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Understanding How Medical Alert Devices Work
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Understanding How Medical Alert Devices Work

November 20, 2020

Falls are the leading cause of injuries among seniors in the United States, and these falls can result in disability or even death. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four Americans over the age of 65 falls each year, and these 29 million falls lead to 3 million emergency department visits, 800,000 hospitalizations and 28,000 deaths. 

The good news? Rapid medical care after a fall can often lead to better outcomes for seniors. That’s why medical alert devices are so important, especially those with fall detection. With the push of a button, seniors can summon medical help with a wearable senior alert device if they’ve fallen or have another medical emergency. These systems can also be used to call for help in the event of a fire, accident or break-in. 

a doctor on the phone


What Causes The Elderly To Fall? 

Changes in eyesight or hearing, a common fact of aging, can make you or a senior loved one more prone to falls. Environmental factors in your home, like dim lighting, throw rugs, furniture that can easily trip over, and slippery bathtubs or bathroom floors are common fall hazards. Unsafe footwear can also be an issue.

Other factors that could increase your or your loved one’s chance of falling include:

  • Side effects of medication, like some prescribed for high blood pressure, heart conditions, chronic pain, diabetes, depression or sleep problems.
  • Decreased muscle strength, bone mass, balance and/or coordination caused by reduced physical fitness.
  • Numbness or weakness caused by neuropathy or other sensory problems, or pain stemming from conditions like diabetes, kidney disease and shingles.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness caused by cardiovascular disease, like arrhythmias and low blood pressure (hypotension).
  • Confusion, reduced balance, poor judgement, visual misperception and gait changes caused by dementia and Alzheimer’s.
  • Stiffness, tremor, postural changes, slowness, impaired balance and gait changes caused by Parkinson’s disease. 

Features and Styles of Medical Alert System 

When you’re looking for peace of mind when it comes to connecting to rapid help in the case of falls and other emergencies, you have options when shopping for the right medical alert system.

  • Home vs. mobile capabilities: There are both home-based and mobile systems available. Traditional medical alert systems were designed to work with home landlines, and many companies also now offer systems that will work over a cellular network for those without landlines. Looking for an option that can help protect you or a loved one at home and when you’re out and about? Mobile medical alert systems use cellular networks and incorporate GPS technology. If you’re away from home and get lost or press the call button but are unable to talk, this type of monitoring service can help emergency responders find you.

    Seniors who do not leave the house or senior living community often may not need a mobile system, while an active older adult may want to consider added protection outside the home.
  • Monitored vs. unmonitored: Monitored medical alert systems connect you with someone at a dispatching center, 24/7, with the push of a button. Unmonitored systems automatically dial a friend or family member on your programmed emergency call list. Monitored systems are more expensive, usually carrying a monthly fee in addition to the purchase price for the device, but they offer more peace of mind.
  • Fall detection: Some medical alert systems offer the option of automatic fall detection for an additional monthly fee. This feature may not work perfectly every time, issuing a false alarm if you drop the device or temporarily lose your balance, but the benefit may outweigh the risk of false alarms if you have risk factors.

Other features you should consider before buying a medical alert device include ease-of-use, a risk-free trial, a long battery life, a water-resistant shell or case (for bathroom falls), a strong signal (if mobile), GPS detection, comfort and – if it matters to you or a loved one – attractiveness or discreetness.  

Costs of Medical Alert Devices 

Costs for your medical alert system will include installation, your system and accessories, monthly monitoring fees and added fees for things like fall detection, extra pendants or additional support.

Not every medical alert system company requires a separate payment for installation, but some of the more advanced systems could cost you up to $200 for a one-time installation fee. In some cases, your base system and accessories will be included in your monthly fee, but you may spend up to about $50 for the equipment if not. Monthly fees for your system will likely range from $20 to $50. And extra features could add anywhere from $5 to $50 to your monthly payment. 

Choosing the Right Fall Detection Device for Your Loved One

When it’s time to choose a medical alert system for yourself or a loved one, read reviews; ask friends and doctors or senior community staff their opinions; and take advantage of risk-free trials to find your best fit.

If you’re buying the system for a loved one, it’s important to engage them in the selection process to ensure it’s something they can comfortably wear every day for maximum protection. If someone finds a particular system uncomfortable or difficult to use, they won’t use it, which negates its purpose.

Also, don’t forget to look for or ask about deals so you can get the best device possible for the most manageable cost. 

Free Senior Living Options eBook

As you begin your search, use this easy to understand guide to help you better understand your options.

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