COVID-19 Update: Since the medical alert industry is considered to be “essential” during the COVID crisis, monitoring and customer service centers are still open and ready to help. To learn more about how a medical alert device can help keep you or your elderly loved one safe and connected during this pandemic, take a look at our list of essential products for seniors during COVID-19.

For years, medical alert systems have provided security for seniors who reside alone, especially those living with chronic conditions or at a high risk of falling. Now, due in part to the public health crisis created by COVID-19, medical alert systems are surging in popularity. In a world where pandemic safety concerns have created barriers to physical contact with loved ones, medical alert systems can help vulnerable seniors with one touch of a button, giving family members peace of mind.

The Basics of Medical Alert Systems

Medical alert systems are designed to connect users to help at the touch of a button or through an automatic fall-detection feature. These devices typically include a base unit equipped with a speakerphone and an ultra-sensitive microphone to enable two-way communication with operators at a remote monitoring center. These representatives can assess symptoms to dispatch the relevant emergency services or alert a predetermined contact.

Many medical alert systems feature wearable devices, such as wristbands, pendants and watches, which may give the user greater range. Some models also provide enhanced features, such as automatic fall detection, GPS location and activity monitoring.

In-Home vs. Mobile

Medical alert systems can be home-based or mobile units. Home-based alert systems typically work through a landline connection and include wearable buttons that let seniors call for help from anywhere in their house. Mobile units operate over cellular networks and are for use outside of the home, or while traveling. They may include GPS or Wi-Fi location tracking to help operators dispatch services to the right place.

Monthly Costs

The cost of medical alert systems varies by manufacturer and the individual unit, and the initial purchase price can range from free with a contract to upwards of $50. Monthly subscription fees typically average between $20 and $50, and can go higher if upgraded features are required. Some units also have one-time activation fees. Enhanced features such as automatic fall detection or GPS tracking may have additional monthly charges.

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits and drawbacks also vary by device and selected features. Systems with advanced functionality such as medication reminders may be beneficial to seniors living with memory impairment or complicated dosing regimens, but may be costly. Active seniors may benefit from a longer range or additional call buttons for garages or backyards. Ultimately, it’s important to choose the system that best fits a senior’s individual lifestyle.

LifeFone

  • Best for: Seniors on the go
  • At-Home plan monthly cost: $29.95
  • At-Home & On-the-Go GPS monthly cost: $39.95

LifeFone is a solid choice for active seniors or those living with chronic medical conditions. Independent elders can benefit from the company’s extensive selection of mobile-friendly features, including a virtual escort service, which helps users in unsafe locations, and a smartphone app that functions even if the user isn’t within range of the base unit or transmitter. The system also offers an integrated GPS tracker, which can locate the wearer in the event of an emergency. Seniors can opt for a lightweight, water-resistant wristband or pendant with a 36-hour battery life.

For family members, LifeFone’s systems include access to a caregiver portal where loved ones can update emergency care instructions, and view a user’s location history. LifeFone also offers an activity assurance service that directs seniors to press a button at preset times, letting loved ones know they’re okay. Users can also request a daily check-in call.

Pros:

  • Interactive caregiver portal
  • Lifetime price lock
  • Wide variety of enhanced features

Cons:

  • Advanced features incur additional fees
  • Only landline plan subscribers can use the Activity Assurance feature
  • Backup monitoring centers are not company owned

MobileHelp

  • Best for: Seniors looking for reasonably priced features
  • Classic Plan monthly cost: $19.95
  • Solo Plan monthly cost: $39.95

As the first company to offer a mobile medical alert system, MobileHelp has plenty of experience bringing security to active, independent seniors. The company offers GPS location tracking and automatic fall detection. MobileHelp also has in-home and hybrid plans, and users can opt for a plan that lets their tablet function as a base station.

Caregivers can access a mobile app or web portal, which provides system alerts and data on activity and location tracking, so they can easily check on an elder’s status. The system also generates charts to help family members assess a user’s movement trends for a better understanding of their care needs.

All customers receive a free lockbox, which provides designated caregivers or emergency personnel with easy access to the user’s house in a crisis. Caregivers may also sign up to be notified if a user demonstrates abnormal activity or long periods of inactivity.

Pros:

  • Good selection of premium features
  • Same price for landline or cellular connection
  • Rapid emergency response time

Cons:

  • Customers may have to pay activation fees
  • Fall detection is only available on certain devices
  • Paid features are offered free by other companies

Medical Guardian

  • Best for: Seniors with memory impairments or those who want to stay connected to caregivers
  • Classic Guardian monthly cost: $29.95
  • Freedom Guardian monthly cost: $44.95

Medical Guardian offers a wide array of in-home and mobile devices with features designed to keep seniors closely connected to loved ones. A smartwatch-style device is available through the company’s Freedom Guardian plan, providing advanced features such as voice-to-text messaging and location tracking technology, which can guide help to a user in an emergency. Active seniors may also appreciate the available calendar alerts and medication reminders.

With select plans, caregivers can download a companion app to set up medication reminders, access an alert history, monitor activity levels and get in touch with the user through SMS messaging. Seniors can also supplement their Medical Guardian plan with upgraded features, including a lockbox that lets emergency responders access their home, and voice-activated wall buttons for high-risk areas such as a bathroom or garage.

Pros:

  • Variety of devices and plans
  • Offers a smartwatch-style device rather than a traditional wristband
  • Many plans include caregiver-friendly companion apps

Cons:

  • Cost for mobile systems may be high
  • Shipping costs
  • Some services may only be available with select plans and devices

Life Alert

  • Best for: Active seniors who want an experienced provider with exceptional customer service
  • In the Home monthly cost: $49
  • Home, Bathroom and On-the-Go monthly cost: $89

Life Alert has provided personal medical protection services since 1987 and brings decades of industry experience to its product offerings and services. Features such as GPS location and 10-year battery life can bring peace of mind to seniors when they’re out and about. Users may also appreciate the versatility of Life Alert’s waterproof mobile device, which can be worn or tucked into a pocket or bag.

Life Alert is known for its exceptional customer service, and its representatives stay on the phone with a user until help arrives. Dispatchers also notify designated family members immediately of an alert and have a user’s medical history available for first responders. Seniors can also opt to contact the monitoring center directly by phone or by pressing a button on the companion app.

Pros:

  • Decades of industry experience
  • 10-year no-charge mobile battery
  • Exceptional customer service

Cons:

  • Three-year contract required
  • Automatic fall detection isn’t available
  • No mobile-only offerings

QMedic

  • Best for: Families that want to monitor a loved one’s wellness
  • Landline Plan monthly cost: $30
  • Mobile GPS Plan monthly cost: $45

QMedic’s medical alert devices are a great choice for families who want to monitor their loved one’s wellness. In addition to connecting users to emergency services, QMedic systems track sleep patterns, activity levels and calls to the monitoring center, and can help caregivers determine whether a senior is actually wearing the device. Loved ones can access a free dashboard where the data is easily viewable.

The company’s mobile alert system offers a wearable, water-resistant pendant. Integrated GPS tracking helps locate seniors who may be lost or unable to communicate.

Pros:

  • Wellness monitoring features such as sleep and activity tracking
  • Free caregiver dashboard
  • Compliance monitoring

Cons:

  • No medication reminders
  • Automatic fall detection not available
  • Limited accessories