Life Alert Buyer’s Guide - Systems, Costs & Reviews

10/21/14Colin Grubb

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We've seen the commercials for years, but in 2016 there are better options.

Since the late 80s, Life Alert has been showing folks fall down stairs to promote the benefits of medical alert systems. However, in the ensuing years technology has advanced so that there are now multiple companies, including our advertising partner Medical Guardian, offering alert systems with more reliable equipment, superior range, and coverage outside of your home. And they can do it at a much lower price. 

At consumersadvocate.org, we want to help you make the best possible choice when buying a life alert system, and we want to do it without scaring the pants off you! To that effect we've compiled a top ten list of the best life alert systems of 2016, ranking them using criteria we've deem useful to you, and comparing and contrasting what each company has to offer. 

Buyer's Guide

First and foremost, Life Alert systems allow older folks to stay where they are happiest...at home. According to research by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), www.aarp.org:

  • Nearly 90 percent of seniors want to stay in their own homes as they get older, often referred to as “aging in place.”

  • This is true even if they begin to need day-to-day assistance or ongoing health care. Most seniors still wish to remain in familiar surroundings and have the assistance come to them. Only a few express a preference for moving to a facility where care is provided (9 percent), or for moving to a relative’s home (4 percent).

  • The reason seniors cite the most for wanting to remain at home? They want to continue to live autonomously and not be subject to someone else's rules, whether that be the rules of an assisted living facility or a relative's.

 

A solid life alert system can allow seniors to remain at home, and give them and their loved ones peace of mind at the same time. 

 

What Are My Options?

The most popular medical alert companies today have plans that generally provide you with an emergency button that you keep on your person at all times. Usually this device is attached to a lanyard so you can wear it around your neck or wrist. Most also have a clip so you can fasten it to your belt or waistline if you prefer. This connects wirelessly to a base station in your home, which is essentially a 24/7 two-way monitoring system. In an emergency you press the button and converse with the operator live through the base station, and they'll get you the assistance you need. 

This is just the garden variety system, and many companies offer different kinds of services to suit your needs. Some have the 2 way receiver built into the pendant so you communicate with the operator directly no matter where you are in the house. Some make use of GPS or smartphone technology, allowing you coverage when you leave the house as well.

What Should I Be Looking For?

Your life alert system serves as a lifeline during an emergency, and this chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The reason some of the most popular life alert systems continue to rank highly year after year depends on three factors:

  1. Quality and reliability of hardware  – Considering the function a medical alert system is supposed to ultimately provide, you will want to make sure your company has a reputation for featuring the most reliable and up-to-date hardware out there. It sounds silly but it's true, what matters most is the thing works when you need it! Also, check for equipment warranties.

  2. Monitoring centers - ask if the company maintains its own monitoring center. This should be staffed by professionally trained and licensed operators. The facility should also meet industry standards.

  3. No long term contracts – health conditions and your personal priorities may change over time. A long term contract could unnecessarily divert valuable finances from medical care.

According to the FTC here are some questions you should ask your life alert system provider:

  • Is the monitoring center open 24/7? What kind of training does the staff receive?

  • What’s the average response time, and who gets alerted?

  • Will I be able to use the same system with other response centers if I move? What if I move to another city or state?

  • What’s your repair policy? What happens if I need a replacement?

  • What are the initial costs? What costs are ongoing? What kind of services and features will I get?

How Much Does It Cost?

Around $25/ month

What Is A Non-Monitored Life Alert System?

This is basically similar to company serviced life alert systems in terms of the equipment used. However, the main difference is that your distress calls are not sent to a company operator in a monitoring center but directly to 911 services or a pre-programmed phone list (friends, families and doctor).

This type of life alert system requires a one-time equipment purchase of around $200 to $300, which usually includes a life alert bracelet/ necklace and base unit.

What to look for?

  1. Effective range of medical necklace/ bracelet from base unit

  2. Wireless system availability – better freedom of movement

  3. Does it work with emergency medical systems in your area

Deciding what life alert system to use could be confusing. Given the similarity of what each company offers, it is important that you first understand exactly what you need. Consult your doctor or talk with friends and family to help you determine what type of life alert system to use. For a closer look at the different life alert systems available, please visit our life alert systems reviews.

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