Television ads targeted to seniors dramatize elders pushing a button on a medical alert device when they’re home alone and have a medical emergency. Are these devices effective? How should you choose between brands?
When medical alert devices can help
Medical alert devices are particularly helpful for seniors, but anyone of any age who lives alone and has a serious medical condition may benefit from owning one. The devices can help in the event of falls, serious reactions to medications or other medical emergencies. They can even be used to seek help in the event of a fire or criminal activity.
How medical alert devices work
These devices are worn on the body either on the wrist or on a neck lanyard. Medical alert device base stations also have help buttons that can be pushed in an emergency.
Who gets the call?
No device directly calls government emergency responders on the 911 network. Depending on which brand you choose, your medical alert device will contact a 24-hour call center, friends and family that you designate when the system is set up, or both. If the device uses call center monitoring, a responder will ask questions to determine your emergency, then call 911 in your area. When your alert goes to friends or family, multiple numbers can be programmed for calling to ensure that someone is alerted. That person can then decide whether to call 911.
When you purchase a call center-monitored plan, you provide your medical profile so that responders have your personal health information available when they answer your call.
Some devices utilize GPS technology to show responders where you are.
These devices alert friends and family with a prerecorded message of distress in the event you are unable to speak.
Some medical alert devices come with a fall detection alert, but the technology sometimes gives false alarms. Fall detection is also available with some smart home systems, as are pressure sensors that alert family or friends if a senior does not get out of bed by a certain time each day.
- If the medical alert device is linked to your home phone, you must be in the range of the base station at home for the alert to work. Make sure the range covers your entire house and yard. Mobile plans are available that use cellular technology for protection virtually anywhere. The responder speaks with you via an intercom.
- Don’t make the cost of the device and a monthly monitoring plan your only concern. Research various devices and plans for response time, comfort wearing the device, and ease of use in an emergency. Look for waterproof devices that can be worn in the shower, where the risk of falls is particularly high.
- Compare battery life between systems and whether the batteries can be recharged or need replacement.
- Look for a device that calls automatically if it detects that you have fallen. Look also for GPS technology that directs responders to your location if you are not at your home address on file. Test the device repeatedly during any free trial period the company offers to see how well it determines your location and how quickly it responds.