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The 5 Best Medical Alert Systems with Fall Detection

Aug 25, 2022

By Sheila Olson and Sara Lindberg, MEd
Medically Reviewed by Liam M. Fry, MD, FACP, CMD
Reviewed by Kathleen Cameron, BSPharm, MPH, Senior Director for NCOA’s Center for Healthy Aging
Fact Checked

Affiliate Disclosure
This content and its featured products and services were independently reviewed by a third-party, credentialed Reviews Team. If you make a purchase using the links included, our partners may earn a commission. NCOA, however, does not receive a commission for purchases.

Medical Alert Systems With Fall Detection - Key Takeaways

  • Medical alert systems with fall detection are worth considering if you or someone you care for lives alone or is at a high risk of falling.
  • Most companies charge about $10 per month to add fall detection to a medical alert device.
  • Fall detection works by sensing when the user has fallen and automatically contacting the medical alert company’s monitoring center for help.

More than one-fourth of Americans who are 65 and older experience a fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).¹ And whether it’s with or without injury, falls can carry a heavy quality of life impact. The best medical alert systems with fall detection can provide extra security for older adults who are at a high risk of falling. Medical alert systems with automatic fall detection use technology that senses when you fall and sends an immediate alert to get you help. Although you’ll have to pay $5–$10 more per month to add this feature to most medical alert systems, fall detection can give you and your loved ones added peace of mind and help you age in place longer. 

Our Reviews Team researched and tested the top medical alert systems with fall detection to help you find the best one for your needs. See what companies made our list of the best medical alert systems with fall detection.

A quick look at the best medical alert systems with fall detection

Why you can trust our expert review

2,500+
Hours of Research
1
Surveys Deployed
12
Brands Tested
9
Experts Consulted

Our Reviews Team spent more than 2,500 hours conducting in-depth research on medical alert systems. During our process, we:

  • Researched and tested each system independently
  • Consulted with licensed professional caregivers and doctors who specialize in older adult care
  • Mystery shopped five medical alert system brands
  • Surveyed medical alert system users
  • Read hundreds of verified customer reviews from trusted third parties, such as Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Trustpilot

Read more about our medical alert systems review methodology.

Table 1 The best medical alert systems with fall detection

Brand

Starting monthly fee

Range from base unit (at-home systems)

Connection type

Battery life (on-the-go systems)

Fall detection cost

Warranty for normal wear and tear

Medical Guardian

$30

1,300–1,400 feet

Landline,

AT&T or Verizon cellular

5 days

$10 per month

No

Lifeline

$30

800 feet

Landline, AT&T cellular

5 days

Included in price

No

Bay Alarm Medical

$25

1,000 feet

Landline, AT&T or Verizon cellular

6–18 hours (smartwatch)

$10 per month

Yes

LifeFone

$30

1,300 feet

Landline, AT&T or Verizon cellular

30 days

$5 per month for most systems

Yes

Medical Alert

$20

800 feet

Landline, AT&T cellular

5 days

$10 per month

No

Best Medical Alert Systems With Fall Detection

Best Device Range: Medical Guardian

Pros Most products are all-in-one devices, meaning you don’t need to carry a separate fall detection device No activation or equipment fees (except for a one-time fee with the Mini Guardian) No long-term contracts or cancellation fees Range of up to 1,400 feet with the Classic Guardian system Cellular plans available; no landline required Frequent deals and discounts Free month of service, free lockbox, and free shipping with an annual subscription All devices are water-resistant
Cons Monthly fees start at about $30 (not including fall detection) Not all devices have the option to add fall detection

Based on its industry-leading device range for its at-home system (up to 1,400 feet, the longest on this list), Medical Guardian earned our Reviews Team’s “Best Device Range” distinction. That means you can be up to 1,400 feet away (about four football fields) from the base unit (a small device that links to the company’s monitoring center and connects to your fall detection necklace), and the device will still register a fall and automatically contact the monitoring center.  

Medical Guardian also has a competitive combination of features, performance, and value that makes it one of the best medical alert systems on the market—it ties with LifeFone for the most connection types on this list (landline, AT&T, and Verizon cellular), its on-the-go devices have a high five-day battery life, and it has one of the fastest response times in the industry at 1–15 seconds, which is well below the 30-second industry average based on our Reviews Team’s internal testing. This may be why a majority (43%) of the Reviews Team’s survey respondents use Medical Guardian for their medical alert system—the second most popular system is Bay Alarm Medical (26%).

When our Reviews Team tested the Medical Guardian fall detection option, we found it successfully detected simulated falls from a standing position. Be aware no fall detection will detect 100% of falls. 

Automatic fall detection isn’t included in the monitoring plans, but you can add it for $10 per month. Also, fall detection isn’t an option for all Medical Guardian devices—the MG Move smartwatch is the only product without a fall detection option. Other companies on this list offer fall detection as an optional add-on for all their devices.

Also, be sure to check out Medical Guardian versus Medical Alert to compare these two popular brands.

Customer service and payment options

The customer service team at Medical Guardian is available by phone, email, or chat on its website. The team is available by phone at 800-480-1357 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. 

You can also email the customer service address at MGCustomerCare@medicalguardian.com

For quick questions, Medical Guardian has a chat service on its website that quickly connects you to an agent. Chat availability is the same as phone availability. 

Medical Guardian accepts payments in the form of check, credit card, or check by phone.

Most Accurate: Lifeline

Pros Fall detection available with every device as an add-on No extra fee for fall detection in two devices Auto Alert function alerts your emergency contacts automatically when it detects a fall Lifeline Cares app and online hub for family members and caregivers to communicate and monitor their loved one’s activities Option to add additional two-way communication, so you can talk to the call center from anywhere in your home No long-term contract or cancellation fees All devices are waterproof
Cons $50 activation fee Only two device styles Monthly monitoring fee with fall detection starts at $44.95

Lifeline developed AutoAlert fall detection technology for its Lifeline medical alert system. Its high accuracy earned it our Reviews Team’s designation of “Most Accurate.” Fall detection is included in the HomeSafe AutoAlert and On the Go systems with no extra fee. 

AutoAlert combines three fall detection technologies. First, the device can tell how quickly a person falls, which is the same as most other fall detection systems. Second, Lifeline added a barometer to pick up on any tiny differences in air pressure. The barometer is fine-tuned enough to sense differences in air pressure at various distances from the floor. 

Finally, Lifeline uses a formula to double-check the sensor for accuracy. This helps AutoAlert detect falls other systems sometimes miss. It also helps cut down on the number of false alarms or missed falls, when the user actually does fall but the device fails to recognize it. The company claims its technology detects 95% of falls, but remember no fall detection is 100% accurate.2

Customer service and payment options

The customer service team at Lifeline is available by phone, email, or chat on its website. The team is available by phone at 855-332-7799 Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. 

You can also email the customer service address using the contact form.

For quick questions, Lifeline has a chat service on its website that quickly connects you to an agent. Chat availability is the same as phone availability. 

Lifeline accepts payments in the form of check, credit card, or debit card. Paying by check costs an additional $3.50 per month.

Best Battery Life: Bay Alarm Medical

Pros Fall detection available with every device as an add-on Budget-friendly packages combine in-home and on-the-go protection for $40 per month No up-front costs, long-term contracts, or cancellation fees Lifetime rate never goes up as long as you maintain your service Ability to set up personal emergency contact list Free monitoring for roommate or partner (with purchase of a second device) All devices are water-resistant or waterproof
Cons Base unit range of 1,000 feet, slightly less than Medical Guardian and LifeFone Additional charge for GPS button

Bay Alarm Medical is one of the oldest and most trusted names in medical alert systems for older adults. It was founded in 1946 and has reputable products and high customer reviews. Among the medical alert systems with fall detection our Reviews Team tested, Bay Alarm has the highest BBB rating (4.24 out of 5 stars). 

But it’s the long battery life in the company’s fall detection necklace that makes Bay Alarm Medical stand out, which is why our Reviews Team named it “Best Battery Life.” The company states the batteries in wall buttons and necklaces should last five years, and the battery in the at-home fall detection device lasts up to two years. Compare that with the next-longest fall detection battery life on this list, Lifeline, with a one-year maximum. A long battery life in your fall detection necklace helps ensure it’s always working, and wearing it becomes second nature because you don’t have to worry about regular charging. Bay Alarm also monitors and automatically replaces your batteries, so you should never have to worry about a low battery.

Bay Alarm offers clip-on accessories called Bella Charms that look more like jewelry than medical alerts. 

Its automatic fall detection costs $10 per month in addition to standard monitoring fees. 

Customer service and payment options

The customer service team at Bay Alarm Medical is available by phone, email, or chat on its website. The team is available by phone at 877-522-9633 Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST and Saturday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. PST. 

You can also email the customer service address at cs@bayalarmmedical.com

For quick questions, Bay Alarm Medical has a chat service on its website that quickly connects you to an agent. Chat availability is the same as phone availability. 

Bay Alarm Medical accepts payments in the form of debit card, credit card, or check.

Best Extra Features: LifeFone

Pros Multiple devices, including an on-the-go GPS button Frequent discounts and perks, such as a free lockbox with service Landline or cellular plans available No activation fees, long-term contract, or cancellation fees All devices are water-resistant
Cons Fall detection is a separate necklace Not all devices have the option to add fall detection No detailed information about call center staffing or certification

The LifeFone medical alert system includes many features for those who are comfortable with technology. You can think of LifeFone as both a medical alert system with fall detection and an all-in-one home monitoring system. It includes several extra features not available from other companies on this list, which is why our Reviews Team named it “Best Extra Features.”

LifeFone works as an all-in-one home monitoring system, with the following features included in all of its devices:

  • Fire, smoke, and carbon monoxide sensor
  • Medication reminder (reminders are added through the app)
  • Personal lockbox
  • Activity tracking system

There are also additional features that come with extra costs. Caregivers or users can schedule a daily test ($6 per month) for the system that can be turned off with the push of a button. If there’s no response, the call center will contact you. 

You can also schedule a daily check-in call ($19 per month), and a call center operator will call your phone just to make sure everything’s okay. In addition, there’s a caregiver app (free) to help you stay connected with loved ones. These types of extra features are valuable to medical alert system users, according to our Reviews Team’s survey: 40% of respondents said the biggest challenge with their medical alert system is it doesn’t have enough special features.

The company’s devices have a long battery life, a range of 1,300 feet, and low-cost automatic fall detection. Although monthly monitoring starts at $25 a month, fall detection is $5, or about half of what other companies charge. 

One drawback with LifeFone is, like Medical Alert, fall detection is a separate necklace. That means you’ll have to wear two devices (your normal medical alert device and the extra fall detection necklace). But it may be worth it given the extra features.

Customer service and payment options

The customer service team at LifeFone is available by phone or email. The team is available by phone at 800-331-9198 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST and Saturday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST. 

You can also email the customer service address at info@lifefone.com

Medical Guardian accepts payments in the form of credit or debit card, and it offers an online bill pay option.

Best Value: Medical Alert

Pros Fall detection available with every device as an add-on No activation fees, long-term contract, or cancellation fees Landline and cellular plan options The Medical Alert Connect app lets you monitor your device, store health data, and connect with the help center Simple one-step setup All devices are waterproof
Cons Base unit range of only 800 feet Must wear two devices if you want fall detection

Unlike other medical alert systems on our list that only offer fall detection with certain systems, Medical Alert lets you add fall detection to all of its plans. You can even get automatic fall detection with the on-the-go GPS button. 

The service is $10 a month in addition to your monitoring fee. But if you pay for an annual subscription, the cost drops to $18.30 a month for monitoring and $9.20 for fall detection. In other words, you get emergency monitoring with automatic fall detection for just $27.50 a month. This makes it the lowest price on this list, which is why our Reviews Team named Medical Alert as “Best Value.” If price is a priority for you, check out our full medical alert system cost comparisons for more information.

The downside: Fall detection comes in a separate necklace with the company’s on-the-go product (the at-home system uses a stationary base unit and a fall detection necklace). This means for on-the-go devices you’ll have to carry both a medical alert button and a smaller fall detection necklace. The medical alert button is a small, handheld device with a help button and two-way speaker. It’s about the size of a deck of cards. The fall detection necklace is smaller and about the size of a half dollar coin. The medical alert button can stay in your pocket or purse, while you should wear the fall detection necklace around your neck for accuracy. Although using two devices is not ideal, if you’re watching your budget it may be worth it in exchange for the low monitoring fees. 

Customer service and payment options

The customer service team at Medical Alert is available by phone or email. The team is available by phone at 800-800-2537 every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST. 

You can also email the customer service address at customerrelations@medicalalert.com

Medical Alert accepts your first monthly payment in the form of a credit or debit card. After that, the company also accepts automatic payments from your bank account or paper billing.

What is fall detection?

Fall detection (also called automatic fall detection) uses sensors such as accelerometers, which detect motion, to identify when you fall and then send an alert to the medical alert company’s monitoring center that you need help. 

Nearly every company includes a disclaimer on its website stating no device is 100% accurate, so many fall detection devices include a help button as well in case the device doesn’t record your fall.

How does fall detection work? 

Fall detection uses a wearable device (typically a necklace) to detect when the wearer falls and automatically sends help. Some medical alert smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch, also have a fall detection option, but experts generally agree the best way to wear a fall detection device is as a necklace high on your chest and on top of your sternum for accuracy. Research from 2016 shows fall detection worn around your neck is more accurate than fall detection worn around your wrist.3 

Fall detection technology typically includes an accelerometer and other advanced sensors such as barometers to sense slight changes in speed, angle of descent, and air pressure to detect a fall, according to this 2021 systematic review.4 The devices take the data from those sensors and plug the information into an algorithm to determine whether a fall actually occurred. If the device confirms a fall did occur, it contacts the company’s monitoring center to send help.

To learn more about ambient sensors and monitoring centers, read about how medical alert systems work.

How accurate is fall detection?

Be aware that false positives can occur (when the device mistakenly detects a fall that hasn’t happened) from things like dropping your device or the device falling off a table. 

This 2020 research survey found an average accuracy rate of 93% for fall detection devices, but numbers vary. This 2017 study5 found an average accuracy rate of 80%, and this 2018 review of 22 different studies6 found that, in order to arrive at a standard accuracy rate of fall detection systems, more real-world research is needed. Generally, researchers agree it’s not 100% accurate, but very close.

In the event of a false positive with your fall detection device, the company will reach out and verify whether you need assistance. Companies also encourage you to test your fall detection device monthly to ensure it’s still working. For step-by-step instructions on how to test a fall detection device (also known as a “drop test”), see this guidance from Medical Guardian.

Why is fall detection important?

All medical alert systems have a button for you to press in the event of a fall or other emergency. But if you fall, you may be unable to press the button yourself. That’s why fall detection is so important.

After all, falling is a common experience for older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).7 “Impairments in vision, hearing, and balance can make an older person more vulnerable to falls than others,” said Liron Sinvani, MD, director of the hospitalist service at Northwell Health and associate professor of medicine at Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in the New York City area. “Those who have conditions such as osteoarthritis or dizziness or take multiple medications also have a greater risk of falling.”

Fall detection devices can prevent negative consequences like dehydration, hypothermia, and pressure sores if someone falls and is lying on the ground for a long time.

Having a medical alert system that can sense a fall and contact emergency personnel will help you quickly get the help you need. It’s a popular feature among medical alert customers. In our Reviews Team’s survey, automatic fall detection was the most popular special feature our respondents wanted in a medical alert system. To gauge your risk of falling and get tips on how to prevent falls, use NCOA’s Falls Free CheckUp tool. And for guidance on how caregivers can discuss falls prevention, use NCOA’s Falls Prevention Conversation Guide for Caregivers

Bottom line

Combined with a medical alert system, fall detection can provide an important second layer of protection. You will have peace of mind knowing help is on the way even if you don’t push the help button. If you’re looking for the best medical alert systems with fall detection, our Reviews Team recommends Medical Guardian for its long device range, Lifeline for the highest accuracy, Bay Alarm Medical for the best devices and longest battery life, Medical Alert for the lowest price, and LifeFone for the best extra features.

Going with any of these companies can give you more confidence to go out on your own and do the things you enjoy. It also can assure your friends and loved ones you have access to help when they can’t be there.

Frequently Asked Questions

Have questions about this review? Email us at reviewsteam@ncoa.org.

Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts About Falls. Found on the internet at https://www.cdc.gov/falls/facts.html
  2. Lifeline. Automatic Fall Detection. Found on the internet at https://www.lifeline.philips.com/medical-alert-systems/fall-detection.html
  3. Gjoreski, et al. How Accurately Can Your Wrist Device Recognize Daily Activities and Detect Falls? Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4166886/
  4. Warrington, et al. Are wearable devices effective for preventing and detecting falls: an umbrella review. Found on the internet at https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-021-12169-7
  5. Aziz, et al. Validation of accuracy of SVM-based fall detection system using real-world fall and non-fall datasets. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5498034/
  6. Broadley, et al. Methods for the Real-World Evaluation of Fall Detection Technology: A Scoping Review. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6068511/
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts About Falls. Found on the internet at https://www.cdc.gov/falls/facts.html
  8. Pannurat N, et al. Automatic fall detection: A review. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4166886/
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Older Adult Falls Data. Found on the internet at https://www.cdc.gov/falls/data/index.html

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