6 Tips to Choose the Best Medical Alert System for Your Loved One
There are a few things you should keep in mind if you're looking for the best medical alert system for you or a family member.
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 this past year. While awaiting a replacement for a faulty heart valve, she insisted on staying in her home. This meant that some adjustments needed to be made to her daily living situation. As it turns out, her request is common. The AARP reports that 87 percent of adults age 65 and older want to stay in their current home and community as they age (often referred to as “aging in place”).
Among the most important things I did to help her gain personal independence was the purchase of 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.
Here’s what I learned along the way:
- Internet-based medical alert systems have different perks than landline-based ones.
- There are ways to limit — and even eliminate — extra fees.
- Fashion may matter more than you’d think.
- You should always shop around for a better price.
- A manageable maintenance routine for the system is important.
- It’s important to test the product out before you commit to it.
1. Landline vs. Internet
In the ’90s, when I was growing up, medical alerts systems were limited to those “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” units and there was no internet. Now there is a wide range of products designed to help people get assistance fast, and only some use a landline. If your loved one happens to have broadband, Google Fiber, 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 use a cell service to work, but you don’t need to pay for it separately — the cost is included in the monthly fee. Cell service technical support is also provided for medical alert units doubling as cell phone devices that can be carried by your loved one wherever he or she goes.
2. Monthly Fees Optional
You’ve probably worried that there will be a high monthly fee or even contracts 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 no one answers. For people with nearby relatives or friends who can help, this is an economical option. Otherwise, you can find a product that includes a monthly service-plan fee to connect your loved one to emergency services or a 24/7 customer support team. (Note that these monthly plans often require a minimum one- or two-year contract.)
3. Fashion Counts
When I brought my grandmother home from having her heart valve replaced, 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 this 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
When I was confident of 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 differences of $100 or more in price. I finally settled on a third-party Amazon seller with great reviews and a generous customer service policy. It was much easier on my grandmother’s budget to comparison shop.
5. Know Your Maintenance
While I live just six miles from Grandma, I have a large family to care for and couldn’t be there every day to troubleshoot. That’s why I chose a medical alert product that had a foolproof battery charging system and easy test modes that she can use to know that everything was 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 in my decision.
6. Try Before You Buy
While I had to pay for the medical alert 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 and know for sure that this was the product for us. While I knew that it was the best unit on the market, I also needed Grandma’s buy-in. It was essential to have some time to give it a spin, just in case she changed her mind.
I never thought I would be shopping for a medical alert system at this time in my life. Honestly, I figured it would be something I would do for my parents — and much later on. Fortunately, most everything you need to know about these devices is available on the internet. Make sure to read reviews for all products before you buy. Also consider joining a caregiver group on Facebook to hear what others are saying about the best medical alert systems available.