Life Alert devices are probably the most well known medical alert devices in the United States. By now, everyone, should be familiar with the “Help, I can’t get up.” commercials and yes, they have brought attention to a real need that many seniors worldwide experience.
But, if you’re wondering, “Should I get a Life Alert for my mom,?” you should know that there are pros and cons to all the medical alert devices available today. Whichever one you choose depends on what your budget will allow and what features you are in most need of.
Here’s a warning about the older devices that run on 2G or 3G networks: Those are shutting down by the end of 2022. 2G and 3G networks will no longer function for anything after 2022. If your aging loved one has such a device, now is the time to upgrade or replace it.Forbes.com
How Much Does Life Alert Really Cost?
The breakdown of the Life Alert medical alert service is as follows:
- The Life Alert now charges a one-time membership fee or $198.00, which include the equipment plus installation and activation fee costs
- The monthly costs for their monitoring service runs between $69.90 to $89.90 (or more) per month – depending on the features you choose
- The minimum required contract is 36 months
- You can add a spouse to your account for an additional $10.00 per month
You can read more about Life Alert costs and how insurance and medicare cover these costs in our article on How Much Is A Life Alert System?
Do Life Alert Devices Work?
In a nutshell – yes – this emergency bracelet for elderly adults work! And, let me tell you – the peace of mind that comes from knowing an elderly parent is protected by medical alert systems like Life Alert can give you is priceless.
Here’s a personal story about why even active seniors need to get and use some type of wearable device (preferably one with fall detection technology:
My own mother fell in the kitchen when my father was out. She broke her shoulder in the fall and couldn’t get up. My sweet mom lay on the cold tile floor for almost two hours before Dad came home and found her!
When my dad called to tell us what had happened to Mom, he was in tears, and so was I by the time he’d finished telling me about her fall. I shudder to think of how long she would have lain there if she’d lived alone. Would she have even lived to tell about it?
People often think that they are covered in an emergency as long as they have a cell phone. But Mom literally couldn’t roll off her side to get up off the floor. She was helpless despite the fact that the cell phone was on the counter just a couple feet above her.
Imagine how beneficial it would have been if she’d had a Life Alert system to call 9-1-1 that day!
A Vial of Life would have also helped emergency responders by giving them critical information about Mom’s medical conditions and medications. Read more about the free Vial of Life here.
Every second of every day in the United States an older adult falls, making falls the number one cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older Americans.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Okay, so medical alert systems are there for medical emergencies, but they are also beneficial for a senior who might be the victim of a home invasion or someone who is out and about and gets approached by a mugger or robber.
As long as the senior has a GPS enabled alert device on them, they can summon emergency responders with just the push of a button.
Know, I also have to mention that my mom (like many seniors) was very much against wearing such a device. She said it “made her look old”. If this is what you believe, then I can recommend that you at least use Alexa devices as a medical emergency alert.
Although you must know that Alexa devices would only work if you are at home. They can’t help you if you happen to fall while taking a walk in the park.
How Does Life Alert Work?
The Life Alert system comes with a base station unit and a medical alert button. There are additional life alert products as well but basically, it’s these two products.
The base unit is connected to your home’s landline but know that they also offer units that do not require landlines.
The medical alert button can be worn as a necklace or a bracelet and there are some freestanding buttons as well (which can be placed throughout the home, including the shower).
If help is needed, the user can activate either the base unit or any of the medical alert buttons which then puts you in contact with someone at Life Alert who acts as a 911 operator. They will assess your situation and contact emergency services for you.
Details About Life Alert Devices For The Elderly
Below are some details about the benefits and drawbacks of the Life Alert medical device system.
Life Alert Benefits:
- They operate their own nationwide monitoring system.
- When a senior calls for help, their emergency operators will stay on the phone with the person until help arrives.
- The company will store and provide the senior’s medical history to paramedics.
- Life Alert will respond even if there isn’t an emergency, which helps seniors feel safer.
- They will refund 100 percent of all equipment and monitoring fees if the person passes away at home.
- The battery doesn’t need changing for 10 years and the equipment is maintenance-free.
Life Alert Drawbacks:
- They do not provide fall detection devices (which, in my opinion, is a serious drawback)..
- They are expensive compared to other medical alert systems.
- No free trial period is available so if a senior starts the service, they are locked into it for three years even they aren’t happy with it. Nowadays, the medical alert industry includes a myriad of options beyond Life Alert. There are plenty of medical alert companies out there that are comparable to Life Alert and don’t require long-term contracts.
Does Life Alert Need Wifi?
The short answer is “No”. The Life Alert products work best with a landline BUT the products can work with Wifi.
It’s generally recommended (by the Life Alert company) to use a landline with their product simply because it’s more reliable than a WiFi connection.
Can You Cancel Life Alert?
One thing to know about Life Alert is that you will be locked into a 3 year, upfront contract if you opt for their services. It is difficult to find information on their website about whether you can cancel Life Alert before the contract period has ended because they want to speak with you. After all, by talking to you, they can try to convince you not to cancel!
That being said, they will allow you to cancel your contract under certain, very stringent conditions – like moving into a skilled nursing facility.
For this reason, you may want to look for Life Alert alternatives, such as the ones we have listed in the following section.
Can You Wear Life Alert In The Shower?
Yes, the pendant that everyone is familiar with is wireless and waterproof so it can be worn in the shower. The wireless system in the pendant is connected to a base console unit that is physically connected to your home’s landline. It can also be connected via WiFi to your home’s Internet service.
What Is The Best Medical Alert System For Seniors?
As I said earlier in this article – the key questions for what constitutes as “best” depends on what your budget allows for, what kinds of features you are looking for and your mom’s needs.
“Anyone who is at risk of falling or having a medical emergency” may benefit from such a device, says Leah Bellman, M.S., an occupational therapist and a healthcare process improvement analyst with Commonwealth Care Alliance in Boston, Mass.Consumerreports.org
So, with that being said, let’s take a look at some other medical alert devices that you may be interested in.
The first company we will look at is LifeFone Medical Alarm. They are a great option at only $24.95 per month and no long term contract.
LifeFone Medical Alarm
The LifeFone system offers the following:
- 30 day money back guarantee
- Wearable pendant button available, as well as a wristband version.
- The devices are waterproof so they can be used by the shower or in a bathroom. LifeFone does not have an independent personal help button like Life Alert’s – the senior would simply take their LifeFone pendant/wristband into the bathroom with them.
- Pushing the alert button connects the senior directly to an emergency care agent at a central monitoring center.
- The LifeFone product has a 1300 foot range (this is 61 percent larger than Life Alert’s 800 foot range).
- Lifetime warranty on the equipment.
- Optional automatic fall-detection feature is available for an extra $10.00 per month.
- Capability of adding 24/7 monitored fire, smoke, and carbon monoxide detection.
- Works with landline or cellular service (a plan with cell service runs $30.95 per month).
- Can add GPS (additional cost per month of about $10.00).
- The senior can designate who should be alerted in an emergency, so family members or friends (or even their physician) will know there is a concern.
Info You Should Know:
The basic system is only going to work INSIDE your home. It probably won’t be able to follow you out to the garden and definitely not to the grocery store or to a friend’s home. If you want that capability, you will need to upgrade to the GPS-enabled device, which runs about $10.00 extra per month.
Freedom Guardian Medical Alert System
The next company is Freedom Guardian Medical Alert System by Medical Guardian™ – Starting at $44.95 per month, plus a one time equipment charge of $99.00. *NOTE – The Freedom Guardian ONLY works through AT&Ts cellular service! It will NOT work on any other phone system.
- The Freedom Guardian is a wearable medical alert device that doubles as a watch.
- It comes in either black (shown) or white and is made with seniors in mind.
- It has larger screen icons and an analog watch face plus a HELP touch screen and an emergency button.
- It features alerts and reminders so the owner can remember things like taking their medications on time or going to their doctor’s appointment.
- The Freedom Guardian also has text-to-speech capability so the senior can talk to a loved one through the watch (ala Dick Tracy) – there is no keyboard required.
- It reads the date, time, messages, and calendar alerts aloud so seniors can hear it better.
- The alert device also gives the weather for up to 3 days.
- Has advanced location tracking through GPS so a senior who gets lost can be found even if they aren’t sure where they are.
Info You Should Know:
Again, the Freedom Guardian Medical Alert System ONLY works through AT&Ts cellular network. If you have another carrier, such as Verizon or TMobile, this system WILL NOT WORK.
On The Go Guardian
The On-The-Go Guardian by Medical Guardian™ is getting some very good reviews on Amazon and at a cost of $49.95 per month, it seems affordable.
It works without needing to have a smartphone or WiFi service in the home. It has it’s own proprietary WiFi location service which means that you can use it at home or when you are out and about without having to pay an extra fee (like you do with Life Alert).
You can wear this unit on a lanyard as a necklace and/or you can clip it onto your belt or pocket.
It has a 30 day battery life and yes, it is shower proof!
In my opinion, it’s a good low cost alternative to a more expensive medical alert device.
Ripple 24/7 Medical Alert
Ripple 24/7 Personal Safety Monitoring – about $40 to buy (as of 2019), which includes 3 months of monitoring.
This is a very small unit and because of that – it may not be suitable for every older adult.
- It is tiny and can be worn on a charm bracelet or necklace (or hung on a ring of keys).
- Ripple is cost effective, coming in at less than 25 percent the cost of most medical alert systems.
- It features 24/7 professional monitoring and reviews suggest that the response times from the monitoring team are fast – they seem to be calling within about 15 seconds of pressing the alert button.
- It is waterproof (which is good if you forget you are wearing it on a necklace and hop into the shower).
- The battery lasts up to 6 months. Monthly subscribers get a new device in the mail once the battery begins to run low.
- It is tiny – I mean really tiny (remember I said it could be worn on a charm bracelet?). I can see where it might be difficult for a senior who has fallen and is hurt or in panic mode to grab hold of this device.
- To get emergency help, the senior must press the device at least three times to have help dispatched or it won’t activate. Again, if someone is in pain or upset, will they remember to press the device 3 times? *NOTE – if the person clicks it just once, the monitoring team will still call them or text them to see if there is an actual emergency – but an ambulance won’t be sent until after the team talks to the user.
- It can only be set to alert the police or an ambulance.
- It uses Bluetooth to connect with the owner’s smartphone to send a distress signal, then GPS locates the smartphone. This means the smartphone must be nearby to work (within 30 – 50 feet of the device).
- Reviewers have noted that it seems to automatically disconnect from the phone app after a certain time frame, which means the senior might have to go into the app often to and re-pair it – which might prove difficult for a person who is not tech-savvy.
Two Life Alert Alternatives
There are two products, Invisawear and Alexa that can work similarly to a medical alert device and have no monthly fees.
Invisawear Is A Life Alert Alternative With No Monthly Fee
The Invisawear Smart Jewelry is one of the newest alert devices on the market today. But note, it is NOT a medical alert device – it is a wearable help button in the form of a neck pendant. Meaning that it is not connected to a support team who can then call for an ambulance for you. (But, that also means there is no monthly fee as well).
What makes this product so amazing is that it’s a decorative small charm that can be worn on a necklace or a bracelet. It’s the smart new way to wear a medical alert device without looking as if you are wearing one.
It’s free to use – no monthly fee. It’s a GPS device to alert your contact list and / or 911 (which is optional and also free) of an emergency and also to provide them with your GPS location.
One additional item that I can recommend for older adults is to add a magnetic clasp to the Invisawear necklace. This makes it much easier to put on and take off for anyone who has problems managing small jewelry clasps. I know that I do so this makes it quick and easy for me to wear my Invisawear necklace.
This elegant alert device has the following features:
- You activate the alarm by simply double pressing the back of the pendant. This sends a text message along with your GPS coordinates immediately to the individuals you designated on your emergency contact list.
- When you set it up you can add up to 5 individuals to be contacted when you activate the alarm.
- You can also set up the option to contact 911 Dispatchers in your area. There is no cost for this and it’s an option in addition to contacting your personal contact list.
- It’s sweat and weather resistant.
- Because it’s a Bluetooth paired item – it will only work if the smartphone it’s paired to is nearby.
- There is no battery to charge.
- There is no monthly fee.
- It currently only works within the USA
- For more information about Invisawear – check their website FAQs here.
Alexa As An In Home Alert System
Alexa’s Buddy Skill and 911 Capabilities – okay so yes, Alexa is NOT a medical alert device but it CAN function as an alert device if you are within distance of it hearing you (I guess that’s why having multiple Alexa devices around the home would be good for seniors!)
Anyway – if you or your senior loved one is homebound – then you can use Alexa to contact your list of contacts that you put into a skill called Alert A Buddy.
Basically, if you fall or injure yourself and you need help you simply say “Alexa, ask my buddy to send help.” It will then send an email, a voice message and a text to the people you already designated on your list.
Of course – you can also use Alexa to call 911 as well – you can read how to do that here.
If you’re looking for an emergency bracelet for elderly adults, there are many options to choose from. The key point to remember is that it must be easy to use for the person wearing it and it must provide the type of services they need.
Here’s a warning about the older devices that run on 2G or 3G networks: Those are shutting down by the end of 2022. 2G and 3G networks will no longer function for anything after 2022. If your aging loved one has such a device, now is the time to upgrade or replace it. Manufacturers likely make this easy by offering newer versions, but don’t count on your aging parent to follow up on any letters sent to them about this.forbes.com
Frequently Asked Questions
Will Medicare pay for a life alert?
Medicare typically does not cover the cost of Life Alert or other personal emergency response systems (PERS). These systems are generally considered “preventative” equipment, not necessary medical equipment.
However, under certain circumstances, some parts of Medicare (like Medicare Advantage plans) might offer coverage for these types of systems. This is because Medicare Advantage plans often provide benefits beyond what traditional Medicare offers, and some may choose to include coverage for PERS as part of their additional benefits.
What medical alert device does AARP recommend?
AARP recommends Lifeline and invisaWear as the best medical alert systems for its members, based on the discounts they offer. Lifeline provides standard at-home and mobile medical alert systems. InvisaWear offers safety devices designed as delicate necklaces, bracelets, and keychain charms. AARP members can avail of a 15% discount on Lifeline’s monthly monitoring services and on invisaWear’s accessories and optional monitoring services provided by ADT.
Does Life Alert work without cell service?
As of 2023, Life Alert uses a landline telephone connection to communicate with its monitoring center, so it can work without cell service. However, some Life Alert devices also offer cellular connectivity as a backup if the landline is not working or if the user is outside of the home. If a user doesn’t have a landline and their Life Alert device doesn’t have cellular connectivity, they won’t be able to use the device to communicate with the monitoring center.