I’m not quite 40 years old, and even though I’m still raising my six young children, I had the unique privilege of helping to care for my grandmother in recent years.
While awaiting a replacement for a faulty heart valve, she insisted on staying in her own home. This meant that some adjustments to her daily living situation needed to be made. As it turns out, her request is common — of adults age 65 and older, 76 percent want to stay in their current home and community (often referred to as “aging in place”), according to a survey conducted by the AARP.
Among the most important things I did to help her retain personal independence was to purchase a medical alert system. Going into it, I had no idea there were so many products to consider. While I was familiar with a few of the models shown on late-night TV years ago, I am now a Netflix and Hulu streamer and haven’t seen an actual commercial in years. I felt a little lost in the process and had tons of questions of my own to answer.
So I took things step by step to get the best medical alert system for Grandma’s home. In the process, I learned these six things to consider when choosing a medical alert system.
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1. Landline vs. Internet-Based Medical Alert Systems
In the ’90s, when I was growing up, medical alert systems were limited to those “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” units, and internet use wasn’t as widespread as it is today.
These days, there’s a wide range of products designed to help people get assistance quickly, and only some of them use a landline.
If your loved one happens to have broadband or another high-speed internet connection, it may make sense to buy a product that uses it. My grandmother, however, didn’t have this sort of service, so we opted for a landline unit.
There are also hybrid products available. These medical alert systems use both cellular services (frequently doubling as a mobile phone) and GPS tracking. Your loved one can carry the device wherever they go, and it provides an invaluable service for aging individuals who suffer from memory impairment, allowing you to know where the person is in the event that they become lost, confused, or unresponsive to calls and texts.
Determining whether you opt for a landline or internet-based service will depend on the health — and lifestyle — of your relative. Someone with a sedentary lifestyle won’t need all the bells and whistles of an internet-based unit. Likewise, an individual with memory impairment issues could benefit tremendously from having a GPS tracker on their person.
Consider the needs of your loved one and use that as a first step to determine which medical alert system choice is best.
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2. Monthly Fees Optional
You’ve probably worried that there will be a high monthly fee or even a contract to abide by. With the medical alert system that we chose for my grandmother, the only stipulation was that I purchase the unit. I then set it up to call three emergency numbers when she pushed the “help” button — my number, my aunt’s, and then 911 if neither of us answers.
For people with nearby relatives or friends who can help out, this is an economical option. Otherwise, you can find a product that includes a monthly fee to connect your loved one to emergency services or a 24/7 customer support team.
Note that some of these monthly plans often require a minimum one- or two-year contract. Yet others require you to pay an initial fee and a monthly service charge, but don’t bind you to a contract, since you have little control over when your parent or grandparent might pass away. It would be unethical to hold someone accountable for a contract they no longer need for obvious reasons.
3. Fashion Counts
When I brought my grandmother home after her heart valve replacement, I figured she would be overjoyed to have a few more years to live and that not much else would matter. I was wrong.
She was extremely concerned about the way that the emergency services pendant looked, as well as how it felt on the skin around her neck.
I may have considered the pendant’s style to be a minor aspect of choosing a medical alert system, but it was everything to Grandma.
So I looked at products that provided belt clips and different configurations of the help button. I also bought a few more fashionable lanyards from Etsy.
4. Shop Around for the Best Medical Alert System
When I was confident about the device I wanted, I was tempted to buy it directly from the first place I saw it online. I’m glad I didn’t. Walmart, Amazon, and several online health care suppliers sold the same models, with price differences of $100 or more. I finally settled on a third-party Amazon seller with great reviews and a generous customer service policy. Comparison shopping was much easier on my grandmother’s budget.
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5. Know Your Maintenance
Though I live just six miles from Grandma, I have a large family to care for and couldn’t be there every day to troubleshoot.
With these circumstances in mind, I chose a medical alert product that had a foolproof battery charging system and easy test modes. This way, she can know that everything is functioning correctly.
The model I chose even alerts me when the battery is running low. Knowing that the upkeep of the product is minimal helped me decide.
6. Try Before You Buy
While I had to pay for the unit in full before it arrived, I was confident in the generous return policy. With 30 days to try it out, I knew that we could give it a rigorous test-drive to figure out for sure whether this was the product for us.
Though I knew that it was the best medical alert system on the market, I also needed Grandma to feel comfortable using it. It was essential to have some time to give it a spin, just in case she changed her mind.
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Final Thoughts on Finding the Best Medical Alert System
I never thought I would be shopping for a medical alert system at this point in my life. Honestly, I figured it would be something I would do for my parents — and much later on. Fortunately, almost everything you need to know about these devices is available on the internet.
Make sure to read reviews for all products before you buy — you can also view CentSai’s rubric to see how we assess medical alert systems for their ease of use, cost-effectiveness, and quality of customer service.
Finally, consider joining a caregiver group on Facebook. This way, you can hear what others are saying about the best medical alert systems available. These online communities exist both for generalized caregiving and specifically for caring for elderly parents.
Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.