Choosing a medical alert system

Man walking with cane holding hands

There are many medical alert systems on the market and choosing the right one for you or your loved one can be complicated. We’ll make it easy by breaking down the most popular alert types and who they benefit most.

First, it’s important to consider one’s lifestyle and ability to use and maintain an alert system. Is the individual often home or on-the-go? Do they have any cognitive or physical impairments, like dementia or motor skill loss? Are there any geographical or environmental restrictions, like a living in a remote area or a large home with multiple floors? Does the individual often lose consciousness when suffering from a fall?  Are family members able to support the individual in person if needed, or is the individual spending most of their time alone?

Your answers to these questions are key when reviewing the options below and by the end of this article, you should be confident about what you or your loved one need from a medical alert system.


In-home systems are ideal for individuals who are often at home. Landline and in-home cellular systems typically include a 2-way communication capable base station and wearable with 500-1000ft range. In-home systems often have the advantage of being lower maintenance and lower cost.

Landline vs. Cellular

The difference is largely preference and connection availability. While landline requires a landline phone, cellular often only requires that there be cellular coverage in your area (no cellphone or contract required). If interested in cellular systems,  make sure you know the cellular provider (Verizon, AT&T, U.S. Cellular etc.) and if there is adequate coverage in your area. If you are remote or unsure if you’re covered, a landline system may be the better option.

Mobile GPS

Mobile alert systems with GPS are ideal for active seniors and individuals who are often on-the-go (community participants, outdoor explorers, travelers). These systems typically include a charger and 2-way communication capable wearable with nation-wide range. While Mobile alert systems with GPS systems have the advantage of wide-range use, GPS technology often has the disadvantage of being higher maintenance and higher cost. *As with the in-home cellular, it’s important to know which cellular provider the device uses and if there’s adequate coverage in your area.

Fall Detection

Fall detection systems (available as in-home or mobile GPS) attempt to automatically alert if the individual is unable to press their button after suffering from a fall. However, it’s critical to understand that fall detection systems are not 100% accurate. In fact, during product tests from a variety of big-name providers, our MIT researchers found that these systems often produce burdensome false alarms and worse, do NOT always detect legitimate falls. Due to their inaccuracy, we only recommend these systems for individuals who suffer from frequent falls that render them unconscious (any % chance of help is better than 0%).

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*Additional Considerations:

Special Features

Some medical alerts offer special features like activity monitoring, proactive outreach, on-demand tracking and bio-metrics. These features may be helpful for caregivers, though can be more complex for users and can come at higher costs. Priority should always be the user’s ability to use and maintain the system, otherwise it is useless.

Pricing and Contracts

Though there are plenty of affordable medical alert systems on the market, some of the complex systems come at hefty costs. It’s important to review all features that may be increasing price to see if they’re really necessary. On average, you can expect to spend $30-$70/month on the system and services.

Be aware of fine print and contracts. Some large companies lock members in for years with no ability to cancel or obtain a refund. Make sure the medical alert you’re considering offers a contract that aligns with you or your loved one’s future expectations. Common contracts are monthly, annually, or semi-annually.

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