Best Medical Alert Smartwatches of 2019 - Reviews of the latest in smartwatches for seniors.
Medical alert smartwatches are a brand new option for seniors seeking a discreet medical alert system. In fact, it's such a new product, there are only two medical alert smartwatches on the market – Medical Guardian Freedom Guardian and MobileHelp Smart. I tested and evaluated each smartwatch for a week. Both are very impressive, but for different reasons. While both smartwatches are mobile GPS medical alert systems, the Freedom Guardian is easier to use but the Smart has a lot more functional value with standard smartwatch features like health and fitness tracking.
In addition to these new medical alert systems, Apple released the Watch 4 in September. With its Emergency SOS app and the addition of fall detection sensors, the Apple Watch 4 achieves the same purpose of a medical alert smartwatch, but without the cost of a subscription. As such, it needs some consideration. And the ECG heart-monitoring sensors it has could have significant impacts on the future of medical alert technology and senior-care.
Medical Guardian Freedom Guardian
Medical Guardian's Freedom Guardian is the best-designed smartwatch for seniors. It features large text, easy to navigate interface and doesn't require a smartphone.
The MobileHelp Smart is best for tech-adept seniors looking for a discreet medical alert system. The versatility of features provides great value but requires some experience with smartphones.
Apple Watch 4
The Apple Watch 4 is obviously not designed for seniors, but it checks all the boxes to be an effective mobile medical alert system. And the fall detection sensor is the best I've tested.
Easiest to Use
The Medical Guardian Freedom is perhaps the best designed medical alert smartwatch for seniors right now.
The Medical Guardian Freedom is perhaps the best designed medical alert smartwatch for seniors right now. The simplicity of the interface and the features make it a medical alert smartwatch most seniors, regardless of their technical experience level, can use effectively. Your loved one doesn't even need a smartphone to use it, as it's a standalone cellular device. It doesn't need to sync-up with a smartphone. And the interface is designed to be simple and easy to navigate. The most technically difficult feature of the Freedom Guardian is the touchscreen, which tends to be a bit too sensitive.
The watch connects directly with the cellular network when you set it up. You press the red button to call for help or you can press the help button on the touchscreen and it calls Medical Guardian's emergency response center, which had one of the fastest response times and the best emergency response call quality in my tests for medical alert services.
The speaker is louder and clearer than you'd expect from a watch, and this matters because it means your loved one can better communicate with emergency operators. In fact, the quality of the communication rivals the best mobile medical alert devices on the market, as does the $45 per month price. However, the overall value is much higher because you're get loads of additional features. For example, the watch syncs with an app for caretakers and family, allowing you to monitor your loved one's health and activity. You can get notifications if they call for help when the battery's low and their GPS coordinates. You can also send them text messages, activity alerts to remind them to go for a walk or take their medication. Plus, they can send recorded messages to you.
Best for Tech-Adept Seniors
The MobileHelp Smart was the first medical alert smartwatch to reach the market, and it is impressive. For starters, the watch is made by Samsung, though it has a customized operating system.
The MobileHelp Smart was the first medical alert smartwatch to reach the market, and it is impressive. For starters, the watch is made by Samsung, though it has a customized operating system, but this means it has the same features of the Samsung Galaxy Watch, including the heart monitor and comprehensive fitness tracking. When combined with the medical alert system features, it becomes one of the most impressive medical alert systems on the market. Your aging loved one can track their health, maintain and improve their activity levels and receive help when needed.
The Smart is a standalone smartwatch – it connects directly to the cellular network and doesn't need to be synced to smartphone or a phone number. With this comes the benefits of a mobile GPS systems, because you can go anywhere with a cellular signal and still call for help. And the quality of the speaker on this watch rivals the best mobile systems I've tested, and the clarity of the speaker matters. Many seniors suffer from hearing loss, so the clarity of the communication between them and an emergency responder is very important.
The versatility of the Smart is also one of the downsides. Due to the extensive list of features, the interface has a significant learning curve, and this could be a turn-off to seniors who haven't been quick to embrace new technology. It's not difficult to get lost in the interface. In addition, while the display is very big, the text is not. That said, this watch is very stylish. Nobody is going to confuse this watch with a medical alert system. The large, round display and the diver's bezel are both in line with current fashion trends.
Best Fall-Detection Sensor
The Apple Watch 4 has all the features and performance of a medical alert smartwatch, but with the added advantage of having no monthly subscription and calling 911 directly instead of an emergency response call center. As such, it's an option worth considering, especially if your loved one already uses an iPhone.
The Apple Watch 4 has all the features and performance of a medical alert smartwatch, but with the added advantage of having no monthly subscription and calling 911 directly instead of an emergency response call center. As such, it's an option worth considering, especially if your loved one already uses an iPhone. Don't be fooled by the high price tag, the $400 is more affordable than even the most affordable medical alert systems. That said, while it has fall detection and other great features designed to help seniors age in place longer, the Apple Watch 4 is clearly not designed specifically for seniors and requires a significant degree of technical experience to use effectively.
With the Emergency SOS app, native to the watch and the iPhone, you can call for help by holding the side button. The function is not different from a standard mobile system – you press a button when you need help and a call is placed. The difference is instead of calling an emergency response center, who evaluates the situation and calls your local 911 for you, the Emergency SOS app calls 911 directly. During the call, your GPS coordinates are sent to the dispatcher, with continual updates. Your medical profile, which includes your medications, health issues, blood-type and more, are also sent to the dispatcher. Once the call ends, your emergency contacts are sent a text to notify them of the emergency.
When you combine the Emergency SOS feature with fall detection, you have one of the best mobile medical alert systems currently on the market. Medical alert services would be smart to follow the Apple Watch 4's lead with concern to the technology and the process. Not only does it detect falls accurately without causing false alerts (I could not get the watch to detect a false fall), but it includes an easy cancel option and an alarm to alert people nearby. To put it simply, the fall detection sensor on the Apple Watch 4 is the best fall detection I've tested to day.
Best for Style
I can't really talk about Apple phones and smartwatches without also looking at what Samsung has to offer. As such, I also took a look at the Samsung Galaxy Watch in the same context as the Apple Watch 4 as a potential medical alert smartwatch. The best reason to buy a Galaxy smartwatch is the versatility of styles. The Apple Watch 4 is very limited in terms of size, style and cost. However, the Samsung Galaxy smartwatches can cost as low as $60 and as high as $500, depending on the model. Since Android is an open-source operating system, you can even find some Samsung smartwatches customized specifically for seniors, with larger text and simpler interfaces. The MobileHelp Smart is a Samsung smartwatch, after all.
And like Apple's Emergency SOS app, the Galaxy Watches also have an SOS app. However, it's not quite as functional. The app on the watch calls emergency contacts when activated. This can be an appealing alternative if you need help but aren't in an emergency. But since emergency contacts aren't guaranteed to answer, it doesn't provide the same kind of safety-net of a medical alert device. You can work around this by adding 911 as an emergency contact, but you have to do this manually.
Also, the Samsung Galaxy Watch doesn't have fall detection, yet. It has the necessary sensors though – an accelerometer and a gyroscope, used for the fitness tracking apps. Therefore, it's reasonable to expect fall detection to be included in a future update to the OS.
Why Trust Us
Medical alert smartwatches are a new category, not just for Top Ten Reviews but for the medical alert system industry. However, I've been a specialist on medical alert systems since 2015, having thoroughly tested systems from over 30 services for both Top Ten Reviews and Dignifyed, In addition, I've covered senior care technology and elderly care topics, writing a wide range of articles on fall prevention, geriatric depression, social isolation in seniors, dementia care tips and more.
My goal whenever I review and test senior-care products is to emphasize features and performance aimed towards helping seniors maintain independence and quality of life. After all, the purpose of senior care technology like these smartwatches is to help seniors to age-in-place for as long as possible. It might be too early to tell, but medical alert smartwatches could have the greatest potential for achieving this.
How Much Do Medical Alert Smartwatches Cost?
The Medical Guardian Freedom Guardian costs $99 but has a $45 per month subscription. This is comparable with Medical Guardian's mobile alert systems.
The MobileHelp Smart costs $350 but requires a $25 per month subscription to maintain the emergency response center service. The monthly fee is more affordable than most medical alert systems. Even in-home landline systems average $30 per month. And unlike the Freedom Guardian, the one-time $350 fee purchases the smartwatch. This means when you cancel your account, you don't have to return the watch. You can continue to use it as a standard Android Samsung smartwatch. And you can reactivate the emergency response center service at any time.
Starting at $400, the most affordable option is the Apple Watch 4, as strange as that seems when you just look at the numbers. The reason is there is no monthly subscription. When compared to the average subscription of various medical alert systems:
- At $30 per month, the most basic in-home landline systems become more expensive after about 13 months
- At $45 per month, most mobile GPS systems become more expensive after about nine months
Even the two other medical alert smartwatches become more expensive after a few months:
- Medical Guardian Freedom becomes more expensive after seven months
- MobileHelp Smart becomes more expensive after two months
How We Tested
Traditional medical alert systems have pretty much one function – to be a safety net when you need help. Medical alert smartwatches are different. While they certainly provide a safety-net for your loved one, they also give them something with potentially limitless functional value. They can use it for purposes unrelated to medical alert systems, such as fitness tracking, weather updates, appointment updates, medication reminders and more. As such, I spent a week using the features of these watches.
With this in mind, I evaluated the interfaces of the medical alert smartwatches for ease of navigation, readability and overall design. The text and buttons should be bigger and easier to read than a standard smartwatch.
Quality of Communication
Since you communicate with emergency responders through the watch, I evaluated the quality of the speaker. Each smartwatch I reviewed has surprisingly clear speakers with good volume. Considering how important communication is in an emergency, this is a significant consideration. That said, none were better or worse, though they were better than most mobile medical alert devices I've tested.
Reasons to Be Excited About Medical Alert Smartwatches?
Since medical alert smartwatches are new to the industry, this technology is largely unproven. There aren't many users yet to attest to their effectiveness. With only a few services offering them, the options are limited, and nobody is totally sure how this technology is going to shape the future of the medical alert industry. Personally, I see big potential, especially as the percentage of smartphone users among seniors continues to increase. Since these smartwatches focus on health and fitness tracking as much as emergency response needs, they can help your aging loved one maintain and even improve their quality of life and independence. Other medical alert systems simply call for help.
Many seniors resist medical alert systems for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common is the stigma associated with being seen wearing a medical alert pendant or mobile device. Since medical alert smartwatches don't look like anything other than a smartwatch, others aren’t likely to recognize one for a medical alert device.
Everyone is at a risk of falling, but the risk of falling for people over 65 is much greater than the rest of the population. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four seniors over 65 experiences a fall each year, with hip fractures and brain injuries being the most common injuries. The World Health Organization cites falling as the second leading cause of "accidental or unintentional deaths" worldwide. In the U.S., WHO suggests that between 20- and 30-percent of seniors who fall suffer a moderate to severe injury with women having the highest risk for falling, but with males having the higher fatality risk.
With these facts in mind, it's easy to understand the importance of having a fall detection sensor added to your medical alert system. Unfortunately, fall detection technology has not been very good since it reached the market in 2014. Over the last two years, I've thoroughly tested over 40 fall detection sensors from 31 different medical alert services, and I have found the technology to be either too sensitive or not effective. If it's too sensitive, it causes false alerts, and this causes seniors to avoid wearing the device. But if it's not sensitive enough, it doesn't detect real falls accurately. You can read the detailed results of my testing on my review of fall detection sensors.
However, the Apple Watch 4 is a game changer. It's the first fall detection sensor I've tested that hits the sweet spot of accurately detecting falls without causing false alerts. Much of this is due to the process rather than the technology. Like all fall detection sensors, the Apple Watch 4 relies on an accelerometer and gyroscope to measure g-forces. This allows it to detect when a body hits the ground. But rather than immediately calling 911, it only detects the fall if the person remains still after the fall. This eliminates false alerts caused by minor bumps. I even tested whether I could cause false alerts by falling and immediately getting back up. It never detected those falls.
In addition, when it does detect a fall, it gives the senior a minute to cancel the fall detection before calling 911. So even if it falsely detects a fall, you can easily cancel the call for help by simply tapping the watch face. None of the fall detection sensors I've tested have a cancel feature. Considering how often some of them falsely detect falls, the ability to cancel an emergency call is needed.
Finally, if your loved one doesn't cancel the detected fall, the watch emits an alarm as it calls 911. This helps alert anyone within earshot to their situation.
Overall, this is how fall detection should work. It's effective and accurate. It gives users the ability to cancel false alerts and it alerts people nearby.
More on Senior Care
Heart Monitoring & ECG
Once of the main advantages of a smartwatch is the heart monitoring sensors, and the Apple Watch 4 takes this to new levels. Not only is the heart rate monitoring app very accurate, it can alert you when your heart rate is below or above a certain level. This can help alert your loved one to potential heart issues before they become serious. And with the addition of the ECG sensors, the potential for tracking heart health and getting help for symptoms before they become serious threats is significant. Imagine being able to predict the signs of an oncoming heart attack and getting help before it hits. This can have significant impacts on helping seniors maintain their independence longer.
That said, I haven't been able to test the ECG monitoring sensors yet, as the app has not been released. The technology, which measures your hearts electrical patterns and can detect a myriad of heart-related issues, was once only available in hospitals.
Health & Fitness Tracking
The most significant way for seniors to maintain their quality of life is to pay close attention to their health and fitness levels. Maintaining fitness has a lot of health benefits for everyone, but for seniors, it can dramatically reduce the risk of falling, alleviate symptoms of geriatric depression and reduce social isolation. The MobileHelp Smart, Apple Watch 4 and Samsung Galaxy watch all have comprehensive health and fitness tracking apps. These apps are impressive and comprehensive and include alerts to keep you moving and active. The Apple Watch 4 even includes de-stressing reminders with breathing exercises and reminders to meditate.
CES 2019: Nonwearable Option Announced
In January 2018, MobileHelp and Medical Guardian delivered the two biggest announcements for the medical alert industry during CES in Las Vegas, and we're now reviewing those wearable smartwatch medical alert systems.
This year, there weren't any major announcements from the big players in the medical alert system industry, but there was an interesting announcement from a lesser-known company, Xandar Kardian. The new product, the Xandar-Kardian NZEL100, is a contact-free, nonwearable personal emergency response system capable of detecting falls and monitoring your heart rate, breathing rate and sleep patterns.
The Xandar-Kardian integrates with Amazon Alexa for voice control and smart home integration via Wi-Fi. It also uses 4G cellular and GPS. The Xandar-Kardian has two parts: a smart LED lamp that you place on a nightstand, and a ceiling monitor similar to a smoke detector. The ceiling monitor uses radar to monitor movement, activity and falls. It works very similarly to the Walabot Home, another recently launched nonwearable medical alert system. Both systems use radar to detect falls, and both integrate with smart home devices to call emergency contacts or 911 for help.
By using noninvasive radar, the device tracks your senior loved one’s basic health and activity and sends the details to an app on your phone. As such, this product is ideal for caretakers of an aging loved one with dementia or health issues that restrict their activity to the home. It can be especially valuable after the senior has experienced a significant health issue, such as a fall, as it allows you to monitor their progress without intruding on their privacy.
Rather than contacting an emergency response center, the NZEL100 calls emergency contacts, family members or 911 (depending on your preferences) when there is an emergency. It's not on the market yet, but it's expected to be around $35 per month after a $99 setup fee, putting the price on a par with those of most mobile medical alert systems.