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The Complete Medical Alert Systems Buyer’s Guide for 2022

Oct 26, 2022

By Cara Everett, MS, RDN
Medically Reviewed by Christopher Norman, MSN, APRN, APHN-BC, GNP-BC
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.

Key Takeaways

  • Medical alert systems provide quick access to help from a staffed monitoring center in the event of an emergency.
  • They can be an added safety measure for older adults who live alone, people at risk of falling, and anyone who has recently been in the hospital or has health concerns.
  • The cost of medical alert systems starts at $20 per month, and most systems come with options for both at-home and on-the-go use.
  • Some medical alert systems offer extra features, such as fall detection, medication reminders, and emergency alerts sent to caregivers, doctors, and loved ones.

A medical alert system can be a valuable tool for ensuring your safety or the safety of someone you provide care for. While it’s not meant to be a substitute for friends and loved ones regularly checking on each other, a medical alert device is very helpful in emergencies and for people at high risk of falling.

Many are affordable and offer a range of features to fit your needs and budget. If you’re curious about the different types of medical alert systems, how they work, and how much they cost, read our buyer’s guide for information to help you choose the best medical alert system.

Why you can trust our expert review

2.5K+
Hours of Research
1
Surveys Deployed
13
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:

  • Engaged in ongoing independent research
  • Consulted with licensed adult caregivers and doctors who specialize in caring for older adults
  • Mystery shopped 13 medical alert system brands
  • Surveyed medical alert system users
  • Tested various medical alert systems
  • Read hundreds of verified customer reviews from trusted third parties, such as Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Trustpilot

Read more about our medical alert system review methodology.

What are medical alert systems?

Medical alert systems are electronic or battery-powered devices that connect the user with a 24-hour monitoring center for immediate assistance in the event of an emergency. They are also called personal emergency response systems (PERS), or medical emergency response systems (MERS). Medical alert systems fall into one of two categories: in-home and on-the-go systems.

Most in-home alert systems come with a base unit that is plugged into an outlet in your home, one or more wall-mounted help buttons, and the option of a portable help button you can wear or carry in your pocket. The base units of most systems also include a battery back-up in case of a power outage. Portable help buttons can be used both inside and outside the home, as long as the user stays within range of the base unit.

On-the-go systems are ideal for times when you’re away from home. These consist of small devices you can wear as a necklace or wristband, or carry in a pocket or purse. Some on-the-go systems are even designed as bracelets or watches with medical alert capabilities.

The most basic feature of every medical alert system is the help button, which is found on each base unit and on-the-go device. More advanced systems also come with extra features, like temperature and air quality monitors, fall detection, and connectivity to mobile apps that allow caregivers and loved ones to monitor users remotely. While these apps can’t substitute for in-person care, they do provide an extra layer of support for times when a caregiver can’t be with the person who needs assistance.  

Different types of medical alert systems

If you’re interested in buying a medical alert system for yourself or someone you provide care for, it’s important to be familiar with the different types of systems offered.

In-home medical alert systems

In-home systems are centered on an electronic base unit that stays in one location and plugs into an outlet. The base unit has a help button you can push if you have an emergency, as well as a speaker and microphone to allow you to communicate directly with the monitoring center staff. 

Base unit

a person presses the red button on a medical alert system base unit

The base unit is connected to the company’s monitoring center via a landline or cellular connection. It also communicates wirelessly with any additional devices provided with the system, such as wall-mounted and wearable help buttons.

Cellular-based medical alert systems work with the medical alert company’s connection to a specific cellular provider, and the cost for the service is rolled into the medical alert subscription fees, so you don’t have to be a current customer or sign up with a new cellular network to use the service. For example, if your medical alert system uses the AT&T cellular network, your device will work anywhere with AT&T coverage, and you will not be billed separately by AT&T.

Wall-mounted and wearable help buttons

a white medical alert necklace on a blue background

In addition to the base unit, most of the in-home systems our Reviews Team researched also came with at least one wall-mounted help button and/or a wearable help button. 

Wall-mounted help buttons come in two varieties: touch-activated and voice-activated. It’s a good idea to install a wall button in a high-risk area, such as a bathroom, but the voice-activated buttons are especially helpful. If you fall and can’t reach the button to press it, you can call for help. The wall button device will sense your voice and connect you with the monitoring center.

Wearable buttons can be worn around your neck, on your wrist, clipped to your belt, or carried in a pocket or purse. Some of these buttons also include fall detection, which enables the device to contact the monitoring center when it detects a fall, even if you don’t press the help button (research has shown fall detection devices are most accurate if worn around the neck or attached to a belt).

Medical alert range

While you can wear these help buttons just like you can wear many of the on-the-go devices listed below, help buttons included with in-home systems will only work within a certain distance from the base unit. This distance is determined by the range built into your in-home medical alert system. Most in-home systems have a range of 200–1,000 feet (1,000 feet is about the length of three football fields). Of the medical alert systems tested by our Reviews Team, Medical Guardian and MobileHelp offered the longest ranges, covering a distance of 1,400 feet from the base unit. 

If you’re usually in or around your home, or if you care for someone who stays home most of the time, a range of about 300 feet should be adequate. The length of an average city block is 400 feet, so someone who doesn’t often go any farther than their porch or yard should be well-covered by a medical alert system with a 300-foot range. A person who wants an in-home system but enjoys walking in the neighborhood might find a longer range to be just what they need.

Nearly all medical alert system companies offer at least one option that includes an in-home system. The two exceptions are Lively, a company that only makes mobile medical alert devices, and Apple, which sells several smartwatches with medical alert capabilities.

On-the-go medical alert systems

Many companies offer on-the-go devices, also called mobile devices, along with their in-home systems. If you like to travel or run errands around town, an on-the-go medical alert device can help to ensure your safety in the event of an emergency. Research shows these devices can even help boost the confidence of older adults and those with disabilities or other health concerns, knowing they’ll have a reliable way to get help if they need it.1

On-the-go-medical alerts come in a variety of sizes and types. They all contain rechargeable batteries and come with a charging unit that plugs into an outlet. They can be in the form of a wearable device (such as a medical alert watch or necklace), and are usually lightweight and smaller than a cell phone. Lively also offers two cell phones with medical alert capabilities.

Location tracking

The best mobile alert devices use advanced location tracking technology. By using a combination of GPS, Wi-Fi, and cellular networks, these devices are able to send your exact location coordinates to the professionals at the monitoring center, where they will work with emergency services to get the help you need, wherever you are. This can be lifesaving if you have an emergency and are unable to explain where you are to the monitoring staff.

On-the-go devices with location tracking are also helpful for caregivers, especially those who provide assistance to someone with dementia or other cognitive issues that could place them at risk of wandering and not knowing where they are.2 According to a 2016 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, adults with dementia often need supervision at all times. The Alzheimer’s Association has a checklist you can use to tell the difference between Alzheimer’s (the most common type of dementia) and normal age-related memory changes.3

Constant supervision can be difficult for a caregiver to provide, even if they live with the person needing assistance. A mobile device that allows the caregiver or monitoring center staff to locate the user can be invaluable if the user wanders away when they are left alone.4

Medical alert watches

a black medical alert smartwatch on a blue background

Smartwatches with medical alert capabilities are becoming more popular as a way to stay safe while keeping in touch with friends and loved ones. Our Reviews Team’s survey found that more people prefer a watch-style medical alert device than any other type. 

Medical alert watches offer a variety of functions in addition to the emergency help button. Some include health-monitoring features like step counters and heart rate monitors. 

While health monitoring can be a nice feature for people who want to keep track of those details, experts caution that they can also cause unnecessary worry. It’s important to talk with your health care provider about what level of monitoring you need and will use.

Medical alert brands that offer watches include:

Learn how to choose a medical alert watch in our review of the best medical alert watches of 2022.

Medical alert necklaces

a medical alert necklace worn by someone with a green shirt

Many on-the-go medical alert devices are designed to be worn around the neck. Designs can vary, from circular and oval shaped to rectangular, like the necklace illustrated above. Most devices are plain, with no option for disguising them, but Bay Alarm Medical offers charm cover accessories for its medical alert necklace, so no one will know you’re wearing a medical alert device.

All medical alert necklaces include a help button, and some also offer additional features such as two-way communication, fall detection, and water resistance. Read more about these features below. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about how to choose a medical alert necklace, read our review on the best medical alert necklaces of 2022.

Medical alert systems vs. medical ID bracelets

Medical alert systems are not the same as medical ID bracelets or other types of jewelry. Because they serve different purposes, you or someone you care for might want to have both a medical alert system and a medical ID bracelet.

Medical ID bracelets are engraved with essential information that emergency personnel need to know, such as your name, phone number, chronic diseases, certain medications, and allergies. This can be lifesaving information in the event of an emergency. Medical ID bracelets can also serve as a communication tool for people with dementia who may be at risk of wandering or not knowing where they are.

A medical alert system, on the other hand, is an electronic or battery-powered device that provides 24/7 monitoring and the ability to contact the medical alert company’s trained staff members anytime you need help, for any reason. Some medical alert systems, like those offered by LifeFone, also have the capability to include all of the information that would be on a medical ID bracelet in its online system so monitoring center staff can share your essential information with emergency responders.

Monitored vs. unmonitored medical alert systems

The two major differences between monitored and unmonitored medical alert systems are price and the services offered.

Unmonitored systems are less expensive but only have the capability to call 911 or alert your list of contacts if you have an emergency. The Apple Watch is an example of this type of system.

Monitored medical alert systems charge a monthly fee to allow you to get assistance from the company’s monitoring center 24/7, much like a home alarm system. If you have an emergency or need help of any kind, you can push the help button and you’ll be connected to the monitoring center’s trained staff. They will talk to you and assess your situation, then decide how they can best help you. If you need emergency medical help, the monitoring center will call 911 for you.  

Can a cell phone be used as a medical alert?

No, a cell phone cannot be reliably used as a medical alert system. It’s true that you can call 911 on a cell phone, and all smartphones have GPS, allowing 911 dispatchers to find your location. But a medical alert system gives you more reliable access to help in an emergency for several reasons. 

Cell phones are easily lost

First, most people do not carry their cell phone with them at all times. And many of us have misplaced our phones at some point, or even lost them. The stress of an emergency situation could make it even harder to find your phone when you need it most. 

Most in-home medical alert systems include a base unit with a help button and at least one wall-mounted help button. The base unit and wall buttons are always in the same place, so you can quickly get to the help button and push it to talk to the monitoring center.

On-the-go medical alerts can be worn around your neck, strapped on your wrist, clipped to a belt, or carried in a pocket or purse. They’re also quite a bit smaller and lighter than most of today’s smartphones. 

The mobile medical alert devices in our review of the best medical alert necklaces measure 1.6 inches x 2.4 inches on average, compared to about 3 inches x 6 inches for many phones. If you get into the habit of putting your mobile medical alert device on every morning when you get dressed, you’ll have quick access to help whenever you need it.

Cell phones aren’t waterproof

Second, most wearable and wall-mounted medical alert devices are waterproof or water-resistant, while most cell phones are not. You can wear your waterproof on-the-go help button in the shower, or place a waterproof help button on the bathroom or shower wall in case of a fall or other emergency. It’s a great idea to have a medical alert button in the bathroom, because research shows that falls in the bathroom are more than twice as likely to cause injuries compared to falls in other rooms.5

Cell phones don’t have fall detection

Lastly, cell phones don’t provide fall detection. Because falls are a major source of injury among older adults, wearing a medical alert device with fall detection is a smart idea.6

Devices with fall detection will automatically contact the monitoring center if they detect that the user has fallen. This is an added safety measure for situations in which a person falls but is unable to push their help button. 

Because people can fall for reasons other than losing their balance (such as from heart or breathing issues), the medical alert will ensure that help is sent even if you’re unable to alert the monitoring center and ask for help.

Christopher Norman, a geriatric nurse practitioner in New York state, also cautions that not all falls are created equal: “A slide out of a chair can sometimes not be picked up by a fall detection device because it’s ‘too slow,’ whereas falling from a standing position will often be picked up,” said Norman. “How a person gets around (independently, in a wheelchair, with a rolling walker or other device, power scooter, etc.) is an important conversation when selecting a medical alert system.”

How do medical alert systems work?

When you press the help button or your device detects a fall, the medical alert system contacts the company’s monitoring center, which is staffed 24/7 with trained representatives. Our Reviews Team tested 13 of the top medical alert systems and found that every company’s monitoring center responded in less than 35 seconds. That’s good to know when you’re faced with a fall or other emergency and need help quickly.

Contacting the monitoring center

Rest assured that contacting the monitoring center doesn’t mean you’re calling 911, that emergency personnel will come to your house, or that you’ll go to the hospital. The monitoring center representative will simply ask about your situation and find out the details to determine what type of help you need. 

If you’re having a medical emergency and need an ambulance, the monitoring center will call 911 for you and stay on the line until the paramedics arrive. If you’re unable to speak to the monitoring center representative after an alert has been sent, they will call 911 for immediate help. Many medical alert systems will also send a message to a list of contacts you’ve pre-selected in the event of an emergency. 

Pressing the button accidentally

Lynda Shrager, a social worker, occupational therapist, and certified aging in place specialist, noted that sometimes help buttons are pressed by accident. This can particularly be an issue with devices worn around the neck. Some of my patients don’t like it hanging around their neck as it gets caught in their clothing, or, worse, they set it off in their sleep by rolling on it,” said Shrager.

For this reason, some people prefer placing the help button on their bedside table at night or wearing a bracelet-style help button. But if you do press the button by accident, you can tell the monitoring representative that you’re fine and you mistakenly pushed the help button. 

Testing your device

It’s even a good idea to test your help button now and then to make sure it’s working, and many medical alert companies encourage users to do this. If you have a mobile device with location tracking, you can use the opportunity to ask the monitoring center representative what location shows up for your device. This is a great way to check the accuracy of your device’s location tracker. 

Tracking your location

Just as GPS technology in cell phones is not always 100% accurate, mobile medical alerts can be a bit off as well.7 If the location the monitoring center has does not match up with your actual location, the monitoring center representative can help address the problem before an emergency arises. 

It may be reassuring to know that mobile devices with GPS location tracking are not dependent on a cellular or Wi-Fi connection for the monitoring center to find your location. GPS works through a system of 31 satellites giving off signals that are received by the medical alert device, independent of any internet or cellular connection.8 But some mobile devices use advanced location tracking, in which signals from all three systems—GPS, Wi-Fi, and cell phone towers—are employed to ensure greater location accuracy.

For more in-depth information, read our article on how medical alert systems work.

Who needs a medical alert system?

Many people believe incorrectly that only older people who live alone need a medical alert system. This couldn’t be further from the truth. 

People with certain chronic diseases, injuries, and recent illnesses may also need a medical alert system. “If someone with a disability who might have a fear of falling and is living alone wanted to use it, I see no reason why it wouldn’t be a very effective tool,” said Shrager.

Others who might find a medical alert system helpful include:

  • Those at risk of falling due to dizziness or low blood pressure related to chronic diseases or certain medications
  • People who go out alone and want the added safety a medical alert system provides
  • Individuals who wouldn’t be able to stay in their home if they didn’t have a way to reach help quickly (as part of a comprehensive care plan that includes in-person caregiving)
  • People recovering from a recent hospital stay, injury, surgery, or illness
  • Anyone who needs assistance with daily activities, self care, or management of a chronic disease

How a medical alert system can help caregivers

Assisting in the daily care of friends, family, neighbors, and others is becoming more common due to shorter hospital stays and a greater number of chronic diseases that are managed at home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 25% of Americans over the age of 18 provide unpaid caregiving assistance to someone with a chronic condition or disability.9

And according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in recent years caregivers have been expected to provide more complex medical care in the home and to operate medical equipment that was previously handled by nurses in a hospital setting.10 Because of shorter hospital stays after surgery and illnesses, many patients are discharged with multiple care needs that their caregivers may not be fully trained to address. 

Medical emergencies in the home are common, particularly when someone is recovering from a recent hospital stay, and a medical alert system can provide a measure of safety for both the patient and their caregiver.11 If a caregiver is faced with a situation they don’t feel confident dealing with, knowing that immediate help is available at the push of a button can give them much-needed peace of mind. 

How to choose the right medical alert system

When shopping for a medical alert system, it’s important to ask several questions.

  • Who will be using the medical alert system?
    Are you buying it for yourself, a loved one, or someone else you provide care for? If it’s for another person, ask them what type of device they would be comfortable using. For example, if they want to wear a mobile device around their neck but are concerned it will be too large or heavy, you’ll want to narrow your focus to smaller, lightweight devices.
  • What do you need the medical alert system to do?
    We’ll go through the features of medical alert systems below, but you can start thinking now about why you’re looking for a medical alert system. Are you or the person you’re buying it for at risk of falling? You may want a wearable device with fall detection. Do you want reminders for medications and appointments? Some systems offer those features as well.
  • What is your budget for a medical alert system?
    Price is an important consideration with monitored medical alert systems. Some charge an up-front equipment fee in addition to monthly monitoring fees of $20–$40 (on average). Certain features can cost extra as well, while others may be included in the monthly cost.

Answering these questions can help you narrow the choices down from the wide variety of medical alert systems on the market. This will help your decision-making process go more smoothly and increase the chances that you’ll be satisfied with the system you purchase.

Features to look for in a medical alert system

Here we’ll break down the features offered among medical alerts, but keep in mind that you may only need certain features. It’s important to think about which features you’ll really use in a medical alert system. You may not want to pay extra for things you don’t need. 

Our survey of medical alert users found that 46% of people said their biggest challenge with their medical alert system was that they didn’t understand how to use all of its features. Some systems are more basic than others, but may provide just what you need at a lower price. 

Wearable help buttons

Most medical alert system providers give you several options of help buttons. You can use only a base unit, or you can add wall-mounted help buttons and wearable devices that include help buttons. It may seem like a wearable help button would be the most convenient choice for everyone, but that’s not always the case. 

For example, if you’re caring for someone who isn’t mobile and spends all of their time in bed or in a chair, they may not need a wearable device. And individuals with dementia or a chronic disease that may cause them to accidentally press the button might be better off not wearing a device. 

But for people who are mobile and those who enjoy getting outside on a regular basis, a wearable help button can be a great choice. Most in-home systems come with at least one help button that can be worn or carried in a pocket.

Two-way communication

All base units and some wearable help buttons and on-the-go devices include a speaker for two-way communication with the monitoring center. This can be vital in allowing the user to explain their situation to the monitoring center staff.

For people with hearing loss, on-the-go devices with a two-way speaker are an excellent option. They can be held close to the ear to allow the user to hear and communicate with the monitoring center representative. 

Fall detection

Some systems offer fall detection in wearable devices for an added monthly fee. Based on our survey of 1,000 medical alert users, we found that fall detection was the No. 1 feature people wanted in their medical alert. This makes sense, as data from the CDC indicates that more than 28% of adults over the age of 65 have fallen at least once in the past year.12

In testing medical alert devices with fall detection, our Reviews Team determined that the sensors accurately detected even slow falls from a sitting position. Other research has found that fall detection devices worn on the wrist (such as a watch or bracelet) are not as accurate as those worn around the neck or on a belt.13 This is because people move their arms much more than the central part of their body, which can cause false alarms in fall detection sensors.

Even without 100% accuracy, medical alerts with fall detection can provide peace of mind for anyone at risk of falling, or for those who care for someone who may be at risk of falling. Experts say it’s a good idea not to rely completely on the fall sensor in a device, but to press the help button if you’re able to after a fall. 

Use NCOA’s Falls Free CheckUp to assess your fall-related risk. 

Health monitoring

Some medical alert systems can offer additional monitoring, such as heart rate and steps per day. Certain in-home devices can also keep track of air quality and air temperature in the home, sending an alert to caregivers or other contacts if either level falls outside a preset range.

While these extra features can be ideal for certain people, not everyone needs them. Think about your specific needs, both now and in the future, to help you decide what is best for you or the person you’re buying the system for.

Sending alerts to contacts 

Not all medical alert systems offer this feature, but many systems will alert both the monitoring center and a list of your chosen contacts if you press the help button. Still other systems will keep your contacts list in your account so that if you call the monitoring center, the representative will let them know you’ve had an emergency.

Smartphone apps

Quite a few medical alert systems can be used with a mobile app on a smartphone or tablet. This is a great option for people who are comfortable using technology and want the extra features that can be accessed with an app. Some of these features include medication and appointment reminders, location tracking, and the ability to text friends and family.

Caregiver apps can be used with a smartphone to allow friends, loved ones, and others involved in your care to stay in touch, send you reminders, know your location, and more. For example, Medical Guardian has an app called MyGuardian that can store your medical information, billing details, emergency contacts, tasks, and reminders all in one place.

Caregiver apps can be a great way for friends and loved ones who are long-distance to stay up-to-date on the user’s care plan. Advanced apps even include features such as monitoring first movement of the day and activity levels. This can be helpful for caregivers who don’t live with the person needing care, serving as a way to check on them even when the caregiver is somewhere else.  

Medication and appointment reminders

As mentioned above, you may want a device that works with an app or with the system’s website portal to give you medication or appointment reminders. This can be a bonus for just about anyone who wants the extra help for staying on track with health-related tasks.

Bluetooth connectivity

In addition to the ability to connect with a smartphone, some medical alert devices can also connect with other Bluetooth-enabled devices, like smart window and door sensors. This can be very helpful for caregivers who are assisting someone with dementia. If they try to leave the house, the device will alert the caregiver. HandsFree Health is one company that offers Bluetooth-enabled medical alerts.

Water resistance 

Many wall buttons and wearable help buttons are water resistant or waterproof, allowing you to access them even in wet environments. You may want to place a wall-mounted help button in the shower or wear a help button with fall detection while taking a shower. Water-resistant help buttons can be safely taken into the shower but cannot be submerged in water, such as while swimming or taking a bath. 

Some mobile devices are water-resistant, while others are not. If water resistance is a feature that’s important to you, be sure to ask the company before ordering your system. And if you need a help button that can be worn in water, such as a bath or pool, you will need to confirm that the device you’re buying is waterproof, and not just water resistant.

Battery life

If you’re looking for an on-the-go device, it’s important to know how long the rechargeable battery will last between charges. Battery life varies by brand, ranging from one to five days for most brands. LifeFone is a standout with a 30-day battery life in its on-the-go device. 

Medical alert accessories

Some medical alert system companies offer accessories for their systems. These can be included in the price or offered at an additional cost. Accessories include items such as:

  • Lockbox: This is a box that is installed somewhere on the exterior of your home. If you have an emergency and are unable to let paramedics into your home, a lockbox allows them to get the key and enter your home without breaking a window or door.
  • Carrying pouch: This is a small case that can be clipped to your belt or put in a purse to keep your mobile device safe and clean. It also prevents the help button from being pushed by accident.
  • Belt clip: This accessory allows you to attach your on-the-go device to a belt or waistband.
  • Extra help buttons: Many companies offer an additional help button for a small fee, so that a second person in your household can use one, or so you can keep an extra button in a separate place in your home.

The accessories offered by each company vary, so check the website for your medical alert system to see which ones are available.

Warranties

While some medical alert companies include a warranty for normal wear and tear free of charge, not all do. Here are the medical alert brands that include a warranty, from our Reviews Team’s list of the 12 best medical alert systems:

Other companies charge extra for warranties. Medical Guardian, for example, charges $6.99 per month for its Protection Plan. This plan serves as a warranty on the equipment, covering wear and tear, manufacturer’s defects, and damage. It also includes unlimited battery replacements.  

Other considerations

Other things to think about when shopping for a medical alert system include the company’s reputation, customer reviews, and whether the company provides a free trial period.

You can look at websites such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and TrustPilot for independent customer reviews and to check on the company’s standing as an organization. For instance, the BBB gives each company a rating that is not based on customer reviews, but takes into account things like how well the company responds to complaints and how long it’s been in business.

It’s a great idea to choose a medical alert system that offers a free trial period, especially if you’re buying a system for someone else. You’ll want to make sure they’re comfortable using it and that they like the feel of any wearable devices. 

Also, people with dexterity issues need to be able to use the device easily. If the help button is hard for the user to push, for example, it won’t be a great fit. Some companies offer a time frame during which you can return the system if it doesn’t meet your needs. For instance, Mobile Help and Bay Alarm medical provide 30-day free trial periods. Not all companies offer this though, so it’s worth checking to make sure before ordering.

How much do medical alert systems cost?

The cost of medical alert systems varies quite a bit and is based on a number of factors. Table 1 lists the prices for our picks of the top medical alert systems of 2022. Monthly fees start at $20, but some companies charge extra for features like fall detection or extra warranty coverage. Also, you’ll pay an equipment fee for systems in which you purchase the equipment, while other systems wrap an equipment rental fee into the monthly cost. 

Let’s look at the factors that influence the cost of medical alert systems. 

Purchasing vs. leasing medical alert equipment

In general, equipment for in-home systems is leased, while on-the-go devices are purchased outright. Any equipment you purchase will come with an equipment fee. Most medical alert watches, for example, have an up-front equipment fee of $100$300.

Monthly fees

All monitored medical alert systems charge a monthly fee for providing 24/7 assistance to subscribers. Starting monthly fees for in-home medical alert systems are $20$30. On-the-go systems are typically $5$20 more per month than in-home systems.

You can save on monthly fees with many companies by paying quarterly or yearly. For example, MobileHelp offers a discount of $50 per year for customers who pay annually rather than month-by-month. Read our article on the cost of medical alert systems for a breakdown of how much money you can save on each medical alert system brand by paying yearly rather than monthly.

Other fees

Some companies also charge fees for equipment, activation, installation, or shipping. These may not be visible on the website until you get to the checkout screen or call to place an order. 

If a company charges an activation or installation fee, expect to pay between $25 and $100 for this service. Equipment fees vary based on the type of device you’re ordering, and shipping varies as well. Thankfully, most of the companies our Reviews Team has researched offer free shipping on their medical alert systems, particularly if you choose a quarterly or yearly payment schedule.

Add-ons

Each company has their own pricing system, making it difficult to compare one brand to another. Certain features are included with some brands, while others are considered add-ons and come with an additional cost. For example, fall detection is an added feature with many companies and comes with its own cost of $5–$10 per month.

Some companies also charge extra for caregiver apps or daily check-ins. LifeFone is one that offers a daily check-in for an additional $19 per month.

It’s important to take these extra monthly fees into consideration if you think you’ll need the extra features.

How to save money on medical alert systems

Sales

Medical alert companies offer seasonal sales, often around holidays and at other times of the year. For instance, when this article was written, Lively was having a 25% off sale for Grandparents Day. At the same time, MobileHelp was offering one free month and 50% off of fall detection.

Sales like this are common; you just have to keep an eye on any brand you’re interested in and take advantage of sales when they happen.

Discounts

  • Veterans: United States veterans can receive reduced-price or free medical alert systems from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 
  • AARP: AARP offers a 15% discount on Lifeline medical alert systems. In addition, Lively offers a $60 discount for AARP members on its Preferred and Ultimate packages.

Payment plans

Some companies offer financing to help you pay for your medical alert system. Check the FAQ section of the company’s website or call their customer service number to find out more information on payment plans.

Bundled packages

It’s possible to save money on a medical alert system by bundling a couple of products together. This can be a great idea if you have more than one person in the household who wants to use a medical alert system, or if you want both an in-home unit and an on-the-go system. 

For example, MobileHelp offers a bundle called the Mobile Duo. With two mobile GPS devices and your choice of one waterproof necklace, wristband, or wall help button for $45 per month, you’ll get a package that covers you at home and on-the-go.

How to buy a medical alert system

Medical alert systems are available online and by phone. You can also buy them in some stores where health care devices are sold. It’s important to shop around and determine which features you want first, then look into options for buying the system you’ve decided to purchase.

Payment methods for medical alert systems

Credit cards

Every medical alert company will accept any major credit card for purchase online or over the phone.

FSA/HSA cards

You may be able to use flexible spending accounts (FSA) and health savings accounts (HSA) to buy medical alert systems, according to the Internal Revenue Service.14 But check with your plan administrator to be sure.

Do Medicare or insurance pay for medical alert systems?

Medicare Parts A and B do not cover medical alert systems. Medicare Part C may cover part of the expense though, and Medicaid will pay for medical alert systems in some cases. 

Long-term care insurance may also help with the cost. Check with your insurance provider for details on what your plans cover.

How to spot medical alert scams

You may have received phone calls before from someone who says they are sending out free medical alert equipment on behalf of a company or Medicare. They will often ask for your name, social security number, and/or credit card information. Do not give them any personal information, and know that claims of free medical alert systems are a scam.15

Reputable medical alert companies, such as the ones listed in this article, will not call you with an offer to send free equipment. Make sure that any company you give personal or payment information to is one that you have connected with of your own accord, not someone who has emailed or called you first. 

If anyone contacts you and asks for information, tell them you want to call the medical alert company yourself. You can then call the number in your medical alert system’s user manual or on the company’s website to confirm whether they are trying to contact you.

Our Reviews Team’s picks for the best medical alert systems of 2022

Table 1 Medical alert systems comparison chart, as of October 2022

Provider

Starting monthly fee

At-home range (feet)

Connection type

On-the-go battery life

Fall detection (per month)

Warranty for wear and tear

Medical Guardian

$30

1,300–1,400

Landline,

AT&T or Verizon cellular

5 days

$10

No

MobileHelp

$20

600–1,400

Landline, AT&T cellular

3 days

$10

No

Bay Alarm Medical

$25

1,000

Landline, AT&T, or Verizon cellular

6–18 hours (smartwatch)

$10

Yes

LifeFone

$30

1,300

Landline, AT&T or Verizon

30 days

$5

Yes

Aloe Care Health

$30

200

AT&T cellular

5 days

Free
(2 of the 4 packages)

No

HandsFree Health

$30

Several yards (voice activated)

T-Mobile cellular

24 hours

N/A

Yes

Lively

$20

N/A

Verizon cellular

Up to 4 months (Lively wearable)

Free (Wearable2) / $25 (Mobile Plus)

Yes

ADT Health

$30

300–600

Landline,

AT&T cellular

24 hours

$10

Yes

LifeStation

$33

500–600

Landline, AT&T cellular

5 days

$5

Yes

Medical Care Alert

$30

600–1,000

Landline,
AT&T or Verizon cellular

3 days

$10

Yes

GetSafe

$28

Several yards (voice activated)

AT&T cellular

5 years

$10

No

Medical Alert

$20

800

Landline, AT&T cellular

5 days

$10

No

Bottom Line

Medical alert systems offer a wide range of features to help keep you or a loved one safe both at home and away. If you or someone you care for is at risk of a medical emergency or could benefit from the added reassurance a medical alert offers, it’s worth looking into purchasing a system. 

Our Reviews Team recommends Medical Guardian and Bay Alarm Medical for a wide variety of features, fast response times, affordable prices, and excellent customer care.

Frequently asked questions

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

Sources

  1. Agboola S, et al. Healthcare Utilization in Older Patients Using Personal Emergency Response Systems: An Analysis of Electronic Health Records and Medical Alert Data. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5395921/
  2. Alzheimer’s Association. Wandering. Found on the internet at https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/stages-behaviors/wandering
  3. National Institute on Aging. What Is Dementia? Symptoms, Types, and Diagnosis. Found on the internet at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-is-dementia 
  4. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Families Caring for an Aging America. Found on the internet at https://nap.nationalacademies.org/read/23606/chapter/1
  5. Stevens JA, Mahoney JE, Ehrenreich H. Circumstances and outcomes of falls among high risk community-dwelling older adults. Found on the internet at https://injepijournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2197-1714-1-5
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls and Fall Injuries Among Adults Aged >65 Years— United States, 2014. Found on the internet at https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6537a2.htm
  7. GPS.gov. GPS Accuracy. Found on the internet at https://www.gps.gov/systems/gps/performance/accuracy/
  8. Federal Aviation Administration. Satellite Navigation – GPS – How It Works. Found on the internet at https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ato/service_units/techops/navservices/gnss/gps/howitworks 
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Caregiving. Found on the internet at https://www.cdc.gov/aging/caregiving/index.htm
  10. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Families Caring for an Aging America. Found on the internet at https://nap.nationalacademies.org/read/23606/chapter/1
  11. Medline Plus. Recognizing Medical Emergencies. Found on the internet at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001927.htm
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls and Fall Injuries Among Adults Aged >65 Years—United States, 2014. Found on the internet at https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6537a2.htm
  13. Gjoreski, M, et al. How Accurately Can Your Wrist Device Recognize Daily Activities and Detect Falls? Found on the internet at https://www.mdpi.com/1424-8220/16/6/800/

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