The Best Medical Alert Systems for Seniors

Our testers' top pics, plus how we narrowed down the best options

Whether you are researching for yourself or a loved one, you’ve probably already realized that there are many, many medical alert systems from which to choose. However, not all of them are above board – in fact, there are some medical alert companies that use manipulation based on fear or false information to sell their products and services. Additionally, many services are using outdated systems that aren’t competitively priced.

Choosing the wrong medical alert service can have consequences that range from simply overspending on sub-par systems, to more serious injuries if the system doesn’t work when you or your loved one needs it most. That’s why our team spent over 80 hours researching and comparing all 25 medical alert systems on the market today to find the very best systems offered by dependable companies at an affordable price.

We filtered out any companies that didn’t meet our stringent requirements and compared the remaining 10 across 38 metrics in order to find the three best medical alert systems on the market. Finally, our team spent dozens of hours testing each of the top three selections by setting them up in our own homes.

Key Insights

In addition to finding a company that’s transparent (no hidden fees), affordable, and offers great customer service, some of the most important features to look for in a system including the following.

  • Waterproof Devices: It’s very important to ensure that whatever devices you or your loved one will be wearing are waterproof since the bathroom one of the most common places for seniors to experience falls.

  • Fall Detection Available: While fall detection technology is not 100 percent reliable, those at higher risk of falling (such as older adults who are diabetic or have mobility issues) should consider this potentially life-saving technology.

  • Location Monitoring: Caregivers of seniors with memory issues (such as Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia) can especially benefit from this technology, which allows you to locate a loved one wearing their mobile medical alert device.

  • Mobile Help Button: When shopping for a medical alert system, look for one that allows you to stow the mobile base unit and wear a smaller pendant or wristband, rather than having to wear a heavy all-in-one unit around your neck.

Our Top Picks


While each of our top 10 companies are solid choices, the three following companies stood out as the very best:

  • Bay Alarm Medical: This company is best for seniors on a budget who want a basic in-home medical alert system and have a landline telephone.

  • MobileHelp: Active seniors who want protection on the go and at home should consider MobileHelp.

  • Medical Guardian: This company is best for caregivers who want the most premium features and monitoring options for their loved ones, as well as those who need the most range for their in-home medical monitoring system.

The Three Best Medical Alert Systems of 2018

Bay Alarm Medical – Best for Seniors on a Budget


At just $19.95 a month for an in-home medical alert system and $29.95 a month for its mobile system, Bay Alarm Medical was the most cost-effective option of the 10 medical alert systems we compared. The company’s affordable pricing and quality customer service helped to propel it to the top of our ranking – Bay Alarm Medical received the top overall score of 8.3.

Our Experience with Bay Alarm Medical

While we were initially pleased with the ordering process and customer service, the performance of the equipment was lackluster. The in-home cellular unit we tested in a team member’s home went in and out of coverage, despite a salesperson’s assurances that there would be plenty of coverage at the team member’s home when we bought the unit.

Our testers universally agreed that Bay Alarm Medical provided the least comfortable equipment. At 2.8 ounces, the all-in-one mobile unit was cumbersome since it didn’t include a wearable help button like the one offered by MobileHelp and Medical Guardian (which weigh only 1.1 ounces for the wristband and 0.6 ounces for the pendant). The in-home unit’s help button with a wristband was our least favorite of the top three as well – it felt cheaply designed and uncomfortable when compared with the wristband of the other two companies.

Who Should Consider Bay Alarm Medical

Seniors who have a landline and want quality customer service at the lowest possible cost should consider an in-home system from Bay Alarm Medical. Based on our personal experience with testing and using the unit, we don’t recommend Bay Alarm Medical for active seniors and those who prefer to use mobile medical alert systems.

Pros

  • Low Monthly Cost: As mentioned, Bay Alarm Medical had the cheapest monthly cost for both landline-based in-home systems and mobile systems.
  • Great Customer Service: Bay Alarm Medical shared the top score on our Customer Service metric, and our experience with company staff was top-notch. The company’s web chat feature was easy to use and provided quick answers to any questions we had, and the salesperson we spoke to on the phone didn’t pressure or use other sales tactics.
  • Transparent: The company’s website was very upfront about the costs and other details, and the information was clearly explained.
  • Good Selection of Premium Features: While the company doesn’t offer as many premium features as MobileHelp and Medical Guardian, it has a solid selection of features including fall detection, lockboxes and caregiver tracking.
  • Free Trial: Bay Alarm Medical offers a 30-day free trial. To cancel within that timeframe, you just need to pay return shipping for the system.

Cons

  • Unwieldy Mobile Device: Since Bay Alarm Medical doesn’t have the more advanced two-part mobile medical alert system, you’ll need to wear a heavier device or keep it within easy reach (as opposed to inside a handbag). Unlike with MobileHelp and Medical Guardian, we can’t recommend using the mobile device at home, so many seniors would be required to pay a much higher price for the system that provides both the mobile and home devices.
  • Poor Experience with Cellular Device Reliability: Our personal experience with the in-home cellular unit and the mobile unit wasn’t great – the connection was spotty even though a customer service representative indicated that we should have a strong signal in our area.

Full List of Features

  • Cost: $19.95 for in-home and $29.95 for mobile
  • Contract: No long-term contract; can purchase monitoring monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually
  • Return Policy: 30-day free trial; must pay return shipping; refund of unused months when canceling with a quarterly or semi-annual plan
  • Fees: Other than shipping, no fees of any kind – pricing is straightforward
  • Mobile Battery Life: 3 days
  • Pinpoint Mobile Tracking: Yes
  • Mobile Device Style: All-in-one device; no mobile help button
  • Home Help Button Range: 800 feet
  • Back-up Battery Life: 32 hours
  • Fall Detection Cost: $9.95 a month
  • Lockbox Cost: $1.95 a month
  • Caregiver Tracking Cost: $4.95 a month
  • Mobile App or Web Monitoring: Yes
  • Battery Monitoring: Yes
  • Find Lost Mobile Device: Yes
  • Medication Reminders: Not available
  • Automatic Self-Testing: Not available
  • Fire, Smoke, and Carbon Monoxide Monitoring: Not available
  • Wall-Mounted Help Buttons Cost: $2.95 a month; $9.96 a month for four
  • Extra Help Buttons Cost: $1.95
  • Voice Extender Cost: Not available
  • Monitored Pill Dispenser Cost: Not available
  • Web Chat Available: Yes
  • Better Business Bureau (BBB) Grade: A+
  • U.S.-Based Call Center: Yes
  • In-House Call Center: No
  • The Monitoring Association (TMA) Certification: Yes
  • Listed by UL or ETL (TMA-approved Nationally Recognized Testing Labs): Yes

MobileHelp – Best for Active Seniors


MobileHelp’s price for in-home cellular monitoring is $19.95 per month, which is tied for the cheapest cost out of all of the systems we tested. The company’s pricing for its mobile device is about average at $37.95 – however, that rate covers text alerts and location tracking at no extra cost.

MobileHelp received the second highest score at 8.1 overall. It received the highest score on our “Premium Features” metric, and tied for the highest score on “Cost.”

Our Experience with MobileHelp

Our experience with MobileHelp’s customer service wasn’t stellar, but it wasn’t terrible either. The salesperson we talked with was friendly, but came across as “sales-y.” For example, he didn’t list monthly monitoring as an option at first, seemingly to try to get us to sign up for quarterly, semi-annual, or annual billing instead. However, he did throw in an extra pendant at no additional charge.

The setup was incredibly easy, and the in-home cellular unit we tested worked with no problems (unlike Bay Alarm Medical’s unit). Since we were testing both mobile and in-home devices, we ordered the “Duo” system that comes with both units (at only $41.95 a month – only $4 more than the cellular unit by itself). Both pendants worked with both the in-home and mobile base seamlessly, and the equipment’s technology felt superior to the devices offered by Bay Alarm Medical.

All of our tests of both the in-home and mobile system went without a hitch – our average time to speak to an operator was about two minutes from when we pushed the button. The free text alert function also worked like a charm. We immediately received a text on the cell phone number we provided as soon as the button was pressed.

The devices were all very comfortable to wear, and our team unanimously preferred wearing them over Bay Alarm Medical’s devices.

Note: Medical Guardian uses mobile devices and help buttons manufactured by the same company – they are virtually identical.

Who Should Consider MobileHelp

For seniors who are active and enjoy spending time outside, we recommend the “Duo” plan that includes both an in-home unit and cellular unit, since it’s only an additional $4.00 a month. Those who simply want a home medical system monitored via landline are better off with Bay Alarm Medical’s cheaper monthly cost ($10 less a month) and great customer service. Caregivers looking for optimal safety for their loved ones should consider Medical Guardian.

Pros

  • Great Value: While MobileHelp isn’t the cheapest option, the company includes extra features that other companies charge an additional fee for. For example, shipping, lockboxes and a cellular base unit are all included in the monthly cost. Additionally, the Duo plan offers both in-home and mobile systems for only $4.00 more than the price for a mobile unit by itself.
  • Transparent: MobileHelp doesn’t charge hidden fees and the company’s pricing and product information are easy to find online.
  • Large Selection of Premium Features: MobileHelp was one of the only companies to offer medication reminders, and the company received the highest score on our “Premium Features” metric.
  • Free Trial: MobileHelp offers a 30-day free trial without any cancellation fees – you’re only required to pay for return shipping.
  • Help Button Option for Mobile Device: Having a separate help button that works with the mobile base makes the mobile system more comfortable and easier to use.

Cons

  • No Landline Monitoring: Those who live in areas without adequate cell coverage (provided by AT&T) won’t be able to use MobileHelp. You can check your coverage on AT&T’s website.
  • Poor Battery Life: The battery for MobileHelp’s mobile base unit is only 24 hours between charges, which tied for the shortest battery life. However, you can still use the device when it’s charging by wearing the help button.

Full List of Features

  • Cost: $29.95 for in-home cellular; $37.95 for mobile; $41.95 for in-home and mobile
  • Contract: No long-term contract; can purchase monitoring monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually
  • Return Policy: 30-day free trial; must pay return shipping; refund of unused months when canceling with a quarterly or semi-annual plan
  • Fees: Other than shipping, no fees of any kind – pricing is straightforward
  • Mobile Battery Life: 24 hours
  • Pinpoint Mobile Tracking: GPS only
  • Mobile Device Style: Two-piece device – mobile base and wearable help button
  • Home Help Button Range: 600 feet
  • Back-up Battery Life: 30 hours
  • Fall Detection Cost: $10 a month
  • Lockbox Cost: Included at no extra cost
  • Caregiver Tracking Cost: Included at no extra cost
  • Mobile App or Web Monitoring: Yes
  • Battery Monitoring: No
  • Find Lost Mobile Device: Yes
  • Medication Reminders: Included at no extra cost
  • Automatic Self Testing: Not available
  • Fire, Smoke, and CO Monitoring: Not available
  • Wall-Mounted Help Buttons Cost: $2.00 a month
  • Extra Help Buttons: $2.00 a month
  • Voice Extender Cost: Not available
  • Monitored Pill Dispenser Cost: Not available
  • Web Chat Available: Yes
  • BBB Grade: A+
  • U.S.-Based Call Center: Yes
  • In-House Call Center: No
  • TMA Certification: Yes
  • UL or ETL Listed: Yes

Medical Guardian – Best for Seniors with Dementia


Medical Guardian offers premium features, but they come at a high monthly cost. Monthly monitoring starts at $29.95 for landline monitoring and $39.95 for a mobile system. Even so, the company received our third highest score overall (7.1) due to its excellent customer service, quality devices and unique features.

Our Experience with Medical Guardian

Our ordering experience with Medical Guardian was excellent. The salesperson went the extra mile to make sure we got the system when we needed it, and was very friendly throughout. No sales tactics or pressure was ever applied.

Medical Guardians directions were clear and easy to follow, and setup was a breeze – taking us less than two minutes from start to finish. Our test call was quick and easy as well. Medical Guardian had the fastest response time of the top three companies we tested. An operator answered within a minute each time.

Medical Guardian’s mobile device was manufactured by the same company that makes MobileHelp’s devices, so the comfort and technology of the mobile device were identical. The wristband and pendant are both very comfortable when compared to Bay Alarm Medical’s devices.

Who Should Consider Medical Guardian

Seniors with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia and those who need a home unit with a huge range (if you have a lot of property, for example) should consider Medical Guardian.

Seniors who have trouble forgetting to wear their device, such as those with dementia, can benefit from two features that Medical Guardian offers. One is the company’s “family guardian plan.” Starting at $79.95 a month, you receive two motion trackers and a door sensor in addition to the home medical alert system. This system works with an app to notify caregivers when their loved one’s movement habits suddenly change or when they leave the home.

The second feature is a wall-mounted call button that you activate with your voice by saying “Call Medical Guardian” twice in a row. Both of these features can be especially useful for seniors with dementia by providing a way to access help even if they forget to wear their device, and can automatically notify caregivers when there’s a potential problem (lack of activity or leaving the home at an unexpected time).

Medical Guardian’s home base range of 1,300 feet was the largest of all the companies we compared. Older adults with a large amount of property who like to do outdoor activities (such as gardening or tending to animals) can benefit from the increased range the unit provides. For most people, the range provided by Bay Alarm Medical (800 feet) or MobileHelp (600 feet) is plenty.

Overall, Medical Guardian provides great customer service and quality products, but at a higher price point. Unless you want access to one of the unique features mentioned above, we recommend our budget pick for a simple landline monitoring (Bay Alarm Medical) or MobileHelp for those who want protection both at home and on the go.

Pros

  • Largest Base Range Available: At 1,300 feet, Medical Guardian has the largest range of the 10 companies we compared for their in-home units.
  • Transparent: Medical Guardian’s website clearly explains both product details and all of the information about costs and contracts. No hidden fees or unexpected expenses to worry about.
  • Free Trial: Medical Guardian offers a 30-day free trial without any cancellation fees – you’re only required to pay for return shipping.
  • Help Button Option for Mobile Device: Having a separate help button that works with the mobile base makes the mobile system comfortable and easy to use.
  • Advanced Protection: The company offers voice-activated wall buttons and activity monitoring – features that aren’t offered by the other 10 companies we compared.

Cons

  • Expensive: Medical Guardian is among the priciest companies we tested – it’s tied for the highest cost for in-home monitoring and the second highest monthly rate for mobile units.
  • Poor Battery Life: The battery for Medical Guardian’s mobile base unit is only 24 hours between charges, which tied for the shortest battery life. However, you can still use the device when it’s charging by wearing the help button.
  • Mobile Tracking Not Currently Available: Unlike Bay Alarm Medical and MobileHelp, there’s no way to track the location of a mobile device or receive alerts when a loved one enters or leaves their home.

Full List of Features

  • Cost: $29.95 for in-home landline; $39.95 for mobile; $79.95 for movement tracking and in-home monitoring
  • Contract: No long-term contract; can purchase monitoring monthly, quarterly, or annually
  • Return Policy: 30-day free trial; must pay return shipping; refund of unused months when canceling with a quarterly or annual plan
  • Fees: Other than shipping, no fees of any kind – pricing is straightforward
  • Mobile Battery Life: 24 hours
  • Pinpoint Mobile Tracking: Included with a more expensive device ($49.95 a month)
  • Mobile Device Style: Two-piece device – mobile base and wearable help button
  • Home Help Button Range: 1,300 feet
  • Back-up Battery Life: 32 hours
  • Fall Detection Cost: $10 a month
  • Lockbox Cost: $2.00
  • Caregiver Tracking Cost: Included with premium plan
  • Mobile App or Web Monitoring: Included with premium plan
  • Battery Monitoring: No
  • Find Lost Mobile Device: No
  • Medication Reminders: No
  • Automatic Self Testing: Not available
  • Fire, Smoke, and CO Monitoring: Not available
  • Wall-Mounted Help Buttons Cost: $2.00 a month; $5.00 for voice-activated wall button
  • Extra Help Buttons: Not available
  • Voice Extender Cost: Not available
  • Monitored Pill Dispenser Cost: Not available
  • Web Chat Available: Yes
  • BBB Grade: A+
  • U.S.-Based Call Center: Yes
  • In-House Call Center: No
  • CSAA Certification: Yes
  • UL or ETL Listed: Yes

Other Options to Consider

The following two companies didn’t make the cut because they don’t offer in-home systems, which means they aren’t useful for everyone. However, seniors who are only interested in mobile devices may benefit from these medical alert systems.

Note: We didn’t evaluate these systems or companies, so be sure to complete your own research.

GreatCall Lively Mobile

GreatCall Lively Mobile offers a mobile medical alert system that starts at $24.99 a month, plus a one-time device fee of $49.99, and an activation fee of $35. All told, the first month costs $109.98, with an ongoing monthly cost of $24.99 for the basic plan.

To access caregiver monitoring features, you must pay an additional $5 a month for a monthly total of $29.99. To access caregiver monitoring and fall detection, there’s an additional $15 charge – bringing the monthly total to $39.99.

About the size of a small flip phone, GreatCall’s mobile device is an all-in-one unit with a two-way speaker that you can wear around your neck, on your wrist or on your belt. Since we didn’t test the device personally, we can’t speak to its comfort, but keep in mind that the system lacks the mobile help button that MobileHelp and Medical Guardian offer.

RescueTouch

RescueTouch offers a small, all-in-one mobile unit that with a rechargeable battery that lasts a week on standby (if you aren’t using the device). The company has many different options available, including a plan that texts or calls loved ones instead of contacting a monitoring center. These plans are cheaper, but don’t provide as much security (such as when your loved one doesn’t notice the text or is asleep).

For their monitored plan, the cost is $51 a month, plus a one-time $99 device fee. Available features include a caregiver tracking system that allows you to send a text and receive a loved one’s location via Google Maps. Fall detection is also available for an additional cost.

While we didn’t test RescueTouch personally, their devices appear to be smaller and lighter than many of the competitions’. However, they do not offer a two-part system with a mobile help button, and instead use a waterproof all-in-one device.

Cost No Extra Fees 30-Day Free Trial Online/App-Based Monitoring for Caregivers Help Button for Mobile Device
Acadian On Call $$$$
Alert1 $$$
Bay Alarm Medical $
Galaxy Medical Alert Systems $$$$$
Medical Alert $$
Medical Care Alert $$$$
Medical Guardian $$$$
MobileHelp $$
Philips Lifelife $$$$$
Response Now Medical Alert Systems $$$$

Methodology

Step 1: We developed a list of the top companies.

Our goal was to find the best services that would be usable by the most possible people. Since seniors have many different needs and varying lifestyles, we wanted to be sure that any company we recommended would have a medical alert system to meet the needs of older adults overall.

After sifting through multiple online searches and reading all sorts of guides, we came up with a list of 25 medical alert companies. Once we established this list, we began to filter out companies that didn’t meet the below requirements.

  • Must offer both mobile and home devices: Since home units tend to be better for house-bound seniors and cell-enabled mobile units are a great option for active seniors, we required each company to offer both options. We eliminated seven companies that either didn’t offer home units, or didn’t offer mobile units.
  • Must have waterproof devices: The bathroom is one of the most dangerous places for seniors when it comes to slips and falls, so having devices you can wear in the shower is a necessity. We cut seven companies from the list without shower-safe devices.
  • Must have transparent pricing and device information available online: We cut one company that required us to call to get pricing information. This provides no accountability and allows for shady business practices.

Step 2: We graded the top companies using five core metrics.

In order to determine which companies we would recommend, we developed five core metrics and 38 sub-metrics. We gave each core metric a weight that represents its importance in determining the best company. For instance, the monthly cost is a bigger factor for many than the specifics of each company’s’ monitoring center.

Once we scored all of the sub-metrics, we assigned each company a score between 0 and 10 for each core metric based on the total scores from the sub-metrics. The company or companies with the highest total from the sub-metric received a 10 on that core metric, and the company or companies with the lowest sub-metric total received a 0, with the other companies getting incremental scores in between.

Cost (40%)

Cost determined 40 percent of each company’s final score. We gave this metric the most weight because many seniors live on a fixed income. Finding a quality system that’s also affordable was one of our top priorities. A company’s transparency and fees factored heavily into this metric since many services appear to be cheaper on the surface, but are actually more expensive when you factor in extra fees and other charges.

Here’s a list of all the sub-metrics we used to grade Cost:

  • Transparency: We graded this sub-metric on a 10-point scale. Companies that were misleading and had hidden fees were given a 0, while companies that were upfront about their rates and not misleading or confusing received a 10. Most of the companies were somewhere in the middle and were given appropriate scores based on whether they were very misleading or if the information was simply confusing or hard to find.
  • Home Price: The companies with the cheapest monthly cost for landline home-based devices received the highest scores on this sub-metric on a scale of 0-10. We didn’t score the cost for home-based systems that use cellular connections.
  • Mobile Price: We scored the monthly cost for the cheapest mobile units (those that communicate via cell signal and GPS) on a scale of 0 to 10. When companies offered more than one type of mobile unit, we scored the unit that was least expensive.
  • Bulk Pay Discount: Some services offer a lower cost for those that pay quarterly, semi-annually or yearly. Companies that offered this discount received a 10, while those that didn’t were given a 0.
  • Free Equipment Delivery: This sub-metric was a yes/no grade. Those with free equipment delivery (on month-to-month billing) were given a 10, those without were given a 0.
  • Long-Term Contract Requirement: While every company we graded boasted that they didn’t have “long-term contracts,” several didn’t have monthly billing options – their shortest billing cycles were quarterly, and they also didn’t expressly offer a money-back guarantee if you canceled mid billing cycle. Those companies received a 0, while the rest were given a 10.
  • Activation/Installation Fee: Companies with either an activation or installation fee were given a 0 on this sub-metric. One company was running a promotion which waived the fee, so they received a 5 since we didn’t know how long the promotion would be lasting.
  • Equipment Fee: Companies were given a 0 or 10 based on whether or not they charged an equipment fee, with one company getting a 5 since they charged an equipment fee on one device, but not the others.
  • Cancellation Fee: Companies that charged cancellation or “restocking” fees were given a 0, while those that didn’t scored a 10. One company was unclear about refunds for longer-term contracts, so it was given a 5.
  • Free Trial: This sub-metric was scored on a scale between 0 and 10. The longer the free-trial, the higher the score. Those without free trials were given a 0. The longest free trial (and most common) was 30 days.

Device (25%)

How the devices function and their specific technology wasn’t the second most important factor we considered. As such, each company’s score on the core metric “Device” made up 25% of their overall score. The following are the sub-metrics that we used to grade this core metric.

  • Mobile Battery Life: Unlike the small pendants that are worn with in-home systems, mobile devices must be charged. Companies with the longest battery life between charges were given higher scores on a scale between 0 and 10.
  • Pinpoint Mobile Tracking: Traditional GPS alone isn’t always reliable when pinpointing someone’s exact location. Some companies are using newer technology in their devices that utilize more than one type of tracking to narrow down a person’s location with much greater accuracy. Those that offer this newer technology at no extra cost were given a 10, while companies that charged extra for it scored a 5. If a company did not offer this technology, it received a 0.
  • Mobile Wearable Pendant Available: There are two basic types of mobile devices – all-in-one devices that are about the size of a flip phone or pager and devices that have a small device that you can stick in a purse or bag and you wear a much smaller pendant (as you do with an in-home device). Companies that offer the latter option (mobile device + wearable pendant) were given a 10, while those without this option scored a 0.
  • Maximum Home Base Range: The in-home system is made up of a base unit and a pendant. However, you can only take the pendant a certain distance from the home base. The farther the distance a company’s device will reach, the higher score it got on this core metric (on a scale of 0-10).
  • Home Base Cellular Option: Seniors who don’t use a landline but still want to use a medical alert system’s home base can take advantage of home bases that work off of cell towers (no cell phone contract required). The companies that offer this option at the same price as their landline were given a 10, those that charge extra received a 5, and those that don’t offer it scored a 0.
  • Number of Pendants Included: Most companies supply one pendant (neck or wrist) and you must either pay a one-time fee or a monthly fee to add more. The companies that offered more than one were given a higher score on a scale of 0-10.
  • Back-Up Battery Life: Each home unit is equipped with a battery backup so the unit will still function if your power goes out. The companies were graded on a scale of 0-10 for the length of their battery backup.
  • Fall Detection: Fall detection is a newer technology that automatically detects when you fall down. While it’s not 100 percent accurate, it can save the lives of those who fall and aren’t able to press their button. Companies that included this for free received a 10, those that charged extra scored a 5 and those that didn’t offer this option received a 0.

Premium Features (15%)

Premium Features were only given a 15 percent weight because not everyone needs all of these features, and they aren’t critical to the operation of the device. The following sub-metrics were all graded the same way – companies that offer the feature for free scored a 10, those that charge extra were given a 5 and those that didn’t offer the feature received a 0.

  • Caregiver Tracking: While each system is somewhat different, this feature allows a caregiver to track the location of a senior using their mobile device’s GPS signal. This is a valuable feature for seniors who tend to wander or get lost. Additional functionalities are often available.
  • Mobile App or Web Monitoring: While some systems use a text system (text a certain number and the coordinates of the senior are sent back via a map app), others have an online or mobile application that allows caregivers to monitor various aspects of the mobile device sometimes including location, activity, etc.
  • Battery Monitoring: This feature allows caregivers to remotely monitor a senior’s mobile unit to make sure it’s being charged. Alerts can often be set up to notify the caregiver if the senior’s battery falls below a certain threshold.
  • Locating a Lost Mobile Device: Some companies allow customers to find a lost mobile device if it’s ever dropped or misplaced.
  • Lockbox: A lockbox allows emergency personnel to enter your home without having to break down a door in case you activate your device and can’t unlock the door. This can save valuable time and money.
  • Automatic Self-Testing: Some companies offer a feature that allows the devices to periodically check for signal and battery integrity. If there is an issue, then the device or a representative will let the customer and/or caregiver know that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
  • Medication Reminders: This premium feature allows seniors to use their medical alert device to remind them when it’s time to take their medications.
  • Monitored Pill Dispensing: This is a separate device that dispenses and monitors a senior’s medications, allowing seniors and their caregivers alike to have peace of mind.
  • Wall-Mounted Buttons: Some seniors or caregivers may want the added security of a wall-mounted button that will trigger the medical alert system in a high-risk area (such as a bathroom or kitchen) in case the senior isn’t wearing their pendant.
  • Voice Extender: Seniors with very large houses or those who like to spend time outside but don’t want a mobile device can use a voice extender that extends the range of the home base’s microphone and speaker.
  • Remote Phone Answering: Some companies allow seniors to use their home base to answer phone calls made to their landline without having to pick up a phone – essentially functioning as a speakerphone.
  • Fire/Smoke/CO/Water Monitoring: These devices can alert the monitoring station when there’s an emergency involving fire, carbon monoxide or water leaks.

Customer Service (10%)

Since grading customer service is highly subjective,) there are few ways to objectively compare companies. With that in mind, we nonetheless found several key indicators of superb customer service.

  • Web Chat Available: Having the ability to quickly ask simple questions via web chat takes a lot of the headaches out of choosing a medical alert system. You don’t have to wade through a series of menu choices on the phone or wait on hold, so having this option available increases the likelihood of a positive customer service experience.
  • BBB Grade: We checked each company’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) grade. The BBB logs complaints against all different types of companies and assigns grades based on resolutions to those complaints, as well as the number and frequency of complaints.
  • Company Age: Companies with poor customer service don’t tend to last – that’s why well-established companies give you a higher chance of better customer service. Companies that were less than two years old scored a 0, and those that were more than 20 years old scored a 10, with the rest receiving a score in the middle.

Monitoring (10%)

Similarly to Customer Service, the quality of the agents that work in the monitoring centers is hard to judge objectively, so we only gave this metric a 10 percent weight. Each company scored a 10 for yes or 0 for no on the following sub-metrics.

  • U.S.-Based Call Center: Call centers based in foreign countries can be more difficult to communicate with, so whether the company has a U.S.-based call center is a key indicator of how well it will perform, should you need to use the service.
  • In-House Call Center: While most companies contract out their monitoring to specialized monitoring centers, some offer in-house monitoring. In-house monitoring allows for higher accountability and communication between the company and those who monitor your devices.
  • Certified Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) Operators: This certification requires extra training, which some companies provide to ensure operators can provide the best possible assistance until EMTs arrive on the scene.
  • The Monitoring Association (TMA) 5-Diamond Certification: This certification ensures that each monitoring center maintains the highest industry standards. Having this certification is a key indicator of a quality monitoring center.
  • UL or ETL Listed: These two companies independently test the medical alert systems to ensure that they function as advertised.
Total Score Cost Device Premium Features Customer Service Monitoring
Bay Alarm Medical 8.3 10 5.72 7.15 10 7.5
MobileHelp 7.5 8.58 4.29 10 7.5 7.5
Medical Guardian 7.1 8.58 7.15 2.86 7.5 7.5
Acadian On Call 5.2 2.86 5.72 4.29 10 10
Galaxy Medical Alert Systems 4.9 1.43 10 7.15 5 2.5
Medical Alert 5.0 7.15 5.72 0 0 7.5
Alert1 4.4 5.72 0 5.72 5 7.5
Medical Care Alert 3.8 0 8.58 2.86 7.5 5
Philips Lifeline 3.8 1.43 2.86 8.58 10 2.5
Response Now Medical Alert Systems 2.5 4.29 1.43 1.43 2.5 0

Step 3: Our team personally tested the top three companies.

Once we determined the top three ranked companies using the methodology described above, we purchased devices from each company. This allowed us to get a true sense of the customer service experience, the comfort and wearability of each device, and how well they actually worked. Our testing focused on five main areas:

  • Ordering: We started out by testing the online ordering process and eventually completed the order with customer service representatives over the phone. Through the ordering process, we were evaluating the amount of time it took to complete the order, how clearly our questions were answered, and whether sales or pressure tactics were used.
  • Setup: Once we received the devices, we began to set them up and activate them. In addition to timing the setup process, we paid careful attention to how clear the instructions were and whether we needed to reach out to customer service for additional assistance.
  • Comfort: Our team wore the devices for multiple days to determine which were the most comfortable, since these devices are only useful if they’re being worn. We tested them throughout the normal course of the day including eating, sleeping, cleaning, showering, exercising and working.
  • Technology: We wanted to get a feel for how advanced each device was. Did the technology seem to be cutting-edge or outdated? What features were available? The main technology testing involved using the application to access features such as geofencing and mobile device tracking.
  • Reliability: This was one of the most crucial aspects of our testing – how well did the devices actually work? How long did it take to connect to the operator? Did the help button work consistently around the home and yard? Was the mobile device able to accurately share our location?

Guide to Medical Alert Systems

Medical alert systems allow seniors to get the help they need should they suffer a fall or another medical emergency. There are two basic types of devices: the classic home unit and mobile units.

Home units provide medical alert systems within a limited range of your home.

With a home unit, you have a stationary base that is connected to power and the monitoring center via either a wired landline or wireless cell service. The home base contains a powerful speaker and microphone that allows you to communicate with an operator at the monitoring center.

The second part of the system is a small button that you can wear around your neck or on your wrist. In the event of an emergency, you push the button, and this activates the help function of the base. If for some reason you are not able to communicate with the operator (if you're outside, for example), they will automatically put your emergency plan into place, such as calling loved ones or sending EMS.

Mobile units provide seniors access to emergency help wherever there is cell service.

These units use a cellular connection to communicate with the monitoring center and often use GPS and other location services to provide family or emergency personnel with your exact location in the event of an emergency. With quality, above-board companies, you aren’t required to pay additional fees or add the device to your cell phone plan – the cell service is included in the monthly fee.

Mobile medical alert systems may be all-in-one devices (with a button on the small, flip phone-sized device) or two-part systems. Both types have a small mobile unit with a two-way speaker that allows users to speak with the operators at the monitoring center. The main difference is that the two-part system has a wearable help button (necklace or wristband). This allows you to use the device while it’s charging or not on your person for some reason, such as if you stow it in your purse or other bag while on a walk.

Unlike home units, mobile units need to be charged regularly. The battery life varies (usually 1-5 days), but it’s normally recommended to place the mobile unit on its charging dock each night.

Who Should Consider a Medical Alert System

Modern medical alert systems don’t just provide security for seniors who are prone to falls, they have many other uses as well. Below is a list of those who may benefit from medical alert systems.

Independent & Active Seniors

Seniors who enjoy an active lifestyle and the outdoors can use medical alert devices to maintain that freedom as long as possible. Mobile medical alert devices give them and their loved ones peace of mind by knowing that help is available if they need it, and that their location can be tracked by emergency personnel and loved ones if necessary.

Seniors who fall into this category should look for a medical alert device with the following features:

  • Mobile Device: This gives seniors and their loved ones peace of mind, and it allows seniors to maintain an active lifestyle for as long as possible.
  • Wearable Help Button for Mobile Device: In addition to being more versatile and comfortable, a help button that you can wear on your wrist or neck allows seniors to use the mobile device in their home, as well as on-the-go. An all-in-one unit is cumbersome and not always shower safe. Both MobileHelp and Medical Guardian provide these this feature.
  • Pinpoint Location Tracking: Devices with the newest technology can be located with a much greater degree of precision, since they don’t just rely on cell service tracking. The best systems use multiple tracking methods including cell service, GPS, and WIFI hotspots.

Aging in Place

There are many options available today for seniors who want to remain in their home, rather than move to an assisted living facility or a nursing home. A medical alert system is one of those options that enable aging in place for those with mobility issues (such as needing a walker or using a wheelchair) and those who receive in-home care. It’s especially necessary for those who don’t have a loved one or caregiver who stays home with them 24/7.

Seniors with mobility issues and those who need in-home care should look for the following features in a medical alert system:

  • Affordable Monthly Monitoring: In addition to paying for their home and living expenses, seniors who choose to age in place face the expense of paying for home care, and the last thing they need is another large, monthly expense. Seniors in this situation should compare companies and rates to find a quality, affordable solution such as Bay Medical Alarm for landline monitoring or MobileHelp for cellular in-home units.
  • Automatic Fall Detection: Those who struggle with mobility are at a higher risk of falls, so it’s wise to invest in as much protection as possible. Automatic Fall Detection doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it can be a lifesaver for those who fall and aren’t able to press their button.
  • Voice Activated Wall Button: This is a relatively new feature that is offered by Medical Guardian and may be offered by additional companies in the future. Seniors can call for help by repeating “Call Medical Guardian” twice. This benefits seniors who may have difficulty reaching a wall button or the home station should they suffer a fall while not wearing their help button.
  • Medication Reminders and Automated Dispensers: If you or your loved one lived in an assisted living facility, staff would be available to provide reminders and assistance with medication. Those who choose to age in place and opt for home care don’t always have caregivers present to provide this service. Some companies, such as MobileHelp, provide automated medication reminders for those who often forget when to take their medications, and Philips Lifeline offers an automated medication dispenser.

Seniors with Alzheimer's or Dementia

Seniors with Alzheimer’s or other memory problems (including those who are simply very forgetful) can benefit from medical alert devices that help their loved ones to locate them if they become lost. They also should consider device options that make it possible to get help even if they forget to wear or charge their devices.

  • Mobile and Home Device Combination: Seniors who may wander off or become lost can benefit from a mobile device that allows their loved ones to track their location, but they also can benefit from a home medical alert system that won’t stop working if they forget to charge their mobile device. MobileHelp is an example of a company that offers an affordable bundle of a mobile and home medical alert system. The cost is $41.95 a month for both systems.
  • Wall Buttons: Wall buttons are helpful in high-risk locations (such as the restroom) if you or your loved one forgets to wear the help button. Simply press the button and the monitoring center will be notified that help is needed.
  • Pinpoint Location Tracking: As mentioned above, caregiver tracking allows loved ones and emergency personnel to locate seniors in case of an emergency. Newer technology uses the cellular service, GPS, and nearby WIFI hotspots to provide the senior’s exact location, with a much greater degree of accuracy than older units that just use the cell service or GPS by itself.
  • Geofencing: Seniors who tend to wander can especially benefit from this service. Some companies (such as Bay Alarm Medical) allow loved ones to set geofencing alerts that send notifications (text message/email) when a loved leaves or enters a predetermined area, such as the area immediately surrounding their home.
  • Battery Monitoring: Battery monitoring can take different forms – some devices automatically alert the senior when the battery is getting low and it’s time for charging, while others send alerts to loved ones via text message or email when a mobile device’s battery reaches a critical level. This is helpful for seniors who tend to forget to charge their devices.
  • Medication Reminders: Some companies, such as MobileHelp, provide automated medication reminders for those who often forget when to take their medications.
  • Seniors with High-Risk Medical Conditions

    Seniors who have diabetes or a heart condition are at higher risk of suffering a medical emergency, so not only should they strongly consider a medical alert system, but they should also think about investing in optional features that provide additional protection.

    • Automatic Fall Detection: While not 100% reliable, automatic fall detection is an extra line of protection for those at a high risk of falling or suffering a medical emergency. If you can’t push your button during an emergency, automatic fall detection can prevent further long-term damage and may even save your life.
    • Activity Monitoring: Companies (like Medical Guardian) that offer this premium feature utilize extra motion sensors to detect a sudden change in activity level – such as when a loved one hasn’t been moving when they normally would. If that situation were to occur, the system sends an alert to a loved one that something may be wrong.

    Understanding Additional Features

    Along with the basic function of alerting a monitoring center to a medical emergency, medical alert systems come with a host of other features (sometimes included and sometimes optional at an extra cost) that can benefit many seniors.

    • Fall Detection: Fall detection is a newer technology that automatically detects when you fall down. While it’s not 100% accurate, it can be life-saving or prevent further long-term injury for those who fall and aren’t able to press their button, such as those who fall and are knocked unconscious. It typically comes at an extra monthly cost (usually $5 - $10) and sometimes requires a separate device.
    • Caregiver Tracking and Monitoring: This feature is designed for loved ones who care for a senior, and allows them to monitor his or her activity as well as their device. This is most often used with mobile devices. For example, you can log into an online or mobile application to see the battery level of the senior’s device, the location, and set up alerts. One popular option is geofencing which allows you to receive a text message or email when your loved one enters or leaves a set area.
    • In-Home Cellular Devices: Cell-enabled home bases serve the same function as landline bases, they just rely on cellular service instead of a phone line. While theres are typically more expensive than landline systems, they are almost always cheaper than the cost of a landline medical alert system plus the cost of a landline-based phone service. Keep in mind that it’s not always as reliable as a landline system if you have spotty cellular coverage in your area.
    • Medication Reminders and Automatic Dispensers: Some companies offer automatic medication reminders which alert the senior when it’s time to take their medicine. Another option is a separate device that automatically dispenses the correct medications at the right time. This can help seniors who struggle with remembering if they’ve taken their medication, and can help to ensure that they don’t take too many or too few of their pills.
    • Wall-Mounted Buttons: Some seniors or caregivers may want the added security of a wall-mounted button that will trigger the medical alert system in a high-risk area (such as a bathroom or kitchen) in case the senior isn’t wearing their pendant/help button for some reason.
    • Voice Extender: Those who don’t want a mobile device but have very large houses or like to spend time in their yard can utilize a voice extender that extends the range of the microphone and speaker of the home base. For instance, those who like to garden could install a voice extender on the outside of their home so they can hear and speak with an operator. This also is also helpful to avoid accidentally calling EMS if you press your button but can’t hear the home base to cancel the alert.
    • Remote Phone Answering: Some companies allow seniors to use their home base to answer phone calls made to their landline without having to pick up a phone – essentially functioning as a speakerphone. Fire/Smoke/CO/Water Monitoring: These devices can alert the monitoring station when there is an emergency involving fire, carbon monoxide, or water leaks.

    Buyers Guide: How to Choose a Medical Alert System

    Decide Which Type of Medical Alert System Is Best for You

    The first step is to decide which type of medical alert system will work best for you or your loved one – you can choose a traditional home system, a mobile system (preferably one that will be practical to use in your home as well), or a bundle of both.

    This decision mainly hinges on whether you or your loved one spends time out of the home unaccompanied. Active seniors or those who wander out of the home can especially benefit from the features provided by mobile devices, while those who mostly stay at home can opt for an in-home device that doesn’t require charging.

    Find a Quality Company

    Finding a quality company is important since there are those that provide sub-par equipment at a higher price without quality customer service. As a starting point you want to consider two main aspects of a company.

    Is the company transparent?

    Companies that provide concrete information about details such as pricing and fees are better to work with since they don’t have anything to hide. Be sure to get clarity about every aspect of the contract, return policy, and fees. If it’s not readily available online or if representatives don’t offer straightforward answers to your questions, chances are that you may be dealing with a shady company.

    What is the return policy like?

    It’s important to choose a company that allows you to return equipment and cancel your service without extra charges. You will almost always pay return shipping, but other than that they shouldn’t charge any fees. If you opt for quarterly, semi-annual, or annual billing, be sure that you can get a refund for the unused portion of your subscription.

    Prioritize Comfort and Convenience

    A medical alert system only works if you wear it. Whether you are researching for yourself or you are a caregiver researching for a loved one, it’s very important to take comfort and wearability into consideration. Some mobile units are more comfortable and convenient than others.

    Most of the home systems have very similar help buttons/pendants, and you typically can choose to wear it around your neck or on your wrist. However, mobile units are not all the same. Some systems require you to wear the main unit around your neck or in another accessible place, while others allow you to stow the base unit in a bag, purse, or on your belt, and you only have to wear a small, lightweight button on your wrist or neck.

    Not all units have the same battery life.

    If you or your loved one is already plugging in a cell phone every night, they may be more comfortable with a mobile unit that requires nightly charging. However, if you or your loved one are especially forgetful, make sure to choose a system with a longer battery life or one that allows for battery monitoring (where alerts are sent to a loved one if the battery gets too low).

    Consider Optional Features

    There are a large number of optional features to consider. Some of the most helpful ones to consider are listed below.

    • Fall Detection: It’s important not to fully rely on this technology as it doesn’t work 100% of the time, but for seniors at risk of falling, it can be life-saving. If a senior isn’t able to press their button, this can automatically detect the fall and call for help.
    • Lockbox: If EMS is called to a senior’s home and he or she doesn’t answer the door, they are obligated to break it down to enter the home. The repairs from this can be quite costly. Getting a lockbox allows EMS to access your home in case of an emergency without causing damage.
    • Caregiver Tracking: Caregiver tracking is a huge bonus for those who care for seniors. It allows you to monitor a number of aspects, depending on the specifics of the system. Some of the most useful features include monitoring the battery level of the device, geofencing (getting notifications when seniors leave or enter a predetermined area such as their home), and location tracking.

    Choose a Subscription Type

    Most companies offer a discount and extras (such as free shipping and even free accessories) for those who agree to be billed quarterly, semi-annually, or annually, with the most hefty discounts often offered for annual subscriptions.

    As mentioned above, be very careful to find out whether you will receive a full refund if you cancel mid-subscription. For instance, if you decide to cancel after three months, but you paid for six months, will you receive a refund for the three months you didn’t use?

    Overall, those who are able to pay for a year at a time usually pay the lowest monthly rates, but you should be very careful to choose a reputable company.

    Tips for Caregivers

    Include loved ones in the purchasing process.

    Whether you are purchasing a system for your loved ones or are just helping them to make the choice, be sure to include them in this process as much as possible. At the end of the day, it’s of no benefit if you convince them to get the system, but they don’t wear it consistently.

    Be prepared to try several different options.

    You might have an idea of what system will be best, but if your loved one doesn’t like it, be willing to return it and try something different. Either you or they may love the idea of a certain type of system initially, but after wearing the device and trying it out, they may realize it doesn’t work as anticipated or it isn’t comfortable.

    In that case, you should return the device and try something different, whether from the same company or a different company. This highlights the importance of choosing a company with a gracious return policy. Also, keep in mind that many companies offer the same devices, so just choosing a different company doesn’t mean that you will get a different type of medical alert device. If it looks similar, chances are that it was manufactured by the same company.

    Make sure your loved ones are using the device.

    Again, it does no good to pay for a medical alert system if your loved one isn’t actually using it. It may also be wise to drop in (if possible) or call and check-in regularly, especially at first and until they get used to wearing the device all the time, everyday.

    Emphasize the importance of wearing the device during high-risk activities.

    Be sure your loved ones are wearing their devices at the times when they are most at risk of a fall. For instance, ensure that they have a waterproof device that they are wearing during the shower and that they sleep with it on in case they have to get up in the middle of the night.

    Medical Alert Systems Cost & Payment Assistance for Low-Income Seniors

    Most of the time, companies don’t charge for the actual medical alert devices – customers lease the systems for free and pay a monthly monitoring fee. This fee can range from around $20 a month to $60 a month, depending on the type of system and optional services you choose.

    For a standard in-home medical alert system connected via landline, you can expect to pay between $20 and $30 a month. For cell-enabled, mobile units, you will typically pay $30-$45 a month.

    For some low-income seniors, this monthly cost is out of reach. Additionally, Medicare and private insurance typically don’t provide coverage. That being said, there are some payment assistance options available to you depending on your income, personal situation, and the state in which you reside.

    Free Medical Alert Systems for Veterans

    The VA offers a number of services designed to help elderly or disabled veterans maintain their independence. One of those services is a device very similar to a medical alert system.

    The main difference is that the device which you wear around your neck only dials pre-programmed numbers and isn’t professionally monitored. The downside of this setup and the reason it’s not considered a “true” medical alert system, is that loved ones aren’t always near their phones or able to receive a call or text. For example, if you were to suffer a fall in the middle of the night, your call or text could go hours without being noticed.

    That being said, this type of system is better than nothing if you absolutely can’t afford the monthly cost of a medical alert system. For more information and to apply, visit your nearest VA location or call (844) 698-2311.

    Medicaid Coverage of Medical Alert Systems (PERS)

    In most states, Medicaid covers some or all of the monthly cost of medical alert systems. These are officially called “Personal Emergency Response Services” or PERS.

    Whether through waiver programs or other programs, most states offer help to seniors who qualify for nursing home care but wish to remain more independent. PERS is often one of the many services that can be used by seniors to maintain their independence.

    For more information about your state’s programs and whether medical alert systems are fully or partially covered, hover over your state below and follow the link(s).