Medical alert systems

Medical alert systems can help loved ones live more safely at home, with more independence, and grant additional peace of mind to family caregivers. They can be a great supplement to home care services provided by home care agencies.

A few years ago, I was faced with the difficult realization that my aging parents were failing in their ability to properly take care of themselves. Having to juggle my own young family and a career, I still managed to check in on them from time to time to help. On one of those visits I knocked on their door and got no response. Mom was in the hospital for her own issues related to diabetes, and I knew dad was alone for a few days. I had a key, so I let myself in, only to find the house empty.

I finally searched out the back door, which leads to a stair case going down to the ground floor, and there was dad. He was head down with his foot twisted and stuck in the guard rail. He told me he had been there for a couple of hours, and no one had responded to his cries for help. I untangled him from the guard rail and managed to get him up on his feet. Fortunately, there were no injuries and he was fine. We were very lucky!

In a recent study of 78 elderly women, over 32% of them had suffered a fall. The fitness of each individual had a lot to do with the ones that fell versus those that didn’t. Deciding on who can benefit from medical alert systems comes down to the physical fitness of the individual. Dr. Frank Shallenberger MD recommends the following tests. Have the subject lie down on the floor and see if they can get up without any assistance. Next, have them sit in a chair and have them stand up and sit down ten times without using their arms. If they cannot do both of these things it is time to consider medical alert systems.

According to AARP there are a wide range of options depending on your needs:

  1. Basic: a button that either hangs around the neck, or a bracelet, that when pushed connects to a response center.
  2. Fall detection devices: worn the same way but have an integrated accelerometer or G meter that electronically detects a fall and contacts a pre-determined contact person or a response center. These can be particularly useful for dementia patients that are not able to understand the use or importance of pushing the button.
  3. In-home health monitors: these can integrate all of the above, and monitor certain vital signs as well
  4. Movement sensors: these can track and record movement (or the lack of it), and be monitored by a 3rd party remotely through the internet directly to a smart phone or computer web site.
  5. Fitness trackers: these type of medical alert systems can integrate daily physical activity (walking steps and distance traveled) with other features.
  6. GPS location and tracking: an excellent choice for advanced dementia patients still at home. These devices can send out an alert to designated phone numbers when a pre-determined perimeter is violated. They can then provide real-time location data with map info to help locate someone with dementia if they wander off.


Location devices for dementia patients branch off into a whole category by themselves, as wandering alerts and tracking systems can be quite sophisticated and come with a variety of features. is an excellent resource for these kinds of devices and systems.

These systems can be purchased or leased, and all have a monthly subscription fee. The range of the systems is also something to be considered before choosing one that is right for your family. Contract duration and minimum obligations vary as well.

Consumer reports has some reviews on a few of these systems. They can help you compare various technologies, explain the various features available, and help you choose the system that is right for you.

Your local Area Agency on Aging is also a great resource. They can give you specific recommendations on medical alert systems available in your area.