Medical alert systems are devices that help people with disabilities. They can also assist older adults who live alone in dealing with emergencies. They connect directly with emergency services and can also contact a designated caregiver or relative.

Medical alert systems are becoming more common in the United States. These systems can offer peace of mind to people with chronic health issues or to older adults who live alone.

A medical alert system is a device that a person wears or carries to summon emergency help in the event of a fall or other medical emergency.

The user can activate the system by pressing a button on their device. An emergency response center picks up the location of the user and notifies appropriate people and agencies, such as family members, caregivers, and first responders.

This article discusses the types of medical alert systems, their cost, and more.

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Medical alert systems are devices that summon help in a medical emergency.

Older adults and those with health conditions or disabilities can use medical alert systems to call for help if they cannot reach a phone to dial the emergency services or family members.

Other names for medical alert systems include:

There are two types of medical alert devices: wearable and nonwearable. People place nonwearable devices on the floor and activate them by pressing a button or using voice commands to call for help. With wearable devices, individuals wear one as a bracelet, necklace, or pendant, and these devices can detect when the wearer has fallen or is unresponsive.

Medical alert systems usually involve three parts. These are:

  • a help button a user can push
  • a communication system that may be in the home
  • an emergency response center

Many systems also offer extra optional features, such as fall detection.

There are two main types of medical alert systems: at-home medical alert systems and portable medical alert systems.

At-home medical alert systems

An at-home medical alert system is a service that provides help to people who are home alone and need assistance. The system usually comprises a wearable device, such as a wristband or necklace. Some devices can detect when someone has fallen or is experiencing another medical emergency. It can then send an alert to caregivers, such as family members or neighbors, or an emergency response center.

Portable medical alert systems

There are many different types of portable medical alert systems. The most common type is an item that people can wear, usually around the neck, clipped to a belt, or carried in a pocket. If the person wearing it needs help, they can press the button.

When someone activates the device, it sends an alarm signal to a monitoring center, which contacts the authorities and provides assistance.

A more advanced system is an item that contains a GPS locator and an emergency response button. When someone wearing the necklace presses the emergency button, it sends their location to a caregiver or family member and also sends a text with their GPS coordinates to them.

People can also set up medical alert systems using alternative hardware, including smartwatches and smartphones.

Medical alert systems can foster independence and provide peace of mind to many people.

There are a variety of reasons why individuals might need a medical alert system, for example, if they:

  • have an illness that makes them weak or unable to call for help
  • live alone and are at risk of falling and not being able to call for help
  • have had a stroke and need someone else’s assistance to be able to call for help
  • have another condition that makes it difficult or impossible to call for help, such as Alzheimer’s disease

Additionally, because medical alert systems allow people to call for help in an emergency, they can benefit anyone wanting to “age in place.” This means they are older adults living in their own homes rather than in institutional care.

People can buy a medical alert system from several different companies. It is important to be clear on the requirements of each individual before buying a system and to ensure it is suitable for the user’s needs.

Consumer Reports suggest considering the following questions before choosing a medical alert system:

  • Should it be home-based or mobile? A mobile system allows the user to call for help while away from home, but a home-based system does not.
  • Should it be monitored or not? A monitored system connects the user with a call handler at a dispatch center 24 hours per day. They automatically call the numbers on the user’s emergency contact list. However, these systems typically involve a monthly monitoring fee.
  • Should it have a fall detection feature? This feature detects falls automatically and alerts the response center, although the technology is not always accurate.

A medical alert system’s price varies depending on its features. Some have an upfront cost, while other companies build this cost into their monthly monitoring fee.

The monthly monitoring fee also varies depending on which company a person chooses but can be anywhere from $20–30 for the basic versions, with fall detection adding requiring an additional $10 per month.

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Will Medicare pay for a medical alert system?

Typically, Medicare will not pay for medical alert systems. However, Medicare Advantage or Medicaid may help pay toward the costs relating to medical alert systems.

Will private insurance pay for a medical alert system?

Some private health insurance plans cover the costs of medical alert systems, but many do not. People can check with their insurer to see if they will cover these systems.

If a person does not have health insurance, who can help?

If someone does not have insurance, they may be eligible for discounts or other financial aid from charities or organizations, such as:

Additionally, Medigap is private insurance that adds benefits to a person’s Medicare coverage. Coverage for a medical alert system depends on a person’s plan and carrier.

Medical alert systems can help provide peace of mind for vulnerable people and their loved ones. They trigger an emergency response when the user presses a button after a fall or health incident. Some systems also include fall detection technology.

People can wear medical alert systems on the wrist or around the neck, carry one in a pocket, or install it in the home and activate it with voice commands.

These systems typically do not have Medicare or Medicaid coverage, although this can vary across states. Various charities and organizations may help with the cost of medical alert systems.