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Research the many options for medical alert systems

Dear Savvy Senior: I am interested in getting my mom, who lives alone, a medical alert system with a wearable pendant button that will let her call for help if she falls or has a medical emergency. What can you tell me to help me choose one? — Too Many Choices

Dear Too Many: A good medical alert system is an effective and affordable tool that can help keep your mom safe and living in her own home longer. But with all the different products and features available today, choosing one can be challenging. Here are some tips that can help.


Medical alert systems, which have been around since the 1980s, provide a wearable help button — usually in the form of a neck pendant or wristband — that would put your mom in touch with a dispatcher who could summon emergency help or contact a friend or family member as needed.

To help you narrow your options and choose a system that best fits your mom’s needs, here are three key questions you’ll need to ask, along with some top-rated companies that offer these products.

1. Does your mom want a home-based or mobile system?

Medical alert systems were originally designed to work inside the home with a landline telephone, which is still an option. But since fewer and fewer households have landlines these days, most companies today also offer home-based systems that work over a cellular network. With these systems, pressing the wearable help button allows you to speak to a dispatcher through a base unit located in your home.

In addition, many companies offer mobile medical alert options. You can use these systems at home, but they’ll also allow you to call for help while you’re out and about.

Mobile alerts operate over cellular networks and incorporate GPS technology. They allow you to talk and listen to the operator directly through the pendant button, and because of the GPS, your location would be known in order for help to be sent.

If your mom doesn’t leave the house often, she might not need a mobile system, but if she is still active, she might want added protection outside the home.

2. Should her system be monitored or not?

The best medical alert systems are monitored, meaning that the help button connects you with a trained operator at a 24/7 dispatching center.

But you also have the option to choose a system that isn’t monitored. With these, when you press the help button, the device automatically dials a friend or family member on your programmed emergency call list.

These products can often be set up to call multiple people and to contact emergency services if you don’t get an answer from someone on your list.

3. Should you add a fall-detection feature?

Most medical alert companies now offer the option of an automatic fall-detection pendant for an additional fee of $10 to $15 per month. These pendants sense falls when they occur and automatically contact the dispatch center, just as they would if you had pressed the call button.

But be aware that this technology isn’t foolproof. In some cases this feature might register something as a fall that isn’t. The alarm could go off if you drop it or momentarily lose your balance but don’t actually land on the ground.

Top-rated systems

Here are four top companies, rated by Consumer Reports, that offer home and mobile monitored medical alert systems:

>> Bay Alarm Medical: Fees range between $20 and $40 per month; BayAlarm; 877-522-9633.

>> GreatCall’s Lively Mobile Plus: The device costs $50 plus a $25 to $40 monthly service fee;; 800-650-5921.

>> MobileHelp: Monthly fees run $20 to $45; Mobile; 800-809-9664.

>> Phillips Lifeline: $30 to $50 a month, plus a one-time device/activation fee of $50 to $100;; 855-681-5351.

Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit

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