Should you buy a Medical Alert device*? Which one? Why?
(*also called Personal emergency response systems, or PERS)
Pat McNees's roundup of tips from experts.
Questions to ask yourself before you buy.
Are you getting this device for a 911-type emergency, or for less-than-911 problems?
Are you getting it for activities outside the home or inside or both?
Where are you more likely to fall and hurt yourself, and what device would help most if you fall when you are alone?
Would you prefer a watch-like device worn on the wrist, a neck pendant, or a device on the bedside table (and/or in the bathroom).
Will re-charging be an issue?
Which are you most likely to have access to in an unexpected fall?
3 Key Questions to Answer (Consumer Reports)
1. Do You Want a Home-Based or Mobile System?
2. Should Your System Be Monitored or Not?
3. Should You Add a Fall-Detection Feature?
The Consumer Checkbook article below presents issues you should consider, and I quote them liberally.
Bottom line: "Our researchers tested several models and found that most medical alert device makers' products delayed emergency response and provided less-than-precise location data when we hit the alarm button. We could recommend only one company: GreatCall [renamed Lively Mobile], because it offers wearable devices that can connect its customers directly to 911 instead of a company-run call center. Wearable devices like Apple Watch also offer good options for those who want a panic button at hand that can actually get them help in a hurry [and that they are likely to be wearing during the emergency].
Scroll down for links to results on other devices tested.
I found Tech-Enhanced Life's explanations and their pro's and con's of various devices for different situations very helpful. You might want to read the broad comments below that, taken from Consumer Checkbook, for general principles.
Tech-Enhanced Life's excellent decision-helping modules are thorough and practical in their evaluations for different needs.
• Medical Alert Systems: Selection Guide (drawing on testing-based observations)
---Learning Module Tutorial on what a medical alert system is.
---Selection Tool Choose the Best Medical Alert System for YOU. Turn Desired Features into a list of Actual Products.
---Best of Breed recommendations The result of hands-on, detailed testing in which they compare medical alert systems with similar features.
---Just Tell Me What to Buy (in which they make specific product recommendations for each of several specific personas, for people who don't want detailed analysis)
---Medical Alert Reviews Individual reviews of a heckuva lot of specific devices, listed in alphabetical order.
---Smartwatch as Medical Alert?
• Other Useful Products recommended by the Tech-enhanced Life community
A broad summary of what to consider, from Consumer Checkbook:
• Medical Alert Devices (Jeff Blyskal, Consumer Checkbook, Nov. 2018) "We hit the panic button—290 times!—to test the value of these gadgets. These devices do supply a panic button right at hand—on a wrist or neck pendant, or on the bedside table as it recharges overnight. If you’re worried that you might get injured or in a situation where you can’t reach a phone to dial 911, they can provide that support—although with most devices getting help will take more time than calling 911 directly.... "Most alert devices we studied delay your ambulance by inserting typically lesser-trained agents between you and the 911 pros...
"On top of that, if you need a 911-type service and go through a medical alert device, your call will be processed after other incoming 911 calls." "Our researchers tested several models and found that most medical alert device makers’ products delayed emergency response and provided less-than-precise location data when we hit the alarm button. We could recommend only one company: GreatCall, because it offers wearable devices that can connect its customers directly to 911 instead of a company-run call center. Wearable devices like Apple Watch also offer good options for those who want a panic button at hand that can actually get them help in a hurry."
"Many devices can be equipped with optional fall-detection features that automatically call their monitoring companies if you take a tumble (or the device falsely senses a fall, which happened often with the units we tested). But a pretty narrow group of seniors has these needs."
"On the other hand, medical alert devices are more helpful to callers who have a less-than-911 problem. 'Nine times out of 10, when people press our button, they don’t necessarily need 911. They want us to call someone else,' such as a friend or relative...So for $130 to $625 for the first year (price of device and monthly monitoring fees), you can get a device that works kind of like a cell phone but is far easier to operate—after all, there’s usually just one button to deal with." Just remember: You are not reaching someone with 911-type experience.
Finally: "Among the 911 community, medical alert devices are notorious for false alarms and for providing inadequate location information, both of which needlessly tie up 911 staff and sending EMS crews on wild goose chases, delaying responses to real emergencies....In our tests, medical alert companies often had trouble determining where our calls were coming from—exactly or even within a reasonable margin of error." This is a problem if the caller is incapacitated, can't talk, or doesn't know exactly where s/he is.
Think too about how willing you will be to wear a wearable device most of the time, and whether re-charging will be a big problem.
• Consumer Reports Survey of Best Medical Alert Systems (10-13-20) CR's exclusive survey compares 7 major brands. These systems can call for emergency help with the press of a button. To help consumers sort through all the available information, CR surveyed 1,869 Consumer Reports members, who rated their satisfaction with seven different medical alert device brands. In addition to sharing details about their devices’ features, members rated their satisfaction on variables.
Variables (besides price, customer service, and response speed) include:
Portable call button or in-home call button.
Monitored vs. unmonitored
Cell vs. landline service
Basic service vs. additional monthly service fees
How to Choose a Medical Alert System (Consumer Reports, 10-19-20)
Additional safety measures and devices:
• Preventing falls + learning how to fall + how to get up (Pat McNees roundup of tips)
• 24/7 Wandering Support for a Safe Return (The Alzheimer’s Association, in collaboration with MedicAlert) A MedicAlert membership plan with Wandering Support helps first responders and families reconnect with individuals living with dementia who experience a medical emergency or have wandered.
• Medical conditions that require a Medical ID (American Medical ID)
• Medical Identification Tags (Wikipedia, which includes a list of conditions or prescriptions warranting the wearing of such a tag.) A medical identification tag is a small emblem or tag worn on a bracelet, neck chain, or on the clothing bearing a message that the wearer has an important medical condition that might require immediate attention. The tag is often made out of stainless steel or sterling silver. The intention is to alert a paramedic, physician, emergency department personnel or other first responders (emergency medical services, community first responder, Emergency medical responder) of the condition even if the wearer is not conscious enough, old enough, or too injured to explain. A wallet card with the same information may be used instead of or along with a tag, and a stick-on medical ID tag may be added or used alone.
• How To Get A Medical Alert Bracelet For Free (Paying for Senior Care) A medical alert bracelet lets medical and emergency personnel know that a person has a medical condition that should be considered in an emergency. The issue could be severe allergies, diabetes, cardiac problems or one of a long list of other conditions. First responders are trained to look for a medical alert bracelet after they check vital signs, such as breathing and pulse. In some emergency situations, having a medical alert bracelet can mean the difference between life and death.
• How Can I Get a Medical Alert System for Free? (Caring.com, (800) 973-1540). Check with your health insurance company or read up at this site on Medicare, Medicaid, benefits for veterans, and senior assistance agencies.