For older adults with mobility issues or chronic medical conditions, medical alert systems or personal emergency response systems (PERS) can increase independence, safety, and peace of mind. But despite their life-saving capabilities, millions of seniors have yet to embrace this technology. High costs, misconceptions, and even embarrassment prevent many older Americans from using medical alert systems.
To shed light on this issue, SeniorLiving researchers conducted their second comprehensive study on medical alert systems, including 500 older Americans aged 65 and above and 750 individuals with parents in the same age group. Here are some key findings from the research:
About 1 in 10 Americans aged 65 or older use medical alert systems. The devices are more popular among adults aged 75 or older.
1 in 4 older Americans who don’t use a medical alert system say it’s because of their cost.
1 in 3 people aged 65+ in our study have fallen, and 38 percent needed assistance from family, friends, or paramedics to get back up.
17% of those who’d fallen had to wait over an hour for help, and 16% sustained injuries that required medical care.
Approximately 39% of adult children with parents aged 65 or older will likely buy a medical alert system for their parents in the next year. In contrast, only 6% of adults aged 65 and older expressed a high likelihood of purchasing such a device for themselves in the coming year.
1 in 10 older adults relies on medical alert systems
A medical alert system is a protective device that connects a user to emergency personnel when attention is required. Medical alert systems or (PERS, are most commonly worn by older or disabled individuals who may need to summon help following a fall or other life-threatening occurrence.
Our recent research found that approximately 1 in 10 individuals aged 65 or older rely on medical alert systems.
As the aging U.S. population grows, the adoption of medical alert systems will continue to play a vital role in ensuring the well-being of older adults, providing them and their families with peace of mind knowing that help is just a button press away.
Here are the top five reasons people in our study chose to use a medical alert system:
Emergency assistance: Quick access to emergency help during health crises or accidents was a primary motivator.
Age-related concerns: Aging-related worries, including living alone, poor balance, and overall safety, influenced device adoption.
Health monitoring: Regular monitoring and prompt response to health disturbances were emphasized by many respondents.
Recommendation or accompanying devices: Some users received recommendations or obtained devices bundled with other services, like an Apple Watch or insurance plans.
Living alone: The sense of security and safety, especially when living alone or experiencing health symptoms like dizziness, was a significant factor.
What’s perhaps more significant are the reasons why older Americans – many of whom could very well benefit from a medical alert system – still choose not to have one.
You mentioned that you don't have a medical alert system. Why is that? Select all reasons that apply.
Percent of older adults without medical alert systems
No health concerns
Live with others / not often alone
Don't feel old enough
Worried about false alarms
The devices are ugly / don't look good
Cost was a key deterrent for many older adults. One in four non-users has not purchased medical alert systems due to financial constraints. Notably, these devices are not always covered by insurance, raising questions about accessibility and resources for those in need.
Medical alert systems range in price from $19.99 to $49.95 a month. Often, these prices do not include activation fees, equipment costs, and add-ons such as fall detection.
Though many cannot afford these devices independently, there are ways to obtain free or reduced-cost medical alert systems. Those with certain Medical Advantage plans, long-term care insurance coverage, Medicaid waivers, or Veterans’ Affairs benefits may be eligible for financial assistance or free systems.
1 in 3 older adults has had an accidental fall
Our research revealed that the primary reason that seniors choose not to have a medical alert system is because they don’t have any underlying health concerns, and therefore do not see the need.
However, as we all know, accidents happen, even to those of us in the best of health. In fact, one in three seniors in our study said they’d had an accidental fall in the last year.
For older adults, falls can be life-threatening: 3 million people over 65 seek treatment in emergency care after falling each year, and one in five of those cases results in a severe injury (broken bones or head trauma). According to the CDC, falls are the primary cause of traumatic brain injuries and are responsible for 95 percent of the 300,000 hip fractures that American emergency services treat each year.
The study revealed that 38 percent of participants who experienced accidental falls required assistance from family, friends, or emergency personnel to get back up. Significantly, 17 percent of those who fell had to wait over an hour before getting help. Additionally, 16 percent of individuals who experienced falls had to seek treatment at the hospital or visit emergency services, highlighting the severity of some fall-related incidents.
These findings underscore the importance of addressing fall prevention measures and ensuring timely responses to enhance the overall well-being of individuals vulnerable to accidental falls.
Most popular medical alert systems
Among the standard medical alert systems users in our study, Lifeline was the most popular choice among our study's standard medical alert systems users. It’s one of the easiest-to-use systems on the market, with features such as voice extension, medication dispensers, GPS tracking, and fall detection. Its month-to-month pricing model is straightforward which may appeal to many users.
Medical Alert was another favorite among users in our study. This company is one of the largest medical alert providers in the country. In addition to its traditional in-home alert system, Medical Alert has also developed a powerful mobile app that allows users and their caregivers to manage the system.
Here is the ranking of respondents' most commonly used medical alert systems:
While not a medical device in and of itself, the Apple Watch has cut into the medical alert system market. Since it can make phone calls, send texts, and detect falls in some cases, it has some features in common with medical alert systems. More than half of older adults who use a medical alert system reported using their Apple Watch for this purpose.
If considering using a smartwatch as a medical alert device, carefully research the specific model's features and limitations. It's also essential to have a backup plan in case of technical issues, low battery, or any other unforeseen circumstances. If you have specific medical needs or concerns, you should consult your doctor to determine the most appropriate device for your situation. Traditional medical alert devices may still be the most reliable choice for many individuals who require constant monitoring and immediate emergency assistance.
Top decision-making factors for medical alert system purchases
Medical alert systems have many helpful features, so it can be difficult for people to choose the most appropriate for their situation. Users in our study prioritized specific features, especially regarding personal safety.
When selecting your medical alert system, which of the following was most important to you? Select up to three.
Percent of users
Nearly 30 percent identified 24/7 monitoring as a key feature, emphasizing the significance of continuous surveillance for user safety. Fall detection closely followed, with 24 percent of users considering it an essential element. This highlights the demand for devices that automatically detect and respond to falls. GPS functionality was also very popular, indicating a substantial interest in location tracking for added security and peace of mind. Battery life held importance for 18 percent of respondents, underlining the practical consideration of device longevity.
Children of older adults are key customers for medical alert systems
While the majority of participants in our study independently chose their medical alert systems, caregivers, children, and spouses play pivotal roles in this selection process. Their involvement is crucial, given their roles as primary caregivers and support systems for the individuals in question.
Who had the most input when picking out your medical alert system?
Percent of users
A caregiver or doctor
My child or children
Family members in particular contribute to the decision-making process by considering the specific needs and safety concerns of their loved ones, ensuring that the selected device aligns with the user's lifestyle and potential risks. Additionally, caregivers and family members may play an active role in setting up and maintaining the device, fostering a collaborative approach to enhance the overall effectiveness of the medical alert system.
According to our study, many older adults remain unlikely to purchase a medical alert system within the next 12 months. In contrast, children of older adults demonstrate a higher likelihood of buying these devices for their parents, primarily motivated by genuine concerns for their parents' safety and a proactive approach to addressing potential health risks.
The children's role as caregivers and their emotional connection to their parents may drive them to take preventive measures, recognizing the value of a medical alert device in providing immediate assistance in case of emergencies, ultimately promoting the well-being of their aging loved ones.
For children of older parents, it’s important to be sensitive when bringing up the topic of medical alert devices. Here are a few tips for navigating the conversation:
Choose the right moment: Approach the conversation at a time when your loved ones are receptive and open to discussions about their well-being.
Involve your parents in the decision: Allow your parent to share their preferences and priorities regarding system features. A collaborative approach fosters a sense of control and autonomy, which is crucial for their empowerment.
Highlight the benefits: Emphasize the life-saving potential and the peace of mind of having a medical alert device. Share success stories of other older people who have benefited from using medical alert systems. Knowing that others have experienced positive outcomes can provide reassurance and motivation for your parents to consider using the devices.
Discuss any concerns: Have an open and honest conversation about their concerns and reservations. Address any misconceptions they may have and provide reassurance. Understanding their fears allows you to tailor information to alleviate specific worries.
Respect their decision: Ultimately, respect the users’ decisions. If the person considering a medical alert system hesitates or chooses not to adopt the device, understand their perspective. Continue to offer support and revisit the conversation periodically, allowing them to make decisions at their own pace.
The landscape of medical alert devices is evolving, with technology playing a crucial role in ensuring the safety of older adults. Even for those with no existing health concerns, accidental falls are a common risk, the injury from which can be easily mitigated by wearing a medical alert device. As we navigate this space, understanding the reasons behind adoption and non-adoption is crucial for improving accessibility and encouraging informed decision-making. It is equally important to continue these discussions with older adults and their children and caregivers.
In October 2023, researchers at TheSeniorList.com conducted two online polls to understand the market for medical alert systems. First, they launched a study of 516 Americans aged 65 or older to determine how many people use or are considering medical alert systems. 50% were men and 50% were women. Next, they conducted a poll of 750 adults who had a parent aged 65 or older to understand their attitudes and concerns about their parent’s safety. Individuals who participated in the study of adults aged 65+ were barred from participation in the second study, which focused on the children of older adults.
Amie has been writing about senior care products and services for the last decade. She is particularly passionate about new technologies that help improve the quality of life for seniors and their families. Seeing her parents and grandparents age made Amie ask herself, “Would this be good enough for my loved ones?” In her spare time, Amie enjoys outdoor adventures and spontaneous road trips. Learn more about Amie here