Medical Alert Systems for Seniors: Types and Benefits


A medical alert system is a device that seniors wear that allows them to summon help in the event of an emergency. This could be a friend or family member, but it is usually 911. Medical alert systems can give seniors the peace of mind knowing that they can get help if they need it.

There are different types of medical alert systems to choose from. Some systems are GPS enabled so that family members can track the senior’s whereabouts. Other systems come with a base station that stays in the home and will summon help if the senior falls or has an emergency. To help you decide which type of system is right for your loved one, we’ve put together a list of the different types of medical alert systems and their benefits.

What Are Medical Alert Systems and What Are Their Features?

what are medical alert systems

Medical alert systems typically consist of a base unit, which is connected to a phone line, and a wearable device, such as a bracelet or pendant. In the event of an emergency, the user can activate the device, which will send a signal to the base unit. The base unit will then place a call to a monitoring center, where trained personnel will provide assistance. 

In some cases, the monitoring center will be able to call 911 on the user’s behalf. GPS medical alert systems work similarly, but they use GPS technology to track the user’s location and summon help if necessary.

Monitored vs. Unmonitored Systems

Medical alert systems can be either monitored or unmonitored. Monitored systems are connected to a call center, where trained personnel will provide assistance in the event of an emergency. Unmonitored systems are not connected to a call center and will typically just place a call to a predetermined list of phone numbers (family members and neighbors). Benefits of monitored systems include:

  • Trained personnel are available 24 hours a day to provide assistance
  • Monitoring center will call 911 if necessary
  • Peace of mind knowing that someone is always there to help

GPS vs. Non-GPS Systems

As we mentioned, medical alert systems can either be GPS enabled or non-GPS. GPS systems use satellite technology to track the user’s location and summon help if necessary. Without a GPS-enabled system, the user will have to provide their location to the dispatcher when they place the call. This can be difficult, especially if the user is unable to speak. GPS systems can also be used to track wanderlust seniors who are prone to getting lost. Benefits of GPS systems include:

  • The ability to track the senior’s location
  • The ability to summon help to the right location if the senior is unable to speak
  • The ability to find a senior who has wandered off

Automatic Fall Detection

On some medical alert devices, automatic fall detection is an available feature. With this feature, the device will automatically detect a fall followed by a period of no movement. These detectors use accelerometers to detect falls. An accelerometer monitors how quickly the device is moving in different directions. A swift forward movement followed by a sudden stop typically indicates a fall. After a fall is detected, the device will send a signal to the base unit, which will then place a call to the monitoring center. The dispatcher will then provide assistance.

Medical alert devices that use accelerometers also often have a barometric pressure sensor, a gyroscope, or a geomagnetic sensor. These sensors can help to reduce false alarms by differentiating between a fall and other activities, such as riding in a car. One of the main limitations to this kind of device is that it can only detect rapid falls, such as falling down stairs. It cannot detect slow, gradual falls, such as those that might occur when a senior gets out of bed or off the couch.

Different Types of Medical Alert Systems

Now that we've looked at some of the key features of medical alert systems, let's take a look at the different types of systems that are available.

In-Home Medical Alert Systems

An in-home alert system is made up of a base unit, pushable buttons, and a wearable device. The base unit stays in one spot. Usually, it is plugged into a phone line and has a power cord that plugs into an outlet. Buttons are placed throughout the home in areas where the user spends the most time. These buttons are usually placed on a table or countertop and can be reached easily in the event of an emergency. They will also be placed in high-risk areas, such as the bathroom or near the stairs.

The wearable device is usually a bracelet or pendant that seniors can wear at all times. In the event of an emergency, the user can push a button on the base unit or wearable device, which will send a signal to the base unit. The base unit will then place a call to the monitoring center. In-home medical alert systems are a good option for seniors who want the peace of mind that comes with knowing they can get help in an emergency, without having to wear a device all the time.

Portable Medical Alert Systems

A mobile medical alert system is similar to an in-home system, but it does not require a base unit. Instead, it uses a cellular connection to send a signal to the monitoring center. Some companies offer portable systems that come with a base unit that users can carry with them in their pocket. Others build speakers and microphones into the wearable device itself.

Portable systems are a good option for seniors who want the freedom to move around without being tethered to a base unit. They are also a good option for those who travel frequently.

Landline Medical Alert Systems

A landline medical alert system is a specific type of in-home system that uses a landline phone connection to send a signal to the monitoring center. Landline systems are not as common as they once were, since many people have gotten rid of their landlines in favor of cell phones. Some companies offer hybrid systems that use both cellular and landline connections. This can provide an extra layer of protection since the system will still work even if the power goes out or the cellular network is down.

In-Home vs. Portable Alert Systems: Which Is Better?

When deciding which type of system is right for you, there are a few things to consider:

  • Lifestyle: If you are active and travel frequently, a portable system might be a better option. If you are mostly homebound, an in-home system will probably suffice.
  • Cost: In-home systems generally cost more than portable systems because they require special configurations.
  • Ease of use: In-home systems are usually harder to set up and use than portable systems.

Some seniors choose to have both—an in-home system for when they are at home and a portable system for when they are out and about. This can provide the best of both worlds, giving seniors the peace of mind that comes with knowing they can get help no matter where they are.

Can You Use Another Device to Call 911?

Smartphones can call 911 without being unlocked and they almost always have GPS functionality turned on. So, why not just use a smartphone as a medical alert system? Picking up a phone and dialing 911 is not always easy, especially if the user is unable to speak. And, if the phone is lost or stolen, the GPS functionality will not work unless the phone is connected to a cellular network.

Smart home devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home can respond to voice commands, but they cannot place a call to 911. A medical alert system is a much more reliable way to ensure that help will be summoned in the event of an emergency.

Do You Need a Landline to Use a Medical Alert System?

A landline is not required to use a medical alert system. However, a landline telephone connection is the most reliable option for a medical alert system. If you have a wireless or VoIP phone service, your medical alert system will work as long as there is power and your router is connected to the Internet.

In the event of a power outage or Internet service interruption, your medical alert system will not work. A landline phone does not rely on electricity or an Internet connection, so it will still work during a power outage. Additionally, a landline telephone has better sound quality than a VoIP phone, so it is the best option for someone with hearing loss. Most emergency response devices connect to cellular data, so using a landline would only be worth it if you lived in a rural area with spotty coverage.

Endnote

Medical alert systems give seniors the peace of mind that comes with knowing they can get help at the push of a button. There are a variety of medical alert systems on the market, so it is important to choose one that meets your specific needs. Be sure to consider costs, ease of use, and lifestyle when deciding between an in-home and portable system.


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