Here at The Senior List, we know a lot about medical alert systems. Our aim is to make sure you’re fully informed and can make the very best choice for yourself or a loved one. There are lots of questions you might ask before buying a medical alert system. So to help you make a smart choice, we've answered the most frequently asked questions right here.
Please note that exact features vary from provider to provider, so always double check specs, features, and pricing before making a purchase.
Most Popular Questions About Medical Alert Systems
Medical Alert System Basics
Q) What is a medical alert system?
A) A medical alert system is a wireless button or pendant, wireless wall button, or smartwatch. These systems help seniors, people with disabilities, children, lone workers, and even athletes call for help if they become sick, have a fall or are experiencing an emergency.
There are two main types of medical alert systems: 1- Traditional in-home systems which consist of a base station containing a two-way speaker plus a wearable button or pendant, and 2- mobile/cellular alert systems that are worn out of the house.
Users simply press the button to be connected to a monitoring center, where they can talk to the trained and friendly staff. Monitoring center staff then assess the situation and contact caregivers or dispatch EMTs if needed.
Q) Who uses a medical alert system?
A) Medical alert systems are great for people of all ages, no matter what their health status. For seniors with health issues or those who are homebound, a medical alert device means help is always at hand. For more active seniors, wearing an alert device allows them to leave the home with confidence.
Q) What are the benefits of a medical alert system?
A) Users get peace of mind knowing that if they fall or are experiencing an emergency of any kind, help can be summoned in a matter of moments. This is vital, as receiving prompt treatment increases the likelihood of a solid recovery. Also, caregivers can rest easy knowing that if mom or dad is ill, someone will be there to help.
The added confidence of a medical alert system specifically helps seniors to remain active, which is crucial for their physical, mental, and emotional health. For seniors who suffer from chronic medical issues, an alert system is a wonderful tool that allows them to stay safe at home longer.
Q) What types of emergencies do medical alert systems work for?
A) Medical alerts work for any medical emergency that requires EMTs or a caregiver to respond to a loved one quickly. This includes slips, trips, falls, blackouts, cardiac events, strokes, or any medical issue that causes pain, distress or worry and needs immediate attention.
Q) What are some other reasons people might press the button?
A) People might press the button if they suddenly feel unsafe for fear of an intruder in or near their home. They might also press the button if they feel dizzy or frightened for any reason. No matter the cause, the trained personnel at the monitoring center has likely heard it before, so they won’t be angry or judgmental.
Q) Can’t I just use a cell phone?
A) Unlike cell phones, medical alert systems ensure you can alert someone right away – day or night. If you can’t speak once you press the button, or if you do not respond after a fall is detected (there are fall detection pendants), help will be sent immediately. Also, if you need help in a non-emergency situation, it’s difficult to know who to call. With a medical alert device, you can quickly get in touch with trained staff who know exactly how to provide help.
How Do Medical Alert Systems Work?
Q) Will 911 show up at my door if I push the button?
A) No. The call center staff will chat with you and decide on the best course of action. Whether that’s calling a caregiver, friend, neighbor, or sending out EMTs — they have your best interest and safety in mind. The only exception is if you press the button and are unable to speak. In which case, help will come. This is for your safety to ensure you receive the help you need.
Q) Who will show up when I push the button?
A) You can register caregivers, family, friends or neighbors as contacts with most medical alert providers. You can set a protocol for who they contact, and in what order, once you push the button. In the case of a life-threatening emergency, emergency personnel will be sent to your home.
Q) If I need emergency services, how do they get into my house?
A) Most companies offer a lockbox service. This is a simple wall-mounted box you put outside your house, with a house key-locked securely inside it. You set a PIN number and share it with your medical alert provider know. They’ll only share your PIN with EMTs and other first responders if they need to enter your home in an emergency, and if you are unable to let them in yourself.
Q) Will they know my medical history and medication list?
A)Many providers offer a Vial of Life or similar record-keeping system. This is a program that enables you to keep all of your medical information in one easy-to-find place, ready for EMTs to access if needed.
Q) What happens if I can’t speak?
A) The monitoring center staff must assume you are in need of urgent help, so they will dispatch EMTs to your address.
Q) What happens if I fall?
A) Many systems offer automatic fall detection. The wearable device will detect a fall and then immediately alerts the call center.
Q) What about false alarms?
A) Accidental button presses and fall detection false alarms happen from time to time. Monitoring center staff are well aware of this – so simply let them know it was a false alarm, and they will not take action.
Medical Alert System Equipment
Q) How easy is it to set up a medical alert system?
A) Most systems are designed to be very easy to use – simply plug in the power cord and phone line (if you are using a system that requires a landline), and you will be all set. If you’re having problems, your medical alert customer service team will be able to talk you through the process.
Q) Do I need a landline for an alert system to work?
A) Definitely not. Some systems use a landline, but there are also many in-home systems that work on a cellular network. You can also opt for a GPS mobile system if you need coverage outside your home.
Q) Can I wear the button in the shower?
A) As many falls happen in the bathroom, most medical alert buttons are water safe and many are fully waterproof. We strongly recommend checking to ensure your button is shower and bath safe, as the bathroom is a prime spot for slips and falls.
Q) Are medical alerts comfortable to wear?
A) Some seniors find the devices a little bulky or uncomfortable to start with, but for the most part, medical alerts are comfortable to wear. The pendants are generally quite small for in-home systems. Mobile systems may be a little bulkier. If this is a concern, you might want to look into medical alert watches, which are a little pricier, but they look and feel just like any other watch.
Q) What different ways can I wear my medical alert?
A) Most in-home systems have buttons that can be worn as a pendant or on a wristband. In fact, mobile alerts can be worn in several ways, depending on the provider. We’ve seen ones that can be worn on a lanyard, on a wristband, clipped to a belt, or hung on a keychain.
Q) Can I talk through the button on an in-home system?
A) No – the speaker and microphone are located in the base station. However, you should be able to talk via the base station even if you’re not in the same room. Mobile medical alert systems have two-way speakers that allow you to communicate with the monitoring center without needing to be near a base station. And remember, even if you cannot speak, the monitoring center will still send help.
Q) How far from the base station can I use the button?
A) This varies between providers and the equipment they offer, but the usual range is somewhere from 600ft to 1300ft.
Q) What about if I’m in the garden and need help?
A) We recommend testing the range on a medical alert system as soon as you receive it to make sure you know where coverage ends. Ideally, an alert system should cover you in the garden, on the porch, at the mailbox, and up in the attic in the basement.
Q) What happens if I forget to wear the button?
A) If you’re not wearing your button but you happen to be near the base station, you can use the base station buttons to call for help.
Most companies also offer wall-mounted buttons (some of which are voice-activated) that you can mount around your home. This means that even if you're not wearing your button, you can still call for help. Of course, we recommend wearing your button all the time, but it’s only natural to forget occasionally, and wall-mounted buttons are a great backup.
Q) How long does the button battery last?
A) Most button batteries last around five years.
Q) What if there’s a power outage at home?
A) Most base stations have a backup battery life of around 30 hours, so even if the power goes out you can still get help if needed.
Q) How do I know my medical alert system is working?
A) We recommend testing your medical alert system by pressing the button once a month. You’re not bothering the people at the call center – they’re used to test calls and will be happy to reassure you that your system is working.
Mobile (Cellular) Medical Alert Systems
Q) How do mobile or cellular medical alerts work?
A) Mobile medical alert systems are wireless units that connect with the cellular signals around you. Fortunately, no additional cellular fees are required. Some mobile units utilize GPS to track your device so they can send help to your location if necessary.
Q) Do I still need to wear a button?
A) It depends on the alert. Some have a small mobile device you carry with you, plus a wearable button. Others are fully integrated with the button, device, and speaker – all in one.
Q) Are mobile alerts systems waterproof?
A) Many are rainproof, but not waterproof enough to wear in the shower or bath. The separate buttons are often water safe. Be sure to double-check before purchasing.
Q) Do I need cellphone service?
A) No, most mobile medical alerts run on either the Verizon or AT&T network and will operate wherever there is coverage. Cellular coverage is included in the price, so you don’t need a separate contract.
Q) How do I charge a mobile alert?
A) Simply pop it in the charging cradle (check your exact model for how long to leave it on charge).
Q) How long does the battery last?
A) Depending on the model, the battery will last anywhere from 24 hours up to 30 days per charge.
Other Medical Alert System Features
Q) Can I add my spouse?
A) Some systems let you add a spouse for free or a very low fee – ask when you are shopping around.
Q) Do I get medication reminders or other health-related support?
A) Some systems offer medication reminders, activity tracking, wellness calls, or even live chat with trained doctors or nurses. Check the company's website to find out more, or check out our individual medical alert reviews to learn more about each system.
Caregiver Support on Medical Alert Systems
Q) Do caregivers know when the button is pressed?
A) Many systems offer caregiver tracking options that let caregivers see the device usage, and/or receive alerts when the button is pressed.
Q) Can caregivers locate mobile devices?
A) Many systems allow this, yes.
Q) Does the monitoring center contact caregivers if something is wrong?
A) If you set up a caregiver as someone to contact when the button is pressed, the call center will happily get in touch with them.
Q) How else do medical alert systems help caregivers keep track of a loved one?
A) Some systems offer activity and health monitoring to help caregivers keep track of their loved ones in a non-intrusive way that provides peace of mind for both parties.
Medical Alert System Pricing and Contracts
Q) How much do medical alert systems cost?
A) Most alert systems start at around $19.99 monthly for a basic in-home system and go up to about $45/mo. for a quality mobile system.
Q) Will I be tied into a long term contract?
A) We hope not. Unfortunately, some providers do try to lock customers into long term contracts. We never recommend companies that follow this practice. So if you’re concerned about being tied to a multi-year contract, our recommended medical alert devices are a safe bet.
Q) What if I need to cancel?
A) We recommend checking out the cancellation policy before you buy. In many cases, you’ll simply return the equipment in good working order and your account will be canceled. We don’t recommend companies that make you pay outrageous cancellation fees, and we suggest checking if a provider does so, before purchase.
Q) Will my monthly cost increase over time?
A) You want to know what you’re paying up front, with no surprises. We recommend asking upfront about a price lock guarantee.
Q) Can I try it out first?
A) Ask about a free trial – as some companies offer them. If the one you want doesn’t offer a free trial, you can sign up for a monthly plan (check that it has an easy out policy) and then simply return it at the end of the first month if it doesn’t suit you.
Q) What if my equipment gets damaged?
A) Accidents happen. Many providers offer insurance for a small additional fee. You can get replacement base stations, mobile units or buttons if something happens. Again, ask before purchasing.
Choosing a medical alert system is a big decision. We hope these frequently asked questions about medical alert systems have answered your questions. For more help with choosing the best medical alert device for you, check out our reviews to find the right fit.