Medical alert devices aid in safety of seniors

The Savy Senior

Jim Miller - Savy SeniorMay 24, 2012 

Dear Savvy Senior,

I'm interested in getting my mother, who lives alone, a medical alert device with a wearable SOS button that she can push in case she falls or needs help. What kinds of devices can you recommend and how much do they cost?

-- Searching Daughter


Dear Searching,

There's a wide variety of medical alert systems on the market today that can help keep elderly seniors safe, while living in their own home. Here's a breakdown of some different styles and prices to help you choose.

Monitored Alerts

The most popular medical alert systems available today are the ones that will connect your mom to a 24-hour emergency monitoring service when she needs help. These units come with waterproof "SOS" buttons -- typically in the form of a necklace pendent or bracelet -- and a base station that connects to her home phone line.

At the press of a button, your mom could call and talk to a trained operator through the system's base station receiver which works like a powerful speaker phone. The operator will find out what's wrong, and will notify family members, a neighbor, friend or emergency services as needed.

If you're interested in this type of alert, there are literally dozens of services to choose from. One of the most widely used is the Philips Lifeline Medical Alert Service lifelinesys.com, 800-380-3111) which costs $35 per month, plus an $82 start-up fee. Phillips also offers a new Auto Alert option (for $48 per month) that has fall detection sensors in the SOS button that can automatically summon help without your mom ever having to press a button.

Some other major players in the industry that are a little less expensive (under $30 per month) include: LifeFone lifefone.com, 877-849-8942), LifeStation lifestation.com, 877-478-3390), Bay Alarm Medical bayalarmmedical.com, 877-722-9633), Alert1 alert-1.com, 888-919-3692), LifeGuardian lifeguardianmedicalalarms.com, 800-378-2957) and MedicalAlert medicalalert.com, 800-800-2537).

One other unique product worth consideration is the MediPendant getmedipendant.com, 888-216-0039) which runs under $35 a month. This system allows your mom to speak and listen to the operator directly through the SOS pendant, versus the base station speaker phone, which often makes for easier communication.

No-Fee Alerts

If you're looking for a cheaper option, consider a no-fee medical alert device that doesn't have professional monitoring services. These products, which also come with an "SOS" button and a home base station, are pre-programmed to dial personal contacts (relatives, friends, caregivers or 911) if the SOS button is pushed. Most devices store about four phone numbers, and the system dials each number, one-by-one until a connection is made.

If you like this style, the Freedom Alert made by LogicMark logicmark.com, 800-519-2419) is a good product that allows you to speak through the pendent. The purchase price: $300, with no ongoing monthly fees. Also check out Telemergency telemergencysystems.com, (888) 558-7420), which offers a variety on no-fee medical alert devices that cost under $190.

Mobile Alerts

If your mom is interested in a device that works outside the home too, there are several mobile products that will let her call for help anywhere. These pendent-style devices, which fit in the palm of your hand, work like little cell phones with GPS tracking capabilities.

To call for help, your mom would simply push one button, and an operator from the device's emergency monitoring service would be on the line to assist her. And because of the GPS technology they would know her exact location, which is critical in emergency situations.

Top products to check out in this category include the new 5Star Urgent Response sold by GreatCall- greatcall.com, (800) 733-6632 for $50 plus a $35 activation fee and $15 monthly service fees, and MobileHelp - mobilehelpnow.com, (800) 800-1710 which runs between $37 and $42 per month.

You also need to know that Medicare and most other insurance plans don't cover medical alert systems, although in some states Medicaid will if your mom receives Medicaid-funded homecare services.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.

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