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Finding the Best Medical Alert Systems

We reviewed the best medical alert systems in the market. This article details everything you need to know about medic alert systems and how we compiled information on our favorite services.

A Brief History

LifeAlert is an American emergency alert company that was founded three decades ago in the United States – they’ve been distributing emergency devices to customers since 1987. If you live in the United States, you’ve probably seen the commercials – they’ve become an iconic stalwart in American television. They consist of elderly individuals falling within the confines of their home and then yelling that they’re unable to get up. After the shocking footage of the fallen individual trapped on the ground, they advertise their LifeAlert system which is a device worn around the individual’s neck. A button on the device can be pushed to alert emergency personnel that they’re having an emergency.

The device has become exceedingly popular within the elderly community, especially amongst those who live by themselves. But according to statistics from AARP, almost half of falls occur outside of the home. This means that LifeAlert’s system is mildly outdated – it has no function for pinpointing the exact location of an individual. For this reason, recent years have seen more capable GPS medical alert systems which provide location data to emergency personnel. This way, if elderly individuals fall down when outside of their home, emergency services will immediately have their location. This is particularly important because according the CDC, falls are the number one causation of death in the elderly.

One of the biggest components of surviving an accident is the speed at which emergency response teams can get to you. Waiting to be found, or providing inaccurate geographical information, can result in death or further injury. Aside from physical trauma that can occur from falling in or outside your home, there are also mental traumas associated with being stranded. These mental traumas can have a severe impact on the health of an elderly person and create serious downstream problems.

Peace of Mind No Matter Where You Are

Regular emergency response devices like LifeAlert are great for someone who never leaves there home, but they’re outdated to anyone who needs the freedom to be mobile. A fear of being stranded without help is a major source of anxiety for many elderly people. Many of these older alert systems need to be within under a mile of your home to pick up signal and be able to communicate to emergency response teams. This can be insufficient for those who are still active and look to go shopping or visit friends and family.

For this reason, GPS alert systems are designed to help those who are more likely to be doing activities outside of their homes. These systems give the elderly the peace of mind that you are able to visit friends, go out for lunch, play golf, and enjoy the various other activities that make up your schedule.

GPS Alert Systems: The Logistics

So, you may be wondering: how do GPS medical alert systems work and how do they differ from a traditional alert system? The basics of the concepts behind a GPS medical alert system are quite simple; the technology has been present in other devices for some time now.

Essentially, the alert device is attached to a cellular network – the same form of cellular network that your cell phone or pager connects to. This allows for the device to constantly map out its location. In addition, it allows you to call the emergency services no matter where you are, not just inside your home. Recent advances in the technology have been able to pinpoint a person’s location within just a few yards. You may see this technology in use if you have a smart phone that has a map application.

In the rare case that you end up needing to use your emergency device, the entire process happens in three simple steps: you push the button on the device, you speak with emergency services, and you wait for an emergency response unit to come.

  • Step 1 – Push the Button on the Device – Once you fall over or need assistance for any health-related reason, you simply push the button located on the GPS device. This will initiate contact with an emergency response team. At this stage, data will be transported to the response team that will contain your information and your location. There are advanced versions of these devices that will contact emergency services for you should they detect a rapid fall or other traumatic event.
  • Step 2 – Once you have pushed the button and your information has been retained, you will be put in immediate contact with an emergency response professional. These individuals are trained to calm you down and get the proper response team to you as quickly as possible. In the case that you are unresponsive or unable to speak, an emergency response team will be sent to you immediately.
  • Step 3 – Wait for an Emergency Response Unit to Come – At this stage, you will only have to wait for an emergency response team to come and help you – they will then be able to take you to the hospital if you are need of additional treatment.

Finding the Right GPS Alert Medical Alert System

In the age of advanced technologies, you may think the simplicity of an alert device is slightly underwhelming. But the basic design of these devices is actually what makes them so effective. If an emergency occurs, or you’ve fallen into a position that makes it hard for you to use a device, having a simple device with a single button makes it much more likely that you will be able to contact emergency personnel.

One of the major components that determines the best device for you will be the cellular network that the device is attached to. Many of these companies have deals with major cellular network providers like Sprint and Verizon. The best choice for you will simply be the network that has the best coverage in your area. If you choose a network with bad coverage in your neighborhood, the device will not be worth having. Because they are wireless medical alert systems, coverage is very crucial.

You should also make sure that your device is waterproof. This is because of two primary reasons. Firstly, you may be out when it is raining, which can result in the device being impacted by water. Secondly, you may fall in the shower – in fact, a large portion of elderly falls occur in the shower, so you should aim to wear your device in the shower with you.

Another necessity revolves around the emergency response team that they have in place. The alert system should have 24/7 coverage at no additional cost – you never know when an emergency might occur. In addition, many modern monitoring systems come with apps that allow your family to keep tabs on you – this is a great level of extra security that will also give peace-of-mind to relatives. In addition, fall detection medical alert systems are great for those who are scared they won’t be able to hit the button on their devices.

Mobile Medical Alert Devices: Differences in Design

Mobile alert devices can be worn in a multitude of ways. You should try and wear your device somewhere that you will know will be accessible if you are to fall or have any other form of health-related problem. Many people clip these to their pants at the waistline, others leave them in their pockets – but pockets may be hard to access in the case of a fall.

GPS Bracelets

This is another common way for people wear their GPS alert devices, it creates an extremely accessible way for you to have the ability to push the button on your device. In addition, it is not intrusive or uncomfortable like it may be if it were attached to your waistline. This being said, if you are to fall and injure one of your arms, it may be hard to access the button on the device.

GPS Necklace

This is the other common form of GPS device – people wear a necklace and have the device on in the form of a pendant. You will have a base unit that connects to the wireless network, but can roam around using the pendant – it will look discreet and can be worn inside of your clothing as to not draw too much attention. The only problem with these pendants is that they’re similar to the LifeAlert systems in which you need to be within distance of the base for the GPS part of the system to work correctly.

GPS Medical Alert Device vs. Mobile Phones

Years ago, senior citizens were not well versed in the modern technologies of today. Cell phones were large, complex and relatively unknown to the elderly. This is no longer the case. If you have a mobile phone and you know how to use it, you may be asking yourself why you would need one of these alert devices. This is a good question, and in some ways, you are definitely right – you can call relatives now and keep in constant communication with them. If they were to call you and you were unable to pick up, they would most likely come and check in on you after a while.

But there are still plenty of advantages in having one of these emergency alert systems. You don’t want to take a chance when it comes to something as serious as being in a position unable to contact emergency services. We’ve outlined some of the top reasons that emergency alert devices are a necessary addition to a cellular device if you already have one.

Easy-to-Use

You only have to push a button and you are in immediate contact with an emergency professional. In case of extreme duress, you may find it hard to navigate a phone and call the right people. In some cases, you may be completely disoriented, especially if you’ve hit your head or done any other form of damage that may prevent you from thinking as clearly as possible. Many modern phones that have GPS capabilities can be difficult and time consuming to navigate in many cases. Having a single button to push eliminates any risk that you cannot use your device properly.

Never Without It

You may think that you always have your phone with you and it may seem that way. But you’d be surprised at how many times you may set it down or leave it behind without realizing it. You also can’t bring your phone with you into the shower and other places. That’s why having it with you at all times is great for ensuring that you don’t end up stranded. Forgetting your phone once could result in having dire consequences for your health.

Unable to Respond

As we mentioned earlier, there may be a time when you are unable to respond. There are certain alert systems that are able to pick up on trauma and understand if you have had an accident. They then immediately contact the emergency responders to try and get some support to you straight away. On top of this, you may be able hit the button on your device, but find that you can’t speak up because you’re out of breath or panicked. The emergency device will automatically contact emergency personnel if you are unresponsive.

Trained Professionals

One of the most under recognized benefits of this technology is the emergency response teams that you are put in contact with should you fall down. These teams are trained to deal with emergencies that you may get into. Unlike a traditional 911 operator, medical alert system personnel deal exclusively with senior aged individuals who fall or injure themselves. They’re the best equipped professionals on the market in terms of dealing with situations you may face.

GPS Medical Alert Systems: Test Results

With real GPS systems, you are able to be locatable anywhere on earth. True GPS systems use satellites to pinpoint location data, rather than cellular networks. But because GPS medical systems use cell phone networks, a lot of what you test for with reliability testing is based on the network provider. If you can’t get any signal, you can’t contact the emergency personnel in times of emergency.

The only other major component that needs to be scrutinized is the battery power, although it is advised that you charge the battery of your device near your bed when you go to sleep at night. Still, some devices have battery lives that are better than others, and this is worth keeping in mind when deciding on the correct device for yourself.

Strength and Effectiveness

Because the ability of the device to receive and send signals is so important, we made sure that this was a major component of our tests and reviews. We tested the devices we were reviewing at multiple locations, we made calls to the emergency personnel and determined how well information was being transmitted. We did this both in highly dense residential areas, office areas, and more remote residential areas that were not well known for having brilliant mobile phone signals.

What we found is that the alert systems we have named as the best in our reviews all had the ability to make clear and constant contact with emergency personnel. These systems were even able to make good contact while in areas that were known for having poor mobile service.

Battery Efficiency

Another major component that we tested was the battery life of the different devices that we were reviewing. We wanted to make sure that users wouldn’t ever be in a position where they ran out of battery before they would have a chance to recharge it, as this could prove fatal. Since you don’t use the alert system regularly, it sometimes may be easy to forget to check if it is on. You should charge your device by your bedside every night when you go to sleep.

With our testing, we were aiming to ensure that the best alert devices had at least 24 hours of battery life when not being used. This way, you would never be stranded without battery as long as you charged it once every day. Since you most likely would not be awake for 24 hours straight, this gives you a little extra leeway if you are to be out of the house longer than you realize.

We made sure to purchase all our units from retailers in an effort to ensure that we were using the same batteries and devices that you will be using if you purchase them. Ensuring that we aren’t receiving devices that are specially equipped directly from producers is the best way to make sure that our tests are accurate.

Other Important Considerations When Choosing a GPS Medical Alert Device

After determining the strength of the battery and the device’s ability to connect and communicate with emergency personnel, there are a few other things you should consider when trying to decide on the right device for yourself. You should always try and look for reviews of the company that you’re planning on going with, their customer service is extremely important. In addition, you should consider the following factors when trying to decide which device is right for you:

Fall Recognition

This is a really good component that you may want to seriously consider if you’re going to be investing in an emergency alert system. There may be a case where you fall and you don’t have the ability to hit the button on your alert system, or there could be case in which you are unconscious and need help. This is why having a fall recognition mechanism inside the device can be very helpful. Emergency response teams will try and contact you and if they are unable to do so will send emergency personnel to your location.

Application and Messaging Service

As mentioned previously, some medical alert systems come with mobile applications and messaging services that will keep loved ones up-to-date with your location. If you live far away from family, this is the perfect way to have peace-of-mind about your location. Speak to your family and friends about whether they think it’s a good idea that you get a service that provides applications. The device can even be programmed to notify someone if you’re outside of a specific area.

Customer Support

You may have 24/7 access to the emergency response team, but you’ll also want to make sure that you have access to help and support should you need to troubleshoot problems you’re having with your device. You should ask your prospective team if they offer assistance or have a hotline for general problems that aren’t emergencies.

Additional Fees and Terms

You pay for the device upfront, but because of the ongoing service you are provided with, you will continue to pay subscription fees and other charges. The companies provide you with devices in two ways – some sell you a device upfront, others make you pay rent every month on the device and return it once you no longer need it. Both of these models also make you pay a monthly fee for the emergency services that they provide. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a no monthly fee medical alert system – beware of people who advertise medical alert systems for senior without monthly fees.

In certain cases, you may have to sign a minimum use contract – in this case, you should ask what the early termination fee is. Make sure you have a full breakdown of costs and charges before you sign any commitments.

GPS Medical Alert Systems for Seniors: Ratings for Medical Alert Systems

The GPS medical alert system device that we recommend the most has to be GreatCall – it had the best effectiveness in terms of signal, as well as the best battery power. In addition, you get a mechanism that can detect falls, which provides the extra peace-of-mind you’re probably looking for in one of these devices. All of this comes at an extremely affordable price – it’s actually the cheapest medical alert system we reviewed. This is definitely the best medical alert system with fall detection – it truly is a 5 star medical alert system.

Another device we are recommending is LifeBeacon – they scored similarly well to GreatCall, although the costs for waterproof devices is higher. MedicalAlert360 is another highly recommended device, it was just as effective as first two devices, but the battery life was slightly shorter. Mobile Guardian scored the same as MedicalAlert360, but it has a much simpler design without additional applications and so forth. This will be seen as an advantage by some consumers.

All the devices mentioned above are the top rated medical alert systems. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a free medical alert system. If you sometimes worry that a fall could result in you not being found for a prolonged period of time, a medical alert system is really worth the investment. Make sure to check which cellular providers each company uses so that you can determine if it is a good fit for the area that you live in.