Written by: Aaron Hall | Best Company Editorial Team
Last Updated: April 22nd, 2020
Do you have an elderly loved one with mobility issues? Over a third of adults over the age of 65 will experience a debilitating fall. Sometimes, these falls aren't serious, and other times, they can be deadly. As adults continue to age, their bodies aren't as resilient, so a fall can seriously damage their bones and joints.
Although Life Alert and its famous "I've fallen and I can't get up" commercials have a place in pop culture, there are actually many medical alert companies to choose from.
Here's everything you need to know before you choose a medical alert system:
Prices will vary depending on the provider and the system. However, the average price for a basic in-home medical system with a wireless medical alert pendant is around $30 per month. A mobile medical alert system with GPS functionality will likely cost over $40 per month. You can read more about these systems in the Equipment features section.
Watch out for installation or activation fees. Some companies love to tack these on. If a company wants to charge hundreds of dollars for a professional to come to your home and install a system, move on to the next company. The best medical alert systems are ready to go as soon as you plug them in and don't cost extra to install.
Most medical alert companies will operate on month-to-month contracts, so you shouldn't have to worry about agreeing to a long-term contract. Some older companies such as Life Alert will have you sign a long-term contract before providing services, but this is rare.
If you're confident you can pay the monthly fee for the duration of the contract, a contract could be fine, but if you move or decide you don't need the system anymore, you could be charged hundreds to buy out of your contract.
Every medical alert system essentially operates in the same way. The pendant you carry (or wear) communicates with a base unit. When you press the button on the medical alert pendant, it sends a signal to the base unit that relays that signal to a remote monitoring station. A representative at the monitoring station can then contact you through a microphone and speaker on the base unit and dispatch help if needed.
The range of an in-home medical alert system varies depending on the system and company. Medical Guardian's basic in-home system, for example, has a range of 1300 feet. This is impressively long — you shouldn't have to worry if you have a large property and want to roam the yard or go on a short walk.
However, do take into account that many things can inhibit a system's ability to operate at full range. Depending on what material your house is made of, the signal between the pendant and the base station will have a harder time traveling. For example, if you're out in the yard and there are several walls between your pendant and the base station, the signal won't reach as far. Also, if the interior walls are dense, the signal might not reach the full length as well.
Some companies take this into account when marking their pendant range. Some might say that the pendant only extends 300 feet from the base station, but if you live in a small condo with few walls, that shouldn't be a problem. If you live on an estate with a large yard, you'll want to go with the 1300 foot system, or better yet, a mobile GPS system.
Mobile vs. in-home medical
An in-home medical alert system has a base unit that plugs into a wall and a pendant that communicates wirelessly at long ranges. With a mobile GPS alert unit, you can take the base unit anywhere. Usually, it's the size of a deck of cards and can fit in your pocket. There's still a pendant or bracelet you can wear and press a button if you experience an emergency, but the biggest difference is that you can take this unit anywhere.
If you charge it every day or two, you can keep it on your person without worrying about it running out of battery power. If you press the alert button, emergency responders will know exactly where to find you because the small base unit will send a GPS signal pinpointing your exact location.
Be aware that these units always cost a little more money. Expect to pay at least $40-50 per month for a mobile unit. However, if you're an active senior who loves to go on walks or bike rides, this system is indispensable.
Most top-rated medical alert companies will have lifetime warranties on their equipment. If equipment malfunctions or breaks through no fault of your own, they'll replace it without any hassle. This includes your pendant, base station, mobile GPS unit, etc.
Make sure to ask your medical alert companies about warranties before you buy any system.
Other things to know
Some companies such as Live Life Alarms offer medical alert systems with one upfront cost, and that's it. No monthly fee. These systems are usually pre-programmed to contact a handful of phone numbers of your choosing, including neighbors or family members. The systems then contact these people if the emergency button is pressed. This means no monthly monitoring fee, but no professional medical help as well (unless you're allowed to pre-program 911 into the system).
You can find the list of the best medical alert companies right here on Best Company.