What Are the Different Types of Medical Alert Devices?

Aaron Hall

Last Updated: February 24th, 2020

Elderly man and child on beach

Medical alert systems are a great way to provide peace and security for an elderly loved one who wants to live independently; however, with technology progressing so rapidly, it can be easy to lose track of what kinds of systems are available. In the following article, we'll break down what you can expect as you start searching for a medical alert system.

Traditional systems

Traditional medical alert systems are the most common. These systems usually consist of the following:

  • Base system
  • Emergency call pendant
  • Wireless or landline connectivity

Traditional systems include a base system that syncs with a wireless alert pendant. The base system connects to a power outlet and a landline phone connection depending on the design of the system. The wireless alert device is then carried by the patient at all times. Typically, the device can be worn as either a pendant or a wristband and is water resistant, so it can be worn in the shower.

Until recently, most medical alert systems were operated solely through landline connections. However, more traditional medical alert systems are becoming compatible with cell phone towers. Setup involves simply plugging in the device to a power outlet. These systems also have a range limit, such as 1,000 feet. That means that your loved one shouldn't wear the alert device when going to the store or traveling because it will be out of range of the base station.

Mobile-based systems

Range isn't a problem for mobile-based systems. For these systems, the base station is actually a small, portable device that is charged at home and then can be taken anywhere. These portable base stations have a much smaller range than a traditional base station, but that isn't much of a problem since you can carry it with you in your pocket or in a holster. Just slip it in your pocket, put on the emergency pendant or wristband, and you're ready.

These systems use cell phone towers to track you. This means that you can take the medical alert with you on a walk or to the store and still have help ready at the press of a button. These systems are usually slightly more expensive than the traditional base station system, but if you live an active lifestyle, it's definitely worth the small cost.

Medical alert mobile apps

These are the newest line of medical alert systems, but they aren't for everyone. Multiple mobile apps on the market can serve as medical alert systems. They can be inexpensive, even free, but the biggest obstacle in using one of these apps is how familiar your loved one is with operating a smartphone. In an emergency, sometimes it is all you can do to reach for your alert pendant and press the button. Imagine having to pull out your phone, unlock it, open the medical alert app, and press the emergency call button. Naturally, there could be many obstacles in the way preventing a quick help call. It can be much easier to access medical help through a mobile system or traditional system than a smartphone.

The plus side of a mobile app is that you can take it anywhere. Like any mobile system, your location can be determined through the use of cell phone towers, so it grants you more freedom.

Universal features

All of these systems should be equipped with wireless power rather than operating only when plugged into an outlet. Traditional medical alert systems have built-in battery packs that charge when plugged in, so if you experience a power outage, your medical alert system will still be operational for over 24 hours. Once charged, mobile systems and cell phones can be used remotely, but it's best to charge them every night.

Most importantly, all of these systems are equipped with 24/7 monitoring. If you find a medical alert company that doesn't promise 24/7 monitoring, move on. You should expect help to be available whenever an emergency happens, even at inconvenient hours. Some systems will allow two-way communication between you and a medical alert representative, but most basic units will send out a simple distress signal that alerts emergency medical personnel and family that you've been in an accident.

Where to start

Now that you're equipped with the basic facts, you can investigate the companies. BestCompany.com has done the research to find the best medical alert companies in the industry. Most of these top companies will offer packages that span the different devices mentioned above, and the most basic systems often come at a very reasonable price. If you think you or a loved one might need a medical alert system, it's best not to hesitate.

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