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

A medical alert system is a wearable device that helps you summon emergency assistance when needed. They are commonly worn by elderly or disabled individuals so that help is literally at their fingertips should they fall or experience a life-threatening emergency.

women who has fallen on the floor

When pushed, a button sends a signal to the medical alert base station which calls a pre-programmed number that typically connects to a call center.

Most systems include a wearable button and a base station. When the button is pushed, a signal is sent to the base station which calls a pre-programmed number that typically connects to a call center. The call is received by a dispatcher who is able to speak to the person in distress over a loudspeaker. Once they have assessed the situation, they can send emergency assistance or contact a friend or family member depending on the nature of the situation.

There are a wide range of situations when a medical alert system could be lifesaving.

Do your research on the top providers in the area and make sure that they don’t charge extra fees.

Research all your options by checking sites and organizations that track and report the quality of services and complaints received.

Service Availability

Create a list of national and local companies that provide service in your area. You can visit to find your local agency on aging and ask them to send you a list of providers as well. If you live in a senior community, make sure to ask them if a medical alert system is part of their included services.

If you have a home security provider that you are happy with, ask them if they offer medical alert pendants that can be monitored through your existing system. You will have to pay an additional fee for the equipment and your monitoring cost will increase, but it may be worth it if you already trust the company. If the price seems high, get other quotes and see how they compare. Research all of your options by checking sites like AARP, Consumer reports, the Better Business Bureau, your local chamber of commerce, and any other organizations that track and report the quality of services and complaints received.

Landline vs. Cellular

Originally, medical alert systems only worked inside your home as they connected to landline telephones. While you can still find landline-based services, most companies now offer a mobile option that allows home-based systems to operate through cellular networks if you don’t have a landline. Many companies now offer a mobile option as well, which allows you to access help through the system when you are in your house and when you leave. These systems operate over cellular networks and include GPS tracking, so if you were to get lost and press the button for help, the monitoring service would be able to locate you and send the closest emergency responders.

Home Health ER Response

It is important to evaluate your own lifestyle and needs before making a decision about what you need your system to do. If you are a senior who rarely leaves the house, a landline system may be appropriate for you. But if you are more active and spend a lot of time away from your house, a mobile option may be best. Make sure you know the cost of each service so that you can compare and make the best decision for you and your budget.

Make sure your pendant, whether worn on your wrist or around your neck, is comfortable.

Take your own needs into consideration and ask yourself some serious questions. Don’t be shy about asking plenty of questions about the center itself either.


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