The best medical alert systems are primarily aimed at seniors and can help you to maintain your health and safety as you age. They are therefore a way for you to retain your independence and ability to live in your own home, yet have swift access to medical advice and help in the event of a medical emergency happening to you. This should also give your family greater peace of mind. Most medical alert systems can also be upgraded (at extra cost) to include fall detection.
When it comes to the best medical alert systems, they normally have certain features in common: all have a ‘help’ button on the front of the base unit, and they normally come with a wearable (pendant or bracelet) that speaks to that base unit. It’s worth noting that the bracelets included with these systems are not medical alert bracelets - those are a different product.
In our guide to the best medical alert systems, we have focused on devices that have a simple, user-friendly design, trained call center staff, and that offer the option of ‘buttons’ that can be placed at ground level around the house in accident hotspots such as the bathroom and kitchen.
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Generally speaking, the best medical alert systems are split into two categories: in-home and mobile. In-home medical alert systems are cheaper and use a base station that connects to your phone line or works via a cellular connection. These stations typically have features including a loudspeaker that can be heard from anywhere in the house. Mobile medical alert systems use a cellular network exclusively and are designed for outdoor use.
Let’s look at the top medical alert systems now to see how they could help you feel more empowered when living at home. Depending on your mobility requirements, you may also be interested in our guides to the best electric wheelchairs and the best mobility scooters.
1. Medical Guardian: Best medical alert system for activity tracking
Medical Guardian has one of the biggest range of alert systems, covering both in-home and mobile on-the-go. However, it has one package that stands out from the crowd, Family Guardian.
As well as providing traditional in-home alert coverage via a cellular base station, Family Guardian also gets you two motion sensors and a door sensor. Via the app, you can get alerts about your loved one, including night wandering, if a door has a been left open, a fall, and low or high activity.
This package isn’t particularly cheap, but if you want to monitor a loved one in an unobtrusive way, this package lets you do that, letting you send for help if anything unusual goes on. There are cheaper systems (both in-home and mobile) but Medical Guardian sticks out if you need something a bit different.
- Read our full Medical Guardian review.
2. Bay Alarm Medical: Best value in-home medical alert system
With in-home packages starting at just $19.95 a month, Bay Alarm Medical is one of the best-value medical alert systems that you can buy, and this includes the basic hardware rental that you need. Additional help hardware, including wall-mounted buttons and additional wearable help pendants, can be added into the mix to make a house even safer.
The in-home package is well-rated across user review sites, with the quality of the monitoring center and the speed of response highlighted.
There’s also a GPS mobile option, although we didn’t find that part worked very well in our tests, so you may want to look at an alternative system if you want cellular coverage. It’s also worth looking into the extended warranty, as it can be expensive to replace lost or damaged hardware otherwise.
For quality in-home protection at a low price, Bay Alarm Medical is a great choice.
- Read our full Bay Alarm Medical review.
3. GreatCall: Best medical alert system for mobile use
GreatCall is unique among medical alert system providers, as the company doesn’t have any in-home products, and focusses entirely on mobile systems. And, it’s not just traditional medical alert systems, as the company has a smartphone (Jitterbug Smart2), feature phone (Jitterbug Flip) and smartwatch (Lively Wearable).
The phones both have GreatCall built-in, with one-touch access to the helpline, while the Lively Wearable requires a paired smartphone to be in range to use its one-touch help button. While these products may be interesting to some, the LivelyMobile Plus is the best device for most people.
This wearable mobile device has a single button to call for help, is waterproof and can be upgraded to provide fall detection. With this device, protection starts at $24.99 a month, making this just about the best-value mobile alert system you can buy. Excellent ratings for the Lively Mobile and the help service make the system an even better choice. If you’re after a mobile-only system, this is an excellent choice.
- Read our full GreatCall review.
4. LifeFone: Best medical alert system for peace of mind
LifeFone offers a fairly basic set of packages that cover in-home and mobile. It’s not particularly cheap, with the in-home landline system costing $29.95 a month when paid monthly. So, why feature it in this list?
The answer lies in the extras, with LifeFone having a range of peace-of-mind options that can help you keep track of a loved one. The options include Activity Assurance, where the base station beeps to prompt the user to check in with the monitoring center; the Daily Check-in Call is more proactive with the monitoring center calling once a day to see, and following your alert plan if there’s no answer; and for some packages, there’s a medication reminder service.
Key to LifeFone’s success is its high user ratings, with most praising how reliable and fast the system is to respond to alerts. While you can buy cheaper packages, if you need a very reliable system with its peace-of-mind features, LifeFone is a great choice.
- Read our full LifeFone review.
5. Medical Alert: Lowest cost medical alert system
If cost is one of your most important factors, such as if you want to add cover for a senior that’s very active and hasn’t suffered many issues, Medical Alert could be for you. You don’t get much in the way of extras, such as medicine reminders, but the company focuses on getting the basics of medical alert systems right.
The system has just three plans to choose from, covering in-home and mobile. The basic At Home Landline package costs just $22.95 on a monthly contract, although you can get the price down to just $18.29 a month if you pay annually.
Spouses are covered for free and Medical Alert often gives away two buttons with each package, so there’s no extra cost to pay. Excellent response times from the monitoring center, combined with high-scoring user reviews shows that this service may be cheap but it performs as well as systems that are far more expensive.
If you need plain and simple protection and want this at the cheapest price, Medical Alert is the system for you. If you need something a bit more complicated or additional peace-of-mind features look elsewhere.
- Read our full Medical Alert review.
6. MobileHelp: Best medical alert system for features
MobileHelp is one of the biggest names in medical alert systems, as it manufactures much of the hardware that other services use. Here, it has its own medical alert system, which has some of the best choices of hardware.
As well as the basic in-home and mobile offerings, Medical Alert has the expensive but impressive MobileHelp Touch touchscreen tablet, which lets you have video chats with a doctor, play memory-enhancing games and more.
Then, there’s MobileHelp Smart, a Samsung-manufactured smartwatch with built-in cellular. This product doesn’t look like a medical alert device, so could be more likely to be worn by a senior that doesn’t want to stand out.
There are some excellent-value packages, too, including Mobile Duo, which gets you two mobile devices for two people, all for $44.95 a month: a bargain if you have two people to cover. Decent user reviews across the board help push this system.
As good as the hardware choice is with MobileHelp is, there are better-value packages elsewhere if you need more basic cover.
- Read our full MobileHelp review.
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.
The best medical alert systems for the home
In-home medical alert systems consist of a base unit and a waterproof help button, with usually a choice between wrist or pendant options. 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, although help is sent automatically if there’s no response.
These systems typically have wireless ranges between 300 and 1,500 feet from the base station. At the maximum ranges, it’s unlikely that a person could hear or communicate with the speakerphone, but help would be sent automatically. And, the extra range is important in a big home or those with thick walls.
In-home systems can often be personalized with the addition of extra wall-mounted help buttons that can be placed in areas where an accident is likely to happen, such as low-down in a hallway or in a bathroom. These help buttons provide additional care, even if a senior has forgotten to put on their regular help button.
Expect to pay between $20 and $30 a month for a system that connects to a landline, and $30-$45 a month for a system that uses a cellular connection.
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 typically 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 an 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.”
Some mobile medical alert systems can be docked at home, with the senior wearing a traditional help button. This is useful, as the mobile system can be put on charge and the senior is still covered; a system that requires the device to be removed for charging can lead to a situation where a call for help can’t be made.
Expect to pay between $35 and $60 a month on average for one of these systems.
Can you get spouse coverage?
Many in-home medical alert systems let you cover a spouse for no additional monthly fee, although it’s common that you have to pay for the additional help button required.
It’s trickier with mobile systems, as in most cases you’ll need to take out a second alert system package, tied to a separate device. If you have a mobile system that acts like a base station at home, working with wearable help buttons, just be aware that when the main mobile device is removed to go out with, anyone left at home won’t be able to use their help buttons.
Are the best 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 fall 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 the best 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.
Best medical alert systems: What type of help button is best?
Help buttons are typically available as wrist or pendant options. Both work in the same way, and there’s little difference in performance from either type of system, so you should typically go with the option that is most comfortable (and most likely to be worn).
However, as Jame O’Loan, a consultant pharmacist at Doctor4U points out, “One thing that might make a wristwatch the better option is if it’s considered possible that the user could be at risk of accidentally strangling themselves with a pendant necklace.”
Do the best medical alert systems need fall detection?
Most medical alert systems allow you to add automatic fall detection, where an emergency call is placed when a fall is detected. Fall detection typically costs extra but it could be money well invested.
“Fall detection in a Medical Alert System can prove invaluable for someone who is particularly vulnerable to falls. The emergency buttons on a pendant or wrist device are meant to be used following a fall or similar issue, but the ill or elderly person with the button may be incapable of pressing the button following such an incident. Therefore, fall detection can be a precious (even life-saving) back-up option if someone is unable to properly communicate with emergency services,” says O’Loan.
It’s worth pointing out that fall detection systems typically have to be worn as a pendant and that no system is 100% accurate, so there may still be times where a senior would have to press a button to call for help.
In our tests, we’ve not found fall detection sensors to be hugely reliable. 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.
If you have someone that’s more likely to fall over, simple changes around the home should be made as a preventative step.
“Things such as removing clutter or swapping slippery mats and rugs with non-slip alternatives could make all the difference. Speaking to the person your caring for can also give you some ideas on what changes to their home or routine could take place to make things more comfortable and less risky,” says O’Loan.
Best medical alert systems: Other features to look for
No two medical alert systems are alike, with many providing unique features and options. It’s worth looking at what’s available to see if there’s a particular service that meets your specific needs.
For example, additional peace-of-mind features may be required. These can be as simple as signing up for a service where the monitoring center will make contact with the senior each day to make sure that they’re alright. More advanced systems can use door and motion sensors to detect activity in a house, sending automated alerts if something’s not right.
For mobile systems, you should look into a system that can provide location updates live to a caregiver app. Knowing exactly where a loved one is can help family rest more easily.
Do you need a lockbox if you live alone and have a medical condition?
A lockbox is a small safe that can hold a household key and is PIN protected. If you have a lockbox, emergency services can be given the PIN, so that they can enter a house easily. Without a lockbox, emergency services may have to break into a house, which will result in damage to the property.
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If you're looking for more health buying guides, you might be interested in our lists of the best health insurance companies and best Medicare Part D plans to see how coverage could benefit you. We've also reviewed the best glucose meters for helping to manage diabetes. Monitoring your general health is important too, which is why we'd recommend adding one of the best digital thermometers to your First Aid kit.