Top 5 Features Of A Modern Medical Alert System

We’ve written extensively about medical alert systems here on The Senior List. We’ve done so in an attempt to educate the public on appropriateness of use, and to offer tips and advice on buying a medical alert system for your loved one (or yourself).

One of the things we haven’t focused on as much is what we think the perfect medical alert system consists of.  So with that as a backdrop, here is our wish list. Our top 5 features that would define the perfect (in-home) medical alert system:


The Best Medical Alert System: Top 5 Features


1.  The best medical alert system should be a small (discrete) waterproof form factor

I’m talking about a small pendant style medical alert system that doesn’t make you look like Flava Flave (of Public Enemy fame).  There should be options today on style, and there really aren’t many to choose from.  Our idea for best options include both the necklace style pendant alert button, as well as a small wristband type device.  Both should beflavor flav wearing clock totally waterproof so they can be worn in the shower or the bathtub.  Not-so-fun-fact; Did you know that over 1 in 3 seniors fall every year, and according to to the National Institute on Aging, over 80 of those falls are in the bathroom.  This is why it’s so important for manufacturers to get this WATERPROOFING issue right now.  Most of the medical alert devices today are water resistant (not waterproof), leading many manufacturers to recommend that they not be worn in the bathtub or shower (at the very least not submerged).  This is a biggie folks, the best medical alert devices need to be waterproof.

2.  The best medical alert system providers should never ask you to sign a long term agreement

Our favorite providers out there have month-to-month options for families and they don’t gouge the customer for choosing this option.  Believe it or not, there are some medical alert system providers that have conned consumers into 3 year contract commitments, which is appalling.  Just sniff around The Senior List medical alert system articles and you’ll hear directly from consumers that got stuck… and aren’t happy!  Always, always make sure you’re signing up for a commitment that you are comfortable with, not something a sales person pushes you into signing.  In fact if you do get pressured like that, just walk away.  Tell them you’ll be sharing your story with us, and we’ll make sure to warn other consumers of nasty sales tactics.  Frankly, we’re tired of it.

3.  The best medical alert system should be comfortable and lightweight

One of the worst tTimex Ironmanhings that could happen after investing in life-saving technology like a medical alert system is that your loved one doesn’t wear it.  Our wish list includes something that looks fashionable or sporty, and isn’t bulky or hard edged.  If it’s as comfortable as my Timex Ironman watch band, it’s going to be worn all the time.  If it’s big, bulky and clunky like my Tissot dress watch… it’s only going to be worn for special occasions.  And that’s not good enough!  Many of the form factors (pendant or wrist style) all look alike today… but hey this is a wish list right?

4.  The best medical alert systems should have fall detection technology that works

We’ve heard from countless community members here on The Senior List that fall detection on the devices today stinks!  While we love and respect your feedback, we’re in the camp that believes it’s good… not great (yet).  Fall detection has been around for years in these devices.  A number of companies over the years have bit-the-big-one (read failed) trying to develop a fall detection device and stand on that leg alone (as a major differentiator).  Frankly, it’s tough to do for a huge number of reasons.  First, expectations of what fall detection devices should or shouldn’t do vary widely with both consumers and industry experts.  The algorithms that constitute what a fall is and what a fall isn’t are difficult to define and fine-tune.  Finally, we all fall a bit differently.  A fairly active adult may be doing exercises in the home and fall into the couch to catch a breather.  Is this a fall? Will this set off the device?  It’s a very tough thing to perfect.  But for our wish list, we’d like the option of fall detection that really works.

5.  The best medical alert systems should have communication options in the case of an emergency

What I mean is… Who do you want your PERS (personal emergency response system) to call if you depress the button?  Do you want this device to call a loved one?  Do you want it toOneCall Speaker Pendant ring a call center?  Do you want it to dial 911 directly?  These are all options of one or more of these medical alert systems.  We’d like to have the option to program this device to ring a family member AND a call center (in that order).  If it’s a minor emergency, I’d rather speak to a loved one.  If that loved one can’t be reached or they can’t reach me… It’s forwarded to the call center for possible dispatch.  Also, since this is a wish list we like the idea of a mini speaker phone built into our pendant or wristband.

So that’s it… Not to much to ask is it?  What did we miss?  What do you want to see on your ideal medical alert system?  Let us know in your comments below!

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  1. Cathy Turley says

    I am looking for a watch, waterproof with fall detection. I have seizures and do not have time to make contact with a button. Could you please tell me which company would be best. Thanks

  2. says

    Hi Amie and Tim,

    I hope it’s ok that I comment on this. Thank for this well-written article. All your points are spot on! First off, for everyone else, let me disclose that I work for Bay Alarm Medical, one of the major providers of med alerts.

    I just want to say that you made a really excellent point about fall detection systems (#4). We get several calls daily asking about fall detection. We are in the same camp as you, we are always telling customers that we aren’t comfortable with the current technology on the market. It’s accuracy would have to be greatly improved before we’d be comfortable offering that to our customers.

    We’ve tested those types of systems and found they tend to cause a lot of false alarms, and as you said, certain types of falls – like sliding out of a chair – may not be recognized. We know there’s a lot of interest in this kind of system and we’ll continue keeping our eye out for a good one.

    Anyway, thank you for the great article! This list really resonates with us.

    Best Regards,


  3. Daniell says

    I have been searching for a medical watch for my daughter(19yr old), needs to be stylish, include GPS, emergency communication, pretty much everything listed above with the GPS. The only thing I have found is the one that can be a lanyard or watch and it’s too big. Any ideas??

    • says

      Nothing stylish yet Daniell… Sounds like we all may be waiting for the iWatch (myself included). You might check out the Galaxy Gear android watch. Perhaps there’s an app one could add to handle the medical alert functionality. I’ll see if Amie and her team can do a piece on future “wearable” devices. From what I’ve seen, everything is quite clunky right now.

  4. says

    Amazingly enough, you have not mentioned that the device should be GPS enabled. If the wearer goes 500′ away from the station with most devices, they no longer work because they are tied to the home base only. How confining is that? People can fall or need help farther away from home than 500′ or so. As the technology exists, I think it should be discussed as what is ideal.

    • says

      Totally agree Carolyn- While this discussion was centered around the in-home medical alert devices which haven’t carried GPS location services (traditionally), it is a wish list and GPS should be on the wish list… no doubt about it!!

      As these form factors get better and better, perhaps we’ll have small pendants that pack in all of the things we want including GPS. The mobile GPS enabled medical alert devices are still bigger than they need to be.

  5. Nance Nicholls says

    Really appreciate your articles. Maybe this has been addressed previously but I would like to know if there is any medical alert system that doesn’t rely on a land line connection. I seriously have been thinking about deleting the land line due to the expense and just use the cell phone. It would be nice if there was a reliable system tha didn’t require it.

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