Medically reviewed by Jenny Sanford, MSN, APRN, AGNP-C and Caregiving Coach

When many people hear the words personal emergency response system, or PERS, the first thought that sometimes comes to mind is an older adult falling while alone and being unable to get up. Life Alert integrated this scenario into popular culture with its TV commercial that depicted an older woman lying on the floor and saying the now-famous line: “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

While this ad captured a lot of attention and was often parodied, the reality is that falls are all too common for older adults.

woman pushing a person emergency response system button

Top 5 Best Medical Alert Systems

After much research, here are the best medical alert systems on the market today:

Older Adults Have a Higher Risk of Falling

Three million older adults are treated in an emergency room (ER) every year for some type of injury related to a fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Worse yet, deaths due to falls are the leading cause of injury death for Americans 65 and older. Fall death rates rose 30% in the previous decade, and the CDC predicts that by 2030, seven fall deaths will occur every hour.

The National Institute on Aging reports that falls by the elderly can occur due to poor eyesight or hearing, or by having slowed reflexes. Some health conditions contribute to falls as well, such as diabetes and heart disease, as can certain medications.

Not every fall results in an injury — about 37% of those who report a fall require medical attention. That’s about eight million fall injuries each year, a number that’s expected to climb to 12 million in 2030.

Because falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults, it can be extremely beneficial to have a personal emergency response system capable of summoning medical assistance to the home. However, PERS equipment has other advantages as well, in and outside the home. Depending on the system and its monitoring options, you can obtain assistance even while on the go. This provides a greater level of independence and assurance on vacations, while running errands, or otherwise outside the primary residence.

It can be extremely beneficial to have a personal emergency response system when older adults find themselves in crisis and need medical attention. However, PERS equipment has other advantages as well.

inhome set up of emergency response button

Personal emergency response systems not only summon medical responders, many of them also notify caregivers and loved ones. Some systems are capable of helping older adults track medication, monitor the air quality of their home and more. Here’s a closer look at why a personal emergency response system might be right for you or a family member.

PERS Are More Affordable Than In-Person Monitoring

A nursing home, assisted living facility, or private in-home care deliver in-person monitoring, but they are almost always more expensive than a personal emergency response system.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that the average cost of a nursing home is $225 a day (or more), assisted living is generally around $119 daily, adult day health care is roughly $68 a day, and home health aides typically earn somewhere in the vicinity of $20.50 an hour.

Older Adults Retain Greater Independence

A personal emergency response system provides comfort that help is quickly available if needed, while allowing older adults to do many things on their own. Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home care aren’t bad, but they often remove at least a portion of someone’s independence.

Immediate Response, Anytime

emergency response

About 20 percent of falls occur between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., according to a World Health Organization (WHO) study. Even if the person who falls is able to summon help from someone else in the home, it may be difficult to rouse others in the house when a fall occurs at night. Personal emergency response systems, on the other hand, provide 24-hour monitoring and an immediate response by emergency response agencies such as the fire department.

Greater Peace of Mind

Most older adults prefer to stay in their current homes for as long as they live. This may be cause for concern for family members and friends, especially those who live far away. One way for everyone to have peace of mind in this situation, particularly loved ones of older adults living on their own, is to use the services of an emergency response system.

Simple To Use

Every PERS device is a little different, but many offer easy-to-use wearable devices that require nothing more than the push of a button to connect with an urgent response agent. In cases of falls or where movement is otherwise limited, this enables the older person to get help without having to crawl or otherwise find their way to a phone.

Help at Home or on the Go

With continued advancements in mobile PERS technology, personal response systems are no longer for use just inside the home. Depending on the system and its monitoring options, you can obtain assistance on vacation, while running errands, or otherwise outside the primary residence.

PERS and other medical alert systems require the push of a button or some other simple action in the event that an emergency occurs and help is needed.

Once a decision is made to sign up for and use an emergency response service, the next step is to decide which type of system is best for your own situation and needs. While there are several available on the market today, most can be placed in one of these categories.

  1. Two-way personal emergency response system with 24/7 monitoring by a response center.
  2. Two-way personal emergency response system, unmonitored, but calls 911 or another number.
  3. Two-way personal emergency response system with speakerphone pendant, monitored or unmonitored.
  4. Cellular personal emergency response systems, unmonitored, calls 911.

As you can see, some systems are managed by a call monitoring center and others are not, requiring additional action from the wearer if something occurs. However, all of them call 911 (or another number) in the event of an emergency.

Optional Medical Alert Features

Most personal emergency response systems are capable of doing much more than summoning help. Some features may be included, others may require additional fees.

Fall Detection

This type of PERS unit will automatically make a call when a fall is detected. It analyzes both unusual misalignments of the body as well as acceleration of movement, essentially sensing if the body moves too fast or is in an awkward position.

Advantages of this type of system include being able to obtain emergency assistance even if the person is unable to push a button. Plus, these types of medical alert devices are generally waterproof, so they can still be worn in the bath or shower, an area where we’re more prone to slips and falls.

Disadvantages of fall detection devices are false alarms or instances where they may not detect a fall, which could occur in a slower, sliding type of fall. This option also tends to cost more and could potentially provide a false sense of security.

Smoke, Fire, Carbon Monoxide Detection

Certain personal emergency response systems also provide services related to home systems security monitoring that covers the immediate environment for smoke, fire, or elevated carbon monoxide levels.

If you do choose this option, you want to select a service that automatically alerts an emergency responder to increase the level of safety this feature provides.

Medication Compliance

More than half of adults surveyed by the National Community Pharmacists Association in its most recent report failed to take their medications as prescribed to treat their chronic conditions.

This can be avoided (or at least greatly reduced) by using a personal response system that provides medication compliance features.

Some systems provide actual dispensing devices that alert the elderly when it is time to take the medications and then dispense the pills at the push of a button. Others send reminders or use timers in an effort to improve adherence to medication regimens.

Fitness and Activity Monitoring

Whereas some activity monitoring devices are used to ensure that you’re getting the necessary amount of physical exercise for maximum health, activity monitoring for older adults with wearable personal emergency response systems helps ensure they are moving around freely during the day.

That’s why such monitors are sometimes called inactivity monitoring services, because they help identify if movement has stopped and there’s a problem, even if the alert button has not been pushed.

This type of monitoring could require the older person to check in at predetermined times throughout the day, with an alarm sounding if they don’t. Others rely on motion detectors to help determine whether movement is occurring in the residence, or whether it has stopped.

GPS Monitoring

If emergency preparedness is desired outside of the home, systems with GPS can provide this type of coverage by connecting to a cellular network. This enables the wearer to have access to help in any location where a mobile phone can pick up a signal.

It doesn’t matter what type of benefits a service provides or how many add-ons it offers, because it won’t work for you if it doesn’t match your budget.

A basic home-based system runs in the range of $20-$40 a month. More expensive systems go up to $70 a month or more, and may include features such as fall detection. Companies sometimes offer discounts particularly if you: pay in advance, belong to AARP and other organizations, or take advantage of special offers.

In addition to the monthly fee, companies may charge activation or equipment fees, and offer add-ons such as warranties and protection plans. If you decide not to keep a system, some companies impose cancellation. replacement or fees.

System Best For Pros Cons Monthly Charge Connection Fall Detection
Classic Guardian by Medical Guardian Best for Active Seniors - 1,300-foot range - 32 hours of battery backup - No warranty (protection plan costs extra) $29.95 Landline Yes (Addt'l fee)
MobileHelp Classic Best At-Home Range - Three at-home systems to choose from, including the Classic - App cannot connect with caregivers - No warranty $19.95 Cellular Yes (Addt'l fee)
Essentials by Aloe Care Health Best App for Remote Caregivers - Enhanced caregiver communication - Expensive equipment - No free trial period $29.99 Cellular No
In the Home by Bay Alarm Medical Best for a Tight Budget - No equipment fee - Spouse monitoring at no extra charge - No medication reminders or wellness checks $19.95 Landline or cellular Yes (Add’l fee for auto fall detection)
GoSafe 2 by Philips Lifeline Best On-the-Go System - Advanced location technology - Audio beacon - $50 device fee - No free trial period $44.95 Cellular Yes
* All prices based on the standard month-to-month payment plan. Discounts may be available for prepaid plans.
GreatCall Lively Wearable Fitness Tracker with...
GreatCall Lively Wearable Fitness Tracker with...
The easy-to-use Lively Wearable App features fun daily challenges to meet your step goals.
$49.99

Last update on 2022-05-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Best At-Home Range

MobileHelp
MobileHelp
See Packages
Why we chose the MobileHelp Classic:
  • Customization for cheap: MobileHelp allows you to add a partner to your plan for $2/month. For an additional $5/month, you add a warranty and discounts on medication reminders and activity tracking.
  • Great response time: The average emergency center response time from medical alert providers is 40 seconds. MobileHelp acts much faster than that, between 15 and 25 seconds in our tests.
Pros
  • 30-day free trial
  • Long-lasting battery
  • Wide variety of system options
Cons
  • $49.95 processing fee
  • No included warranty
  • Buttons and lights can be confusing
  • Device can feel clunky in warmer weather

The best personal emergency response system companies should answer your questions quickly, intelligently, and courteously.

a couple looking over paperwork

How do you take all of this information and choose the best emergency response system for you or someone you love? The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) says to consider the following:

  • The services you want the system to provide. Which type of system do you want and what do you want to monitor and track?
  • Is the particular company available in your area? If you’re unsure, it helps to ask your local Area Agency on Aging or senior facility.
  • Where the system will be used on a regular basis. Depending on whether you use the system at home or on the go, or both, you may need to consider battery life, range of the device, and whether it needs to be waterproof.
  • How the service handles monitoring and response. Ask about average response times and how calls are routed to emergency responders and family members.
  • Get all contract details. Ask about associated fees and be wary of long-term contracts or complicated cancellation policies; also inquire about discounts, tax deductions related to the service and whether your insurance will cover the costs.

You may also want to consider the company’s level of customer service. When you call them, do representatives answer your questions quickly, intelligently, and courteously? This can go a long way, especially if you want a company that you can easily work with in an emergency!

After choosing the emergency response service best-suited for your situation and needs, the only thing left to do is set it up in a way that offers you the most efficient emergency help possible. This begins with choosing the person(s) you want the monitoring agency to contact (other than first responders), along with their contact information, if a medical emergency occurs.

Ideally, you want to identify more than one person in case the first person on your list isn’t available to take the call. Create a list of people who are aware of what they should do in an emergency, so you can keep your loved ones informed.

It’s also extremely important that they know your complete medical history. To make this easier, create a simple list of the medications you take (and their dosages), any allergies you may have, and other medical conditions that they could share with emergency personnel.

Personal medical alert systems systems serve a valuable purpose for the elderly by providing a number of benefits to those who use them. While there are a lot of different options available at varying price ranges, selecting the best system and service for you can help dramatically in the event of a medical emergency. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use it.

How Do Personal Emergency Response Systems Work?

Most personal emergency response systems work the same way: they come with a base unit and a wearable device. These devices can come in the form of pendants and wristbands or pager-type devices.

What Is a Personal Emergency Response System for Seniors?

The terms medical alert system and personal emergency response system may be used interchangeably. The best PERS for you will be different depending on your needs. However, the top-rated personal emergency response systems include:

  • MobileHelp Classic
  • Medical Guardian Classic Guardian
  • Aloe Care Health Essentials
  • Bay Alarm Medical At-Home System
  • Philips Lifeline GoSafe 2
Does a Personal Emergency Response System Have to Be Professionally Installed?

Most personal emergency response systems don’t require professional installation, which means that you or your loved one can easily set it up. Set up instructions will be slightly different for each system, but most often the first step to install your personal emergency response system is plugging it in your base station and testing it. 

Many companies offer step-by-step video tutorials and other helpful resources for installation.

Does Medicare Cover Personal Emergency Response Systems?

Medicare Part A and Part B don’t cover personal emergency response systems since the systems are not deemed as medically necessary. However, Medicare Part C—known as Medicare Advantage—may cover part or all costs for personal emergency response systems. 

Private insurance companies that are approved by Medicare offer Medicare Advantage plans. As coverage varies by state, you should check to confirm if your state’s Medicare Advantage plan covers personal emergency response systems. 

What Is the Best Personal Emergency Response System for Seniors?

The best personal emergency response system for you or your loved one will depend on the user’s activity level, must-have features, and budget. Our top picks here are MobileHelp, Medical Guardian, Aloe Care Health, Bay Alarm Medical and Philips Lifeline models, all of which address a variety of lifestyles and needs.

When shopping around, read customer reviews on sites like Trustpilot and Better Business Bureau, and visit the company’s site to review its return policy, warranty, and any fees that may pop up during the purchasing process. 

Jenny is an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner in NYC with a passion for working with aging adults and their family members. Prior to her clinical training at Vanderbilt School of Nursing, she worked in business and medical research at Harvard Business School and Massachusetts General Hospital. As a Caregiving Coach at Givers, Jenny helps family members manage the financial, emotional, and educational stresses of caring for their loved ones who are aging in place.

”As a geriatric provider, it brings me great joy to empower older adults and caregivers by connecting them with resources that improve health outcomes and increase quality of life.”