Medical Alert Companies: Peace of Mind (At The Push of a Button)

As we move on down the road toward whatever we believe awaits us, as senior citizens living alone (or anybody living alone for that matter), we love our independence, but in the recesses of our mind hibernates a nagging query: “What if something happens?” This is a legitimate concern. It’s even more of a concern if we have health problems. Sure, we know people who will come a’running when we call, but what if we can’t call? What if we really do fall and really can’t get up? It’s not an ever-present thought, but it does put a damper on our independence. There is, however, a resource that can help relieve this anxiety: a medical alert system.

What Is A Medical Alert System?

According to Wikipedia (not to be confused with Wikileaks), an online encyclopedia, a medical alert system is “an alarm system designed to signal the presence of a hazard requiring urgent attention and to summon emergency medical personnel.” These systems generally have a wireless pendant or transmitter that when activated will transmit a signal to an alarm monitoring company that will dispatch emergency medical help to the location where the alarm was activated.

Anybody 50 years old or better remembers the classic 1987 television commercial where Mrs. Fletcher cried out in desperation: “I’ve fallen and can’t get up!” That pretty much put medical alert systems on the map in the United States. Mrs. Fletcher became the butt of many a joke, but the medical alert system proved to be no laughing matter. Sure, it was funny lo those many years ago, but today, not so much. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists deaths from unintentional injuries as the seventh leading cause of death among seniors, and the overwhelming majority of those unintentional deaths are falls.  According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), every 11 seconds a senior is treated in the emergency room for a fall, and every 19 minutes one of us die as the result of a fall. Today, any one of us could find ourselves in Mrs. Fletcher’s predicament.

Falls Are Not Our Only Problem

More sobering news from the NCOA: About 92% of seniors have at least one chronic disease and 77% have at least two. These chronic diseases include, but are not limited to:

  • heart disease – the leading cause of death for adults over 65
  • arthritis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • osteoporosis – a major contributor to falls
  • diabetes
  • depression

All of these diseases can present a life or death situation for seniors living alone. If not personally, certainly for a parent or loved one. We like to think that it won’t happen to us, but the reality is, it happens to “us” every day.

All of the aforementioned infirmities aside, let’s say you’re the picture of health. There’s still a bunch of stuff that can happen to you if you’re home alone (I was hoping I could work that in somewhere). A medical alert system is not just something that’s good to have, if you live alone – and it really doesn’t matter how old you are – it’s a necessity.

Get Over The Stigma

It’s pretty easy to conjure up the vision of Mrs. Fletcher lying there on the floor, eyes wide with fear, helplessly reaching out for anybody. Therein lies the problem. That image has cast a shadow on the industry from which it has yet to emerge: To get one is to admit that you are old and alone. Au contraire, mon ami, to get one is to know you have back-up in the event of an unforeseen emergency – medical or otherwise. Hey. Poo poo happens.

Choosing The Right System

Medical alert systems are like smart phones; you can pay a little, or you can pay a lot, depending on how many bells and whistles you want. However, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information division, when evaluating medical alert companies, there are some very important questions to ask:

  • Is the monitoring center open 24/7? What kind of training do staff receive?
  • What’s the average response time, and who gets alerted?
  • Will I be able to use the same system with other response centers if I move? What if I move to another city or state?
  • What’s your repair policy? What happens if I need a replacement?
  • What are the initial costs? What costs are ongoing? What kind of services and features will I get?

If you’re thinking that your phone is good enough, it isn’t. If you’re thinking that Alexa, Echo, or any other of the digital assistants on the market is good enough, they aren’t. You don’t always have your phone with you and you may not have the opportunity to go get it, and Alexa and the like can’t dial 911. Consumer Reports cites three factors that will determine how much system you need and how much money you will pay for it:

  1. Do you want a home-based system, a mobile system, or both?
  2. Should your system be monitored or not? (Unmonitored systems will dial a pre-programmed number when you hit the call button.)
  3. Should you add a fall-protection feature? This feature will add about $15 to your monthly service charge, but the statistics above make it well worth the cost.

Common Mistakes When Purchasing a System

Although medical alert systems have been around for a few decades, they have sort of been in the closet. Few of us have experience in purchasing them. Consequently, since for most of us this will be our first time buying one, I think it’s appropriate to list some mistakes to avoid:

  • Don’t buy a system based on price alone. Prices range from the sublime to the ridiculous and is not a good measure of the quality of the device or the service.
  • Avoid long-term contracts. There are some unscrupulous companies out there that know you’re probably buying it because you’re scared, either for yourself or for someone you love. Don’t get tied up in a multi-year contract. You or a family member may end up paying for it long after you no longer need it. Year-to-year is plenty. Some medical alert companies offer month-to-month contracts and some offer month-to-month service with no contract.
  • Don’t assume that medical alert systems are only for people who live alone. This is definitely the target audience, but if you have elderly or disabled parents or family members living with you, you’re not going to be around them 24/7. You’ve got to take a nap, you’ve got to go to the bathroom, you might have to run next door, or to the store. Precious minutes lost in any of these situations could mean the difference between life and death.
  • Don’t wait for something to happen before you invest in a system. This is not the time to “cross that bridge when you get to it.” If you’ve read this far, there’s a good chance that you, or someone you care about, need a medical alert system.

A Great Return on Your Investment

The average response time for emergency medical treatment can vary greatly depending on where you live. We have all heard horror stories about the ambulance, police, or firetruck not getting there in time. Many of us have first-hand experience with the consequences of help arriving too late. In an emergency, every second counts. Your investment in a medical alert system could turn out to be the best dollar you ever spent. To quiet that little voice asking “What if something happens?” click here and put your mind at ease.

C.al Jones


  1. Another super informative article. My husband and I are trying to talk our 84 year old neighbor into getting one. She constantly tells us she does not need one. She lives alone and really does need one. I will read your article to her in hopes of changing her mind. I will post another comment if she does change her mind and get on board. Thank you again for thinking of the seniors. God Bless.

    • Those stats are pretty scary. I commend you and your husband for your concern and your efforts. I pray that you will be successful. Maybe you could give her one as a gift. Then make her feel guilty enough to wear it.

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