speaker and microphone for two-way communication is embedded within the device.

Cost of medical alert systems

How much do medical alert systems cost? The cost can vary between devices and added services. When you are comparison shopping, ensure you understand all the costs involved. Does the service require a long-term contract? Do you own or rent the device? Are there added fees for additional services?

Shopping for a medical alert system is an important decision. Supportive technology like a medical alert device can help you to continue doing everything you love independently. Should an emergency occur, you can feel assured that a medical alert system can help you or your loved one feel safe, connected, and protected—with just the push of a button.

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