America is fast becoming a nation of elderly citizens, with a record 46 million seniors in 2016, representing 15% of the total population—and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, this percentage will have reached a whopping 22% by 2050. As we age, the risk of slipping, tripping, falling, and becoming seriously injured increases exponentially. More than one in three adults over the age of 65 will fall in a given year, according to the Center for Disease Control. Two-thirds will fall again within the next six months. A medical alert system can help, not just by summoning aid, but by reassuring relatives and caregivers as well.
Interestingly, as we’re slowly graying, we’re also moving towards more digitally connected lives, with almost half of the adults 65 and older owning smartphones, and around 67% using the internet. Perhaps sensing this trend, and as a reaction to resistance towards traditional alert devices by seniors, standalone medical alert applications for smartphones have started popping up on the market, produced both independently and by existing medical alert companies.
What Are Medical Alert Apps and How Do They Work?
The first medical alert systems were introduced in the mid-1970s, and were simple push-button devices worn around the wrist or neck. In case of an emergency, the device would alert a 24-hour call center and allow wireless two-way communication, exactly as many do now. However, innovative companies have increased the sophistication of medical alert systems, incorporating systems that detect falls automatically, medical monitoring, and even deliver voice messages to users and their caregivers.
Some medical alert systems function as standalone devices, which communicate solely with the company's call center, whereas others can integrate with cell phones that have bluetooth or GPS. The latter generally feature a dedicated smartphone application that complements the medical alert system, but some companies have also developed standalone apps that don't require any devices in addition to the user's smartphone.
Medical Alert Systems With Apps
When an app is used to complement an existing medical alert system or device, it usually only provides an additional means of contacting monitoring staff for assistance, or sends alerts and notifications to family members or caregivers. Some of these simply send an alert in the case of an emergency, but others go above and beyond, sending daily alerts with satellite-updated information on the user's current location, battery life of the help button, compliance with routine daily activities, medical reminders, and can even notify caregivers whether the user wore his alert device at all. If the alert system only works in the home, these additional services offered via app can be extremely useful.
Standalone Medical Alert Apps
Standalone medical alert apps come in many different varieties. The best of these make an effort to provide more than just a simple alert and call button, incorporating medical history and emergency contact information, as well. Some even offer the option of sending medical information to caregivers and medical personnel with the push of a button, and can also activate a loud alarm with an exact GPS location, in case of being out of earshot or unable to call out for help.
What Are the Best Standalone Apps?
We chose the best standalone apps by evaluating the features we determined were most important, namely: ease of use, GPS pinpointing, medical history storage, and of course, urgency in dispatching emergency personnel. We came up with a list of five standalone medical apps which cover all the bases.
GreatCall - Technically, this company focuses on standard medical alerts, but they also have a few innovative tricks up their sleeve. One of these is the Jitterbug, their own mobile phone with all the features of a normal cell, but an additional alert button and three different models. They also have a simple to use standalone app for Android and iOS, with a profile for the user's medical information and a clickable screen icon which automatically notifies their monitoring center. Once in contact with the representative, the agent assesses the situation, calls 911, and connects the user or their approved contact person with medical personnel.
ManDown - This app is useful for more than just seniors, as anybody who enjoys activities such as hiking or camping on their own can also benefit. Once activated, the Android and iOS-compatible app sends out personal and medical information to the user's unlimited emergency contacts via text, email, or even a phone call. There are two options for reaching medical personnel. The first is through a traditional SOS button. The second works via phone monitoring. As soon as the app is activated on the phone, it monitors the phone's movement. After 30 seconds of immobility, it activates a pre-alarm warning. After 60 seconds, a full alert automatically initiates.
iMedAlert - This app includes more features than other, similar ones. With the press of a button, the user's medical history is sent automatically to medical personnel or to an emergency contact. Another button sends a text message to the user's specified contacts, signaling the need for assistance. Their most innovative technology, however, is their alarm. If the user has fallen or injures themselves and are unable to call out for help, iMedAlert accesses and sends exact GPS information to emergency contacts and medical personnel, as well as activates a loud alarm.
Alert (by HelpAround) - This is by far the simplest of the apps we've reviewed. In case of emergency, the user either shakes the phone or taps the main button, and the three emergency contacts they've previously uploaded are notified via text message, along with an exact GPS location. The premium version also automatically initiates a conference call between the user and all other emergency contacts.
Medical Alert Systems vs. Medical Alert Apps
Though smartphones are multi-functional and generally always at hand, many seniors are still averse to them. Despite the growing trend towards a greater use of technology, especially as more generations accustomed to using it reach elderly status, there are still many cases in which a simple, one-button system is objectively more efficient. In the midst of an emergency, such as a heart attack, serious injury, or seizure, accessing and using a smartphone can be a lot more difficult than you think, no matter your age. Another thing to consider is battery life—medical alerts are usually functional for years, whereas most people can attest to constant issues with their phones' batteries.
Though medical alert apps certainly have their place, we feel safer recommending them for younger users with a history of medical issues or a serious condition that emergency personnel must be made aware of, when the user may not be able to. Concerned caregivers and family members of senior citizens would do well to remember that the professional monitoring service and alert equipment of medical alert systems are designed by industry experts to efficiently cover any kind of medical issue. For more on this, check out our list of the best medical alert systems in the industry.