Medical alert systems, also known as “life alerts”, offer a vital service to many vulnerable people. These systems help the elderly to live at home longer and with greater independence without them or their loved ones fretting over their well-being. The best medical alert systems use sensors that monitor the patient's vitals, and location to ensure they get medical help should a emergency arise.
If you are torn between putting your mum, dad or grandparents into a senior care home for their own safety against their wishes, a medical alert system could be a possible alternative.
Medical alert system usually comprise of various components. The most common ones are a smartwatch device for monitoring the patient, a second device that connects to a phone line or emergency services to alert them to someone in distress and a fall detection pendant. Most of these devices come with some kind of monthly service subscription - this is mainly for the monitoring and call response option. So, there are a lot of things to consider before looking for the best medical alert system
As with anything health related, it is best to investigate the products and services on offer before committing to a choice. It can be hard to know what the best medical alert system is, as it is a new technology that is constantly expanding. Always check the level of care that a service plan has to offer. This guide will talk you through the best systems we've found and what features and services you should include.
Of the 10 medical alert systems we tried in our latest round of testing, we found a few stood out for vital features. Medical Guardian offered the best response center quality, with fast response times and excellent call center care. We had the fastest emergency response times using the Great Call system, and the best value for the budget-conscious was offered by Medical Alert.
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Medical Guardian uses an emergency response center built on providing the best call quality experience, and the call response times are among the fastest.
GreatCall answers your call for help faster than every medical alert system, and the Lively Mobile is among the most affordable medical alert systems on the market.
Medical Alert performed very well in the emergency response tests we carried out, and the pricing is very competitive on every package.
1. Medical Guardian: Best response center quality
Medical Guardian's overall emergency response performance stood out
Medical Alert Smartwatch: Yes | Fall Detection Pendant: Yes | Landline connection: Yes | One Touch Alert System: Yes | Services plans: Starts at $29.10 per month
Medical Guardian's overall emergency response performance stood out in my tests. While the average response speed was twice as slow as GreatCall, it was still fast enough to tie for second fastest in the tests, averaging under 30 seconds.
Medical Guardian's overall emergency response performance stood out in my tests. While the average response speed was twice as slow as GreatCall, it was still fast enough to tie for second fastest in the tests, averaging under 30 seconds. However, the quality of the interactions with emergency responders is why this service earned our best pick. There was not a single negative call.
While the responders follow a script, just like other services, every person was calm, spoke clearly and always maintained a positive tone. They never sounded bored, in a rush or simply going through the motions. Every responder asked at least twice if we were okay. They always confirmed our information and indicated when they were going to end the call and encouraged us to press the button if we needed help. These all may seem like minor details, but the difference really stands out when you're comparing ten medical alert services one after the other. This sort of service goes a long way towards alleviating the inherent anxiety of calling an emergency call center.
Another reason why Medical Guardian is one of the best medical alert services is the Freedom Guardian, a medical alert smartwatch. This is a water-resistant smartwatch capable of receiving text-messages and providing alerts from your phone, such as a reminder for a doctor's appointment. It connects to a cellular network and features a large red button for calling help. You talk to emergency responders from the watch. It's ideal for seniors who want a more discreet medical alert system. Nobody will ever see this and think it's a medical alert device.
The Freedom Guardian is not as versatile, stylish or as well-built as MobileHelp's Samsung-made medical alert smartwatch. It doesn't double as fitness tracker and health monitor. And the monthly cost is nearly twice as much at about $45. But it's much easier to use, especially if your senior loved one isn't particularly tech adept. The interface is simpler, the icons are bigger, and it only has two buttons. This makes it far less difficult to get lost in. In addition, the upfront cost is much more affordable at about $99, versus MobileHelp's $350.
- Read the review: Medical Guardian
2. GreatCall: Fastest emergency response time
On average, GreatCall's emergency response time was twice as fast as the second fastest medical alert systems
Medical Alert Smartwatch: No | Fall Detection Pendant: Yes | Landline connection: Wireless only | One Touch Alert System: Yes | Services plans: Starts at $24.99 per month
GreatCall had the fastest emergency response in our test and is among the most affordable. On average, GreatCall's emergency response time was twice as fast as the second fastest medical alert systems.
GreatCall was the fastest medical alert service in our test at answering calls for help. On average, GreatCall's emergency response time was twice as fast as the second fastest medical alert systems. The overall emergency response performance is exceptional, especially when you consider the monthly price for the Lively Mobile is less than most service's landline medical alert systems.
Lively Mobile's speaker was better than every mobile device. The clarity of the audio is unmatched. There is no distortion in the call, making for clear communication with the emergency responders.
GreatCall is the only medical alert service without an in-home system, and I wish more services would follow suit. Mobile systems provide a much better safety net than traditional in-home systems. Not only is your movement not limited by the wireless range of a pendant, but if you accidentally hit the button or activate the fall detection, you can easily dismiss the emergency because the operator is always within earshot.
- Read the review: GreatCall
3. Medical Alert System: Best value
Medical Alert was among the best performing services, and the pricing is very competitive for each package
Medical Alert Smartwatch: No | Fall Detection Pendant: Yes | Landline connection: Yes | One Touch Alert System: Yes | Services plans: Starts at $22.95 per month
Medical Alert was among the best performing services, and the pricing is very competitive for each package.
Medical Alert was among the best performing services, and the pricing is very competitive for each package. It earned our pick for best value because it combines good performance with the lowest priced system on the market.
The mobile system is a little bigger than most mobile systems, but it has one of the highest quality speakers and an excellent voice guidance system. At about $37 per month, it's among the most affordable mobile systems.
The in-home landline system, priced at about $20 per month, is the most affordably priced medical alert system on the market. The speaker's quality is good, though not great, but the volume is excellent.
The average call response time received an A- grade, tied with two other services with the second fastest response time, a sub-30 second average. That said, it was still about twice as slow as GreatCall's average response time.
- Read the review: Medical Alert
4. MobileHelp: Best for tech-adept seniors
Made by Samsung, the MobileHelp Smart is an impressive device
Medical Alert Smartwatch: Yes | Fall Detection Pendant: Yes | Landline connection: Yes | One Touch Alert System: Yes | Services plans: Starts at $19.99 per month
Made by Samsung, the MobileHelp Smart is an impressive device. It combines a stylish smartwatch with a GPS medical alert system capable of calling for help and delivering specific coordinates for EMTs. But it's a lot more than just a medical alert device you wear on your wrist. It comes loaded with health-monitoring and fitness tracking features, like a heart-rate monitor and an accelerometer. This allows you to track your loved one to stay on top of their fitness and health. It connects to your loved one's phone, so it also receives texts and alerts.
But perhaps most importantly, the Smart doesn't look like a medical alert system. Many seniors resist medical alert devices because they don't want people knowing they use one, but with the Smart, nobody sees anything but a watch. The large, round face not only makes the touch-screen easy to read, but it follows current fashion trends for watches. It even has rotating diver's bezel (used to navigate screens on the interface more than for estimating how much time you've spent diving). That said, it does require a certain level of technical savviness. If your loved one doesn't use a smartphone, they probably won't use this either.
- Read the review: MobileHelp
5. BlueStar Senior Tech: Best fall detection
BlueStar SeniorTech's fall detection pendant was the best performing fall detection pendant in our tests
Medical Alert Smartwatch: no | Fall Detection Pendant: Yes | Landline connection: Wireless | One Touch Alert System: Yes | Services plans: Starts at $60 per month
You should definitely not choose your medical alert system based on the fall detection add-on. The technology is still relatively new and very inconsistent. That said, BlueStar SeniorTech's fall detection pendant, included with the Safeguard in-home system, was the best performing fall detection pendant in our tests. The fall detection pendant isn't unique to this service. The teardrop-shaped pendant is used by many other medical alert services. We've tested these pendants in 2017 as well and they are the most consistent pendants. The fall detection sensor isn't so sensitive to detect falls at the slightest bumps, though it is more sensitive than we'd prefer. It does detect real falls accurately, so it can provide peace-of-mind.
As a medical alert service, BlueStar SeniorTech wasn't impressive in the other tests. The call response time was one of the slowest, averaging over 91 seconds. Several calls went unanswered for over five minutes. In addition, the emergency responder quality received one of the lowest grades.
- Read the review: BlueStar
- Best GPS medical alert systems
- Best medical alert smartwatches
- Best medical alert bracelets
- Best fall detection sensors
Why trust us on medical alert systems?
Today, medical alert systems offer more sophisticated assistance to seniors than ever before, and help them lead a safe, independent life at home. A good medical alert system comes with a hub that doubles as a speakerphone, a pendant with an emergency button should you need to call for help and a medical bracelet that monitors your vitals. It should also have a fall detection sensor. This senses when you have a fall and sends an automatic emergency alert to the call center, as you might not be able to request help in that situation.
Top Ten Reviews has covered medical alert systems for ten years. Over the years, we've published comprehensive articles and guides covering a wide variety of senior care topics, like fall prevention tips, dementia behavior management, geriatric depression, social isolation in seniors, caretaker tips and more.
Every time we review a senior care product, we emphasize features and performance aimed at preserving or improving a senior's quality of life and independence.
How much do medical alert systems cost?
There are basically two kinds of medical alert systems - in-home systems and mobile systems. However, in-home systems use either a landline or cellular connection to call for help, and this changes the price.
Here's a simple breakdown of how those packages typically cost:
Mobile GPS medical alert systems
These medical alert plans usually cost between $35 and $60 per month depending on the service and whether you've added the fall detection feature. However, the prices for mobile systems are coming down. GreatCall's basic mobile system, for example, costs $25 per month.
In-home cellular medical alert systems
These medical alert plans are the mid-range package and cost between $35 and $45 per month. These systems are functionally no different from landline systems except they connect to a cellular network. They are ideal for people without landlines, but can be less reliable if you live in an area with weak cellular signals.
In-home landline systems
These medical alert plans are the most basic medical alert systems available and they cost between $20 and $30 per month.
Fall detection sensors
These are a popular add-on feature to your medical alert system, whether it's an in-home or mobile system. Regardless of the system, however, adding fall detection typically costs between $7 and $15 per month on top of your regular medical alert system.
Bulk payment options
Most services give you the option to pay month-to-month, quarterly, semi-annually or annually. Typically, a bulk payment (paying for a full year at once) lowers the monthly cost. So if you pay for a full year upfront, the cost can be lowered by as much as $5 per month.
Are medical alert systems covered by Medicare?
Unfortunately, while Medicare covers a lot of medical equipment prescribed by a doctor, medical alert systems aren’t covered by Medicare Part A or Part B. These plans cover hospital and health insurance, and they can cover medical equipment like oxygen concentrators, wheelchairs and walkers. But they don’t cover services, procedures or equipment deemed elective by a physician. And medical alert services falls under this elective service and equipment.
However, according to Medicare.com, a Medicare Part C Advantage plan might be an option for medical alert system coverage. Since Part C plans provide access to private fee-for-service HMOs and PPOs plans, the coverage can be more comprehensive and cover equipment and services not covered by Part A and B. The downside is it adds cost to your monthly budget and the coverage is dependent on what coverage is offered by private insurance companies in your area.
It’s worth consulting with an expert to evaluate your Part C options during the open enrollment period to see if you can receive coverage. But it’s important to weigh the cost of the Part C plan with the cost of medical alert system, as it could be more expensive even if you get coverage.
Are medical alert systems tax deductible?
According to TurboTax, the IRS doesn’t specifically state whether or not medical alert systems can be a tax deduction. However, there might be ways to add your monthly subscription costs to your tax deductions. When you consider the cheapest medical alert systems cost between $240 and $360 per year, it might be worth looking into.
For starters, the general rule for medical expense deductions is any medical equipment prescribed by a doctor is a deductible expense. That said, since medical alert systems are considered elective medical equipment, it may not be easy to get a doctor to prescribe it.
Another potential option is deductions involving improvements made to a home for medical reasons. This typically includes widening doorways, adding wheelchair ramps, modifying bathrooms or other areas for disabilities. An in-home medical alert system could possibly fall under this category, as it involves installing equipment. That said, it doesn’t involve making home modifications.
Finally, the IRS allows deductions for medical and dental expenses. The deduction allows for medical expenses “paid to a plan that keeps medical information in a computer data bank and retrieves and furnishes the information upon request to an attending physician.” According to Bay Alarm Medical, this allows you to deduct your medical alert system expenses because they store your medical profile in a database and provide the information to EMTs and other emergency providers upon request.
While it’s not explicitly defined by the IRS, it seems like you have several options. But if you’re not sure which route to take or how to deduct the expenses on your taxes, we recommend you consult with a tax expert.
Senior tax credit tips: claiming caregiver tax deductions
Being a caregiver for your aging loved one can be a financial strain. In "Cost of Caring for Elderly Parents Could Be Next Financial Crisis," Marlo Sollitto surveyed adult children caring for an aging parent and found 63 percent had no set plans for how they will pay for their parents' care long term. In addition, 62 percent admit being a caretaker has impacted their financial future.
Fortunately, if being a caretaker is a significant financial strain, your aging parent might qualify as a dependent on your taxes, allowing you to offset some of the costs. According to Intuit TurboTax, you can claim your aging parent as a dependent, just as you would claim a child as a dependent.
Qualifying as a dependent
The first hurdle to claiming your aging parent as a dependent is their personal income. It cannot exceed the exemption limit set by the IRS for the tax year. In 2017, the limit was $4,050. This does not, however, include Social Security income. So, you’re looking primarily at interest and dividend income from savings accounts and other financial accounts.
The second hurdle is how much of their support you take care of. To qualify as a dependent, you have to provide over 50 percent of their annual support. To determine this, you consider utility costs, medical bills, living expenses and the fair market value of their room in your home.
If your parent doesn’t meet the dependent requirements, you can still deduct medical expenses, but only if you still cover over 50 percent of their support and the medical expenses exceed 10 percent of your income. These deductions include medical bills, hospital visits, medications, medical equipment and supplies, rehabilitation, in-home hospice care, mileage to doctor appointments and dental expenses. You can also deduct the cost of home modifications, including mortgage interest for the modifications, but only if the modifications don’t add value to the house.
When siblings share the cost: multiple support declaration
As is often the case, you might share your elderly parent's caretaking costs with siblings or other relatives. If so, you can still claim your parent as a dependent and deduct medical expenses, as long as your parent’s income qualifies for the exemption limit and over 50 percent of his or her care and support is paid for by you and your siblings. This means, you can claim your parent as a dependent even if you only cover 40 percent of their support, so long as your brother or sister covers 10 percent or more.
However, only one of you can claim your parent as a dependent on each year’s tax return. So if you contribute 40 percent and your brother contributes 10 percent, only one of you can benefit from the dependent. It’s worth sitting down with your siblings before filing your taxes to determine who will claim the dependent to avoid double-filing and the potential fines.
If you have questions or concerns about whether your aging loved one qualifies to be a dependent, how to deduct medical expenses or whether you qualify for deductions, you should always consult with a certified accountant or tax expert. Not only should they have a firm grasp on the current laws and regulations, but they often know of additional tax deductions not listed here that can help you recoup some of the expenses of taking care of your aging parent. You should also check out our reviews of tax software. Most of these products are equipped with help tools and connect you to resources that provide the same expertise you’d find in a CPA.
How we tested medical alert systems
To find the best medical alert service, we started by comparing the prices of the best and most popular medical alert services. We used this pricing comparison to narrow the list to the best ten services. We ordered the in-home landline system and mobile GPS system from each service and tested them over the course of three weeks.
Call response time
Using a stopwatch, we timed how long it took from the time we pressed the help button to the moment an emergency responder answered. The best average response time, from three weeks of testing every day, averaged 14 seconds. The overall average though was 50 seconds.
Some services, like GreatCall and Medical Guardian, were very consistent. Their response times varied by no more than a few seconds on each call. But most services weren't very consistent. A call might be answered in 30 seconds one day and five minutes the next. We don't exactly know why, but according to Robert Wray, CEO of BlueStar SeniorTech, "call centers are structured so that all alarms are answered in the order of priority." Medical alert calls, according to Wray, are answered second only to fire emergencies.
Emergency response quality
The best systems let you know a call is in progress. This can be a beeping noise, a phone ring, or a voice repeating "Calling for Help!" Either way, something needs to let you know your call is being placed. The worst systems didn't make any indication a call was in progress, causing me to question whether we had pushed the button or not.
We tested the quality and volume of the speakers for both the mobile and in-home systems. The best systems are loud and clear. Disappointingly though, far too many medical alert systems sound terrible, like you're taking an order from a fast food drive-through kiosk.
How do medical alert devices work?
Medical alert systems are wearable devices that call for help at the press of a button. They provide seniors with a safety net, particularly when they live alone, allowing them to age in place longer. That said, there are two kinds of systems: in-home medical alert systems and mobile medical alert systems.
In-home medical alert systems consist of a base unit and a waterproof pendant. They have wireless ranges between 300 and 1,500 feet, which wide enough to cover most homes and yards. The base unit is a specialized speakerphone with a loudspeaker and a sensitive microphone capable of picking up sounds from rooms away. It connects to a landline or cellular network, and when you need help, you press a button on the pendant and a wireless signal activates a call for help from the base unit to the medical alert service’s emergency response center. A trained operator then calmly assesses the emergency and determines whether to contact local emergency services to send help.
Mobile medical alert systems
Mobile systems work in the same way as in-home systems – you press a button and it calls an emergency response center. However, these systems combine the base unit and the waterproof pendant into one wearable device you can take anywhere. By comparison, a mobile medical alert system is the safer option. Not only does it provide unlimited range, but it also allows for far better communication with emergency responders, which is a critical part of a successful medical alert system.
Imagine this scenario – your loved one is in the garden and accidentally presses the button or activates a fall-detection sensor on the pendant. It calls for help, but she’s unlikely to realize it because she’s too far from the base unit to hear the operator. And if the operator can’t hear her, an ambulance is sent to her house.
According to Scott Lepper, an EMT and CEO of RescueTouch, if this scenario happens, the EMTs are likely going to convince her to "take a bumpy ride to the emergency department even if they don't need to go." This is, as he suggests, the result of emergency protocols and liabilities. The entire event results in "unnecessary attention from neighbors, a night in the (emergency room) for mom, and hospital and ambulance bills.
The false-alert scenario is not an exaggeration. It happened twice during the tests. The second time occurred hours after testing finished. One of the systems somehow called for help (for reasons I have not been able to figure out). Since nobody was in the lab to answer the call, the emergency responders sent an ambulance to our address. On a positive note, however, the ambulance arrived less than 10 minutes from the time the device called for help. With a mobile system, this scenario is very unlikely because you are never more than a foot away from communicating with the emergency responders.
Apple watch 4: saving lives
Apple released the Apple Watch 4 in September 2018. Since this is the first smartwatch of its kind to have fall detection and an ECG heart monitoring sensor, we ordered it and I tested it over the course of several weeks using it as a medical alert smartwatch. Unfortunately, at the time, I was unable to test the ECG sensor because the app hadn’t been released. The app was released on Dec 6, 2018, and it’s already saving lives.
According to ABCNews, a 45-year-old man, Ed Dentel, from Richmond, Virginia, may have been saved by the ECG sensor on the Apple Watch. After downloading the app, Dentel received an alert of an irregular heartbeat. At first, he thought the sensor was defective, so he turned it off. The next day, when he put his watch on again, the same irregular heartbeat was detected. He had his daughter and wife try it, and when their heartbeats came back as normal, he decided to see a doctor. The doctor diagnosed him with atrial fibrillation – a serious condition that increases the risk of stroke and heart attack if left untreated.
This is the exact kind of potential we imagined when Apple announced in September that the Watch would have an ECG sensor. When you combine a sensor capable of detecting serious heart issues with the best fall detection sensor, the Apple Watch 4 is making a strong case for consideration as one of the best medical alert systems.
Unique medical alert systems worth considering
In addition to medical alert smartwatches, some services have started offering unique systems aimed at more specific types of scenarios. These could be a better fit for you than the traditional in-home systems or mobile systems.
Medical Guardian’s family guardian
This system combines a traditional in-home system with motion detectors. The sensors communicate with Medical Guardian’s Family Guardian app, allowing you to stay updated on your loved one’s activity. It’s ideal for families who are worried about their aging family member living alone and want a simple system to track her movements.
Bay Alarm Medical’s in-car system
Bay Alarm’s in-car medical alert system plugs into your car’s DC adapter, using impact sensors to automatically call for help if your loved one is in an accident. It uses a cellular signal to track your location and integrates with the splitsecnd app for different driver profiles.
While this in-car medical alert system is certainly aimed at seniors who still drive, it can be used by anyone, especially parents looking for an added layer of protection for their inexperienced teenage drivers.
BlueStar SeniorTech’s Kenega GPS Watch
The Kenega Watch is not a medical alert smartwatch, but it serves a very similar purpose. The watch uses a cellular signal to call for help and send GPS coordinates to emergency responders. And like the medical alert smartwatches, it’s a discreet option for seniors who don’t want to wear something resembling a medical alert system. That said, it lacks the additional features of a smartwatch, like fitness tracking, weather updates, heart monitoring and others, but it costs about the same.
Caregiver apps: what to look for
Many medical alert services are now providing specialized caregiver apps that work in conjunction with mobile medical alert systems and medical alert smartwatches. However, there are also many caretaker apps available for free, such as the AARP Caregiving app and the Alzheimer’s Associations Caregiver Buddy.
Since these apps provide caregivers and family members with an excellent tool for keeping tabs on their aging loved one, here are some features of caretaker apps to look for:
GPS tracking and GEO-fencing
Ideal for seniors with dementia, you can get notifications on their location if they wander off or when they roam beyond a specific area, such as the neighborhood.
You can get immediate notifications if they’ve pressed the help button or have fallen.
You can monitor how active they are and check in if they seem less active than usual. You can also urge them to be more active by sending activity reminders.
Medication reminders and tracking
You can remind them to take their medication and receive notifications on when they’ve taken their medications. This helps ensure they don’t mix up their dosages or forget.
Keep track of doctor’s appointments, send notification reminders, and receive reminders yourself.
Send easy-to-read text messages and photos.
Helps them feel less alone
Loneliness and social isolation is a big problem among seniors. One of the best reasons to consider a caretaker app is the fact they can help the senior feel connected to the people who love and care for them.
When is it time to consider hiring in-home care?
Most seniors want to live independently for as long as possible. Self-sufficiency and independence are important facets of a high quality of life. Unfortunately, there is often a time when your loved one can’t care for themselves effectively and you face some difficult decisions.
According to AgingCare.com, you can recognize when it’s time to consider hiring in-home care when you notice any of the following red flags:
Changes in appearance and behavior
Even subtle changes in physical appearance or behavior are red flags they are struggling. If your aging mother is usually very meticulous about her wardrobe but you see her wearing wrinkled clothing, she may need help.
Household chores go unfinished
If mail is piling up, dishes are going unwashed or lawns unmowed, and this is not ordinary, your loved one is likely struggling to keep up.
Evidence of weight loss
Noticing your loved one has lost weight is a red flag for a number of issues, including the inability to cook meals.
Forgetting to take medication
Keep tabs on their medication. If there are any irregularities, consider a medication dispenser with reminders to ensure they remember to take their pills.
If you notice bruising, it could indicate an issue with mobility.
Smelling of urine or body odor and wearing dirty clothing are the most common signs of decline.
Just because your aging loved one’s independence is in decline, it doesn’t mean they necessarily require a nursing home or senior living facility. In many cases, hiring an in-home care service to help with chores and meals goes a long way to help them maintain their independence. With most services, you can choose how much help they need, whether it’s help clean once a week or for a few hours each day to cook meals and do laundry.
Best of the rest
In addition to the services highlighted at the top of the page, I've also tested and reviewed the following services.
Acadian OnCall has average prices and dependably good mobile and in-home systems. In addition, it performed well in our emergency response tests, but the cost and performance don’t stand out. It’s a good option. Just not great.
Alert1’s in-home landline system is the most affordable medical alert system on the market at just $19.95 per month. However, the quality of the speaker and the emergency response speed were subpar in our tests.
Bay Alarm Medical
Bay Alarm Medical is among the most competitively priced medical alert services we reviewed. However, the medical alert system options are average and the emergency response performance in our tests was very poor.
LifeFone's pricing is average at best and expensive at worst. That said, the emergency response operators performed very well in our tests, despite very slow call response times and subpar speaker quality.
Rescue Alert makes one of the most popular in-home medical alert systems, the MyTrex MXD, which has a very good speaker and microphone. However, the service is expensive compared to other services we reviewed, and the call response time was very slow.
Why some services didn't make the cut?
We’ve tested systems from 32 medical alert services, and we know from our research there are over 73 services in the country offering medical alert systems, though most are regional-based home security companies. At the end of the day, this means some very well-known and big companies didn’t make the cut. There are also some companies that approach medical alerts from such a different perspective, they aren’t comparable to other services but are worth considering.
Life Alert is undoubtedly the biggest name in the medical alert industry. The tagline, “I've fallen and I can't get up," has been part of the pop culture since the 1980s and the commercials are so common, they’ve been satirized and memed. In fact, there is a good chance Life Alert is the only medical alert service you know. Just because you recognize a brand doesn’t mean it’s better.
Life Alert didn’t make the cut because it requires a three-year contract. To cancel the contract, you have to prove the person using the system no longer needs it. You can’t cancel simply because you can’t afford it. You have to provide a death certificate or proof the senior now requires 24-hour supervision in a nursing facility. In addition, Life Alert is not transparent with its pricing structure and requires you to talk to a salesperson to learn about the prices. This is a major red-flag with any service, but especially one dealing with seniors, as there is too much potential for unethical sales tactics. For these reasons, we cannot recommend Life Alert.
Philips is one of the biggest manufacturers of health-related technology in the U.S., so it’s the other medical alert company most people recognize. The company offers four unique systems not used by other services, and the systems have been good in the past when we’ve tested them. (You can read about my 2017 review of Philips Lifeline on Dignifyed.) In fact, we ordered the HomeSafe with AutoAlert and the GoSafe 2 to be included with our testing. However, the GoSafe 2 was back ordered and we weren’t able to test it in time, and the HomeSafe’s performance was not good enough to break into the top ten medical alert systems. And the pricing structure is the primary reason.
In addition to having monthly subscription costs that are more expensive than most similar systems on the market, Philips Lifeline also charges fees most services don't, and these add up. There's a $50 activation fee, equipment fees ranging between $99 and $150 depending on the package, and a $20 self-installation fee. These tacked-on costs make this service too costly to recommend to seniors. There are better performing systems at more affordable prices for it to be considered one of the top ten medical alert services at this time.
RescueTouch is a unique medical alert service and didn’t make the cut primarily because most of the packages it offers aren’t comparable to other services. And the one comparable package, a mobile system that calls an emergency response center, is too expensive by comparison. However, RescueTouch is a service that offers something different, so it’s worth looking into it if the traditional services don’t fit your needs.
Every package RescueTouch sells uses the same SOS mobile medical alert device, but the cheapest package costs just $20 and calls 911 directly. However, the other packages vary widely in scope and purpose. Some only call emergency contacts. Some are designed for senior couples. There are also packages for veterans struggling with PTSD and other mental health issues, connecting them to mental health support when they need it rather than an emergency response center. As far as we have seen, RescueTouch is the only service providing packages like this.
Should you add fall detection?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a quarter of seniors over 65 fall each year, and a fifth of these falls results in a serious injury. To address this, medical alert services started offering fall detection sensors in 2015 as an add-on option to medical alert systems. But at a cost of about $10 per month, is a fall detection sensor worth it? The short answer is not yet.
We ordered the fall detection add-ons offered by service and thoroughly tested them in conjunction with our other tests. We dropped them from varying heights. We wore them as we simulated dozens of falls, rolls and stumbles onto a variety of surfaces. We dangled them from my finger. We threw them into the ground. You can read about the tests in more detail in our fall detection sensors review. But after over two years of testing over 30 fall detection sensors from 21 medical alert services, we have yet to find a consistent fall detection sensor worth the additional cost.
In our tests, the consistency of the sensors varied wildly. Some seemingly detected falls for no reason, incapable of determining the difference between real falls and small bumps. One even detected falls while resting on the table. Another detected falls when plugged into the charger because it vibrated to indicate the charge. Nearly half of the fall detection sensors we tested simply wouldn't detect anything unless we threw them on the ground.
Senior care technology for caretakers
The more you rely on technology to help you take care of aging loved ones, the more quality time you can spend with them. Here is some technology that can make it easier for you to care for your elderly loved one:
CaringBridge: This nonprofit organization provides a platform for building a personalized website or mobile app specific to your senior loved one. You can share health news and updates with other family members.
CareZone: This is a free mobile app that provides medication reminders. You use the scanning tool to create a list of medications, and the app reminds you when to take them.
MedMinder: This is a medication-dispenser manufacturer with a variety of cellular-based pill dispensers. It provides alerts to seniors and their caregivers.
Reminder Rosie: This voice reminder clock can be operated almost entirely using voice commands. You can program the voice reminder with your own voice and add reminders for your senior loved one to take medications, perform specific tasks and remember appointments.
grandCARE: This is a suite of activity- and health-monitoring technology and software for seniors and their caretakers. The system is connected to an online portal and is designed to be customized to meet your specific needs. You can use it to improve socialization, track activity, set reminders, monitor health, perform health assessments, facilitate caretaker communication and more.
GeriJoy: This care coach service provides conversation, support and reminders aimed at improving socialization among seniors. It uses a tablet with a remote team of trained caregivers to provide around-the-clock support through engagement.
What are the signs of Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible brain disorder. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., affecting 1 in 10 people over the age of 65. In addition, cases of Alzheimer’s increased by 145 percent between 2000 and 2017, so it’s on the rise. And only 16 percent of seniors get screened for it during their annual appointments.
Since Alzheimer’s is a slow-progressing disease, the sooner you get a diagnosis and have your loved one receive treatment, the longer they are expected to live. On average, most live between four and eight years after a diagnosis, but it’s not uncommon to live for 20 years with Alzheimer’s.
According to APlaceForMom, here are 10 signs your aging loved one may have Alzheimer’s disease:
- Memory Loss: Forgets names of familiar people and doesn’t remember important appointments or events. Repeatedly asks for the same information.
- Difficulty With Familiar Tasks: Struggles to fix simple meals or complete everyday tasks, like making a phone call or brushing their teeth.
- Problems Writing or Speaking: Struggles to remember common words or substitutes words with incorrect ones, like saying a pet is an orange.
- Confusion with Time or Place: Gets lost in a familiar place or confuses the years or days of the week.
- Poor Judgement: Dresses inappropriately, like dressing in layers on a hot day, or gives away large sums of money to strangers.
- Issues with Abstract Thinking: Struggles to balance a checkbook or forgets what numbers are used for.
- Loses Items in Unusual Places: Puts items in strange places, like a wristwatch in the sugar bowl or iron in the freezer. Can’t retrace steps to find items or doesn’t have a logical reason for placing items in strange places.
- Changes in Mood and Behavior: Displays rapid mood changes or changes in behavior that are totally out of character, like being physically aggressive towards a loved one or very paranoid about caretakers.
- Trouble Understanding Visual Images and Spatial Relationships: Has difficulty reading, judging distance or determining colors.
- Withdrawing from Social Activities: Avoids social events, becomes passive, sleeps more than usual or not at all, and shows anxiety when attending social obligations.
How to treat social isolation in seniors
According to “Social Isolation, Loneliness, and All-Cause Mortality in Older Men and Women,” seniors are especially susceptible to social isolation because of economic restrictions, mobility issues and the death of peers. Social isolation has a myriad of health risks associated with it, regardless of age. These risks include a higher rate of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and more. However, with seniors, it also has a higher risk of falling, hospitalization, dementia and all-cause mortality.
Here are some tips for treating social isolation:
Exercising releases endorphins that are critical to a person's sense of well-being. You're less likely to feel lonely when you exercise regularly, even if you exercise alone, but you should look around in your area for group exercise classes aimed at seniors. This gets you exercising and socializing at the same time.
Social networking sites aren’t a replacement for in-person interactions, but they can help keep you in touch with friends and family.
Despite what you might think, you can still learn. By signing up for classes at your local college or city center, you can enjoy a fun activity and a social activity.
By volunteering, you selflessly commit your time to others. This not only gives you a reason for leaving your house, but it gives you an opportunity to socialize and make new friends.
Here are some additional resources for helping prevent social isolation:
Lifetime Arts’ Creative Aging Program: A non-profit organization devoted to providing art programs for older adults.
Arts and Aging: Building the Science: Research about the value of art in treating, preventing and ameliorating health issues.
Emotional Benefits of Dog Ownership: A paper discussing the benefits of dog ownership for physical and mental health.
14 Ways to Help Seniors Avoid Isolation: Additional tips to help a loved one suffering from social isolation.
AARP Volunteer Opportunities: A tool for directing you to volunteer opportunities in your area specifically for seniors.
The Red Hat Society: A global society of women devoted to fun, friendship, freedom, fulfillment and fitness.
Elder law and regulations: what you need to know
Before your aging loved one loses the capacity to make their own decisions, it’s important to talk to them about their end-of-life plans, financial needs, potential healthcare decisions and estate planning. If you ignore this discussion for too long, it can lead to a mire of legal complications and costly court and legal fees. These are issues which need careful consideration and usually require legal documentation. If your loved one is not capable of making their own decisions anymore, you may want to talk to a lawyer who specializes in Elder law, a specialized form of laws and regulations applying to seniors.
According to A Place for Mom, here are the essential aspects of legal planning you should discuss with your loved one:
This is an essential legal document everyone should make and keep updated, regardless of age, but it’s especially important for seniors in order to ensure their estate can be executed without causing legal issues for surviving family members.
A legal arrangement allowing your loved one to transfer assets to a person if they become incapacitated but have not died.
This is a legal directive for defining various decisions, usually related to healthcare and financials, your loved one wants if they become incapacitated or unable to communicate.
Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA)
This determines who has the legal right to act on behalf of all your loved one’s personal and health-related affairs if they become incapacitated.
If you feel like your loved one has diminished capabilities, whether physical or mental, but they disagree, you can petition for guardianship where a court decides whether the person retains the right to make their own decisions or requires a guardian.
Helping your aging loved one age in place safety
Getting your aging loved one a medical alert system is an excellent safety net for them to age in place for as long as possible. However, you shouldn’t stop there. For seniors to age in place safely, they need to consider modifications to their home. Take time to carefully evaluate your loved one’s current and future living conditions.
Here are the four best modification tips, as provided by AgingInPlace.com, for each area of your home (for more tips, click on the links provided):
Common Areas: Improving access and minimizing fall risks.
- Get rid of area rugs and replace loose or torn carpets with low-pile carpets.
- Make sure doors are at least 32 inches wide for wheelchair accessibility, though 36 inches is recommended.
- Replace door knobs with levers for easier gripping.
- Install bright lights with illuminated light switches in convenient locations, such as the top and bottom of stairs.
Kitchen: Modifications for food preparation.
- Adjust the height of the dishwasher, sink and cabinets for easier access.
- Consider hands-free motion- or touch-controlled sink faucets.
- Add pull down levers to higher cabinets.
- Choose energy-efficient appliances with convenient, easy-to-use and -read functions.
Bathroom: Optimizing access and minimizing fall hazards.
- Put handrails next to the toilet, shower and tub area.
- Replace bathroom rugs with non-slip mats.
- Increase square footage, especially near the toilet to accommodate a wheelchair.
- Add a seat extender to the toilet and a shower chair.
Bedroom: Modifications for getting in-and-out of bed and minimizing fall risks.
- Declutter the closets and walkways.
- Maintain adequate space around the bed for easy maneuvering.
- Consider adding safety rails on the bed and investing in an adjustable bed frame.
- Make sure a phone is on the nightstand.
Exterior: Modifications for access and minimizing upkeep
- Add ramps for wheelchair access.
- Add a cover to the main entrance and install automatic lights.
- Add slip-resistant flooring at all entrances and exits, and add texture surfaces to sidewalks and steps.
- Remove any landscaping and yard accents that require a lot of maintenance.Since Alzheimer’s is a slow-progressing disease, the sooner you get a diagnosis and have your loved one receive treatment, the longer they are expected to live. On average, most live between four and eight years after a diagnosis, but it’s not uncommon to live for 20 years with Alzheimer’s.