Technology

If you have an elderly loved one who lives alone, a wearable medical alert device can be a lifesaver – literally. If you’re thinking about picking out a device for a loved one, make sure you discuss it with them. Determine all of their needs and wants. For a system to be effective, it has to be comfortable, practical, and fit their lifestyle and medical needs. There are a lot of devices on the market now, with a variety of styles and features. Here are a few key things to consider as you choose the right medical alert device for you and your loved one.

Do You Need a Monitored System?

A monitored system connects the wearer to a real person at a response center. It can also call emergency services. A non-monitored system only calls pre-programmed numbers, like numbers for caregivers, neighbors, family, or emergency services when activated. A monitored system will require a subscription fee, whereas a non-monitored system probably won’t. Monitoring subscription fees can cost from about $20 to $90 a month.

Do You Need a Home-Based or a Mobile System?

If your loved one is homebound, you may only need a home-based, or traditional, medical alert system. These systems consist of a wearable device and a base station, connected to a landline phone connection. The range for a home-based system is usually about 400 to 1400 feet from the base station, so if you’re purchasing for a larger home, make sure the range is sufficient. However, if your loved one travels outside the home, a mobile system might be better. Mobile systems run on a cellular connection, like a mobile phone, so they can work anywhere a cellular signal is available. They use GPS to locate the wearer in an emergency.

Does It Fit Their Health Needs?

Make sure your loved one’s health issues match the features of the device. If they have hearing loss, make sure you can set the device’s speaker volume high enough to hear. Also think about active devices versus passive devices. An active device requires the user to push a button in the case of an emergency, while a passive system can detect certain types of emergencies. For example, if your loved one doesn’t have the fine motor skills to put on a device or push a button, you might consider looking for a device with reliable fall detection technology. A device with this feature can automatically call emergency numbers; or it can connect to the response center if a fall is detected.

Will They Wear The Device?

If the device is unwieldy, uncomfortable, or unattractive, it might not get worn, and a device sitting on the bedside table isn’t helping anyone. Watch out for sharp edges that could be uncomfortable or scratch delicate skin. Make sure straps on wrist models are comfortable and don’t contain metals, like nickel, that the wearer might be allergic to. Most devices are either a pendant or a watch, so ask your loved one which type they are more likely to wear. Waterproof models are a good idea so they can be worn in the shower or while washing hands. According to the National Council on Aging Care, 80% of falls happen in the bathroom, so if a wearable device isn’t waterproof, your loved one might not be wearing it in this crucial area of the home.

Can You Return The Device?

As you shop, check the return policies and plan cancellation guidelines. Talk to a representative from the company and read the fine print to find out what the rules and restrictions are. If, after using the system for a few months, you decide it’s not a right fit for you and your family, you may need the ability to return the device or change the monitoring plan.


Not sure if you need to get one for your loved one? Here are some signs that it’s time.