How to Choose the Best Medical Alert Device for Your Loved One

Feb. 14, 2018

When minutes count, these questions help you find the right home solution.

How to Choose the Best Medical Alert Device for Your Senior Loved One
Image via Getty Images/Shestock

It only takes one mishap for life to change suddenly for an aging loved one. Even if your parent or grandparent has been living independently for some time, a single fall or accident can make living alone challenging and can accelerate the timeline for needing in-home or long-term senior care. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 300,000 adults age 65 and older are hospitalized for hip fractures from falls each year. As such, it’s apparent that a reliable medical alert unit can be a life-preserving feature for any home.

Just keep in mind that not all medical alert units are the same. Some use wi-fi, others need a landline, but all have a cost. Use this list of questions to sort out all of the options available today to find the product most likely to help your loved one in an emergency.


1) Does This Medical Alert Device Need a Landline to Work?

Many medical alert devices require that the product be connected to a traditional landline. If your relative has cut the cord and transitioned to a cell phone or VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) solution, such as Vonage or Comcast, they may find the reliability of a unit to be untrustworthy. Consider reconnecting a landline specifically for use with the unit. Avoid units that operate on wi-fi alone.

That said, it’s important to note that there are medical alert devices on the market that don’t require a landline. Instead, they can be connected to a cell phone. This allows the senior to still have access to help, even if they’re outside in the yard or in town.


2) Does It Have a Battery Backup?

If the unit you’re considering doesn’t have a battery backup, forget about dependability. Many bad things can happen in a natural disaster or when the lights go out, which is precisely why you need a medical alert unit in the first place. If there isn’t a battery to keep the product running for at least 8 hours after the power goes out, you need to pick another product.


3) Is There a Monthly Fee That Comes With Using This Medical Alert Device?

Many products on the market charge an initial product set up and a service fee monthly thereafter. The fee pays for remote customer support, such as help calling for an ambulance, if needed. If you plan on being the support for your loved one, however, there are plenty of units available that skip the monthly fee altogether.


4) Is There a Contract?

If you do decide to pay for customer care each month, be sure to familiarize yourself with the contract’s terms. Many new units require a minimum 2-year contract, which may not be feasible for an older relative on a fixed budget or in poor health. If you don’t see a lengthy commitment making sense for you, go with a product that doesn’t involve one.


5) Is the Medical Alert Device Easy to Use?

Setting up a unit will require some tech skills that older loved ones may find challenging. . This shouldn’t be a concern, as long as they know how to use the personal device after it’s placed in service. If the buttons are too small, or they aren’t sure how it works, you’ll need to walk them through and decide on a product that’s effortless to activate in an emergency.


6) Can You Get Help From Customer Support?

There are many moderately-priced units made these days that are spitting images of the pricey originals. In all reality, they likely function the same, but they may lack customer assistance service or even come without properly written instruction manuals. Read the reviews online to see which customers are happy with their calls to customer support and use the info to guide your buying decision.


7) Who Does the Medical Alert Device Call?

Most medical alert products have one call function, and that’s to contact the emergency line of the product provider. Take the Philips Life Line product, for example. If a button was pushed for an emergency, it would contact their emergency help team. Then, that team would decide if 911 needed to be contacted. Typically, you can also list a few family members who you would want contacted if an emergency were to occur.

Keep in mind that there are some medical alert products out there that directly alert 911 in an emergency. Since not all calls for help may require an ambulance, however, it’s wise to look for a product that prompts the unit to contact one or two trusted adults first. Many units can be set up to auto-dial a number of relatives before ultimately calling emergency services after no one else answers.


8) Is It Waterproof?

Although the base unit (the portion connected to the phone line) will not likely be waterproof, the pendant part worn by your senior could be. Make sure that it can withstand the light moisture that comes from washing dishes or working in the garden. Many manufacturers make models that can withstand one or two accidental visits to the shower or bath, as well.


9) What’s the Unit’s Range?

Most units can more than handle communication across a 1500 square foot home or more. When your senior is working in the yard, however, will the pendant be able to communicate with the base? Look at the daily habits of your loved one to be sure the unit is up for the job; be sure to explain that most medical alert devices don’t work when leaving the yard or going out to run errands.

Again, keep in mind that there are medical alert devices that don’t require a landline and, instead, can be connected to a cell phone.


10) What Are the Extras?

There are many distinctive features that medical alert products provide these days, but not all are necessary. Desirable extras include the option to wear the pendant as a belt clip or on the wrist or a built-in battery charging station. Most customers also appreciate the ability to have the unit call a loved one with it isn’t connected properly or the battery needs changed.

It may not be possible to understand exactly how a medical alert unit will work in your loved one’s life without trying it first. Be sure you are buying from a reputable retailer that offers a minimum of 30 days to use and enjoy the product before you decide. This should give you more than enough time to experience any glitches and decide if the unit will work seamlessly with senior’s lifestyle.

 

Linsey Knerl is a freelance writer and mom of six who enjoys finding the best technology solutions for seniors.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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