What is a medical alert button and who needs one?

A medical alert button, also known as a PERS (Personal Emergency Response System), is an electronic device that allows someone to summon help in the event of an emergency. You are probably familiar with them from the Life Alert “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercials. It is typically a button worn like a bracelet or necklace that works in conjunction with a base unit and your phone system (or a cellular network).

However, a medical alert button is more than the device itself. It will normally be connected with an emergency response service that monitors the calls. This is one its advantages over simply keeping a phone with you to call someone. It only takes the press of a button to get someone to help you. Then, they can figure out just what help you need with two-way direct communication. This might help you avoid unnecessary 911 calls and the trauma and expense that may involve. Most importantly, you also have reassurance immediately.

And, of course, unlike a phone, you can always have the button on you, even in the bath or shower. If you have ever experienced a fall or other issue where you could just not reach the phone to get help, you will know how valuable this is.

People who should consider a medical alert button:

  • Elders who live alone or may often be alone at home
  • Anyone with a major chronic health condition
  • People who have fallen in the past or are considered at risk for falling
  • Those with heart conditions, history or risk of stroke
  • Returnees from the hospital, surgery, or a care facility
  • Elders who live in independent living communities

Questions to Ask about a PERS

  1. How easy is the system to use?
  2. Do you have a quick step-by-step guide or video of how to use it? (Or, does someone come out to demo and install it?)
  3. Do you provide a response center and is the monitoring center open 24/7?
  4. What kind of training do staff receive?
  5. What’s the average response time and who gets alerted? Do you have quality assurance data?
  6. How and how often are tests conducted? What do we do to make sure my system is working? How is it powered and what is the battery life?
  7. What is the range of coverage from the base?
  8. Will it work outside my home/on-the-go?
  9. Is there an activation fee or purchase cost?
  10. Do you require a contract or long-term commitment?
  11. What will I need to do if I move?
  12. What are your repair/replacement/return policies?
  13. Are there special features? Some systems automatically detect falls or have sensors to track activities and potential problems. Others offer medication reminders.
  14. Does it come with anything additional? For example, one we’ve seen comes a free lockbox so that a trusted person can be given the code to get a key to enter your home to help you. Another has a car safety system, while another comes with monthly cellular service included in the fee. Some systems have apps, cognitive games, and voice dialing.

The Best Medical Alert Button

Because the technology is always evolving and everyone has different needs, we don’t think there is one best choice. Our care managers continually evaluate the products available. And they look at what will be most effective for the client. For example, a system with a lot of bells and whistles might be overwhelming for someone who doesn’t need it. Or, it may be too expensive. (Some people can also qualify for financial help or get a system through various programs.)

On the other hand, the PERS needs to have the features that will help. Some of our clients can really benefit from more extensive sensoring systems or those with built-in reminders. And, as our care manager notes below, the person has to use it. Therefore, we look at what factors will make it most practical for the person to use.

Our advice is to use the questions above to evaluate any medical alert button you’re considering. Additionally, be sure to read our care manager’s pointers below. That being said, a few systems our experts think are worth taking a look at include:

Lively Mobile Plus by Great Call

What we like:

  • Mobile coverage so it works at home and on the go
  • Fall detection
  • Family updates
  • Highly-rated staff and “urgent care” access to medical professionals
  • Different options to wear it (including a wearable “smart watch”)
  • Above all, it is affordable given all the features (AARP discount too), no long-term contracts or cancellation fees

*Recommended by Care Manager Beth Harvard

Bay Alarm Medical

What we like:

  • Affordability, 30-day trial, no activation fee and free shipping
  • Options ranging from the in-home medical alert button to an on-the-go system, car system or a bundle package
  • Reliable technology and call centers
  • Bella charms to personalize your necklace

Mobile Help

What we like:

  • Highly rated, quality technology and response service
  • Competitive pricing, no long-term contracts, 30-day trial
  • Cellular, no landline required
  • Simple, while offering different products and packages

Considerations to Get the Best Results from Your Medical Alert Button

No matter which medical alert button you choose, be sure to read these pointers:

  1. First, it does not work if you leave it in the box or don’t always wear it. It won’t do any good hanging on a lamp by your bedside table.
  2. Likewise, make sure to test the system as recommended to be sure it is working.
  3. You can put the necklace option on a more attractive chain or make it decorative with a charm. Some of the bracelet options are quite attractive or are built in to smart watches.
  4. Do a run through and show your loved one that EMS won’t automatically be coming to knock down their front door if they push it.
  5. Get a key lock box and give the PERS company the code.
  6. Be aware that the ones with automatic fall sensors can give false reports of falls.
  7. Waterproof does not equal full submersion. They do work in the shower, but not at the bottom of the pool.
  8. Finally, check out options such as an Amazon Echo Show, Alexa-powered devices or the Apple Watch. These have useful features for all ages and may be an easier “sell” for loved ones who don’t think they need a medical alert button.

*Thanks to Teresa W. Jackson, MAG, CMC, CDP, Director of Care Management at EasyLiving for these tips.

Worried about a loved one’s safety at home?

Download our free Aging in Place Checklist. Then, chat with one of our care managers to find the best medical alert button and get personalized recommendations.

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