While many designers believe in the credo, “Form follows function,” some seniors may argue that as far as medical alert devices go, form is every bit as important as function. Creating stylish products that appeal to these older adults is one way that Bay Alarm Medical sets itself apart from other medical alert brands.
The SOS Smartwatch is the best example of Bay Alarm Medical’s emphasis on style. We recently tested Bay Alarm’s Smartwatch hands-on, and we were quite impressed with the form and function.
FYI: With one in five Americans wearing a smartwatch or other wearable fitness tracker,1 Bay Alarm has successfully picked up on consumer preferences. Other product offerings such as Bella charms, hand-crafted, ornamental holders for the help button pendant, follow suit.
We set out to evaluate the functionality as well as the design of Bay Alarm Medical’s In-Home Medical Alert System + Smartwatch. Read on for our in-depth review to find out if this is the right option for you or your loved one.
The first of two boxes inside the Bay Alarm Medical package was the SOS Smartwatch. When disassembling this smallish box, be sure to notice that both the cable and the docking cradle are included. Both are a bit hidden within the packaging (although the box clearly labels the inclusion of the parts).
When we took our first peek at the Bay SOS Smartwatch, our initial impression was, well….Wow! It is a really contemporary, slick-looking wide-band black watch that active people definitely would wear. It looks nothing like a medical device. Clearly, this watch was designed for the older adult who may want a layer of protection but doesn’t want to look like they need a layer of protection. We think older adults who care about appearances, aren’t afraid of new technologies, and are active will love this smartwatch.
To give you a better idea of the “cool” factor of the watch, listen to this. When our teenage son noticed the SOS Smartwatch for the first time, we watched his eyes lock in on it with interest. After explaining the smartwatch’s purpose to him, he immediately responded: “It’s fancy!” He later asked if he could wear it. When you get a thumb’s up on a product from a teenager, you know its designers hit the nail on the head.
We also liked the look of the docking cradle. Small and unobtrusive, it easily fits on a nightstand, which is where we recommend that you keep it. Taking the watch off every night before going to bed will likely help you remember to regularly charge it.
So our first look was a good one. But could we judge this book by its cover? We spent several days wearing Bay Alarm Medical’s SOS Smartwatch so that we could give you the low down.
In the meantime, we turned our attention to the In-Home package in the second box. It included the following items:
Let’s start with the base unit. Our first thought was that at eight inches in length and five inches in width, it has a big footprint. The good news is that the help button is large and bright red, easy to find and press in the event of an emergency. If having a device that blends in better with your home environment is a priority, you could consider the Philips Lifeline At-Home Alert System. We did a hands-on review of Philips Lifeline here.
Next, we pulled out the personal help button. Like most companies, Bay Alarm Medical offers either a necklace or a wristband. We opted for the wristband. Designed to resemble a Fitbit, we liked its simple appearance and also found it very lightweight and easy to slip on.
Nothing seemed too complicated yet. Next, we picked up the instruction manual for a perusal. The “manual” is actually a regular-sized folder with a variety of pieces of information inside. One of the first things that we noticed, in more than one very visible spot, were three phone numbers: two emergency numbers and a third to call if help is needed setting up. Nice touch! This is good to know and to keep handy.
In addition, the folder included the following pieces:
Since we like compartmentalizing a process, this felt like an elegant way to organize the necessary information. Each item was separate and concise, so nothing felt overwhelming.
Finally, as far as face masks go, the Bay Alarm Medical add-on is the nicest one that we’ve seen. It is a soft, two-ply mask with a pliable yet sturdy nose brace. At this particular point in time (during the COVID-19 pandemic) the mask is an excellent freebie from a company that specializes in protecting older adults! But at the end of the day… it’s still just a mask.
Before sharing our impressions of how the In-Home + SOS Smartwatch work in action, we want to take a minute or two to discuss why they are offered together as one package.
We love things that come in bundles: phone, TV, and internet so that we only need to pay one bill; large boxes of snack packs so that everyone can find something they like to munch; anything at Costco.
Bay Alarm Medical likes bundles, too. While they offer items a la carte, they recommend “bundling” services in order to provide multiple layers of 24/7 protection and to save money. With this in mind, Bay Alarm Medical offers three bundles:
As you have probably already figured out, each bundle combines the In-Home system with a different type of mobile system. Having dual systems means that you can use the mobile tool while out and about during the day, and come home and charge it while using the in-home system at night. Each of the mobile devices needs to be charged at least once per day, so the in-home system can provide back up.
FYI: Most medical alert companies we’ve tried offer in-home or mobile alerts, while some offer hybrid devices that work at-home and on-the-go. We like that Bay Alarm Medical bundles their In-Home system with mobile alerts. This way you get the best of both worlds.
And as is often true with bundles – it comes with a discount (that is, a discount over purchasing your system a la carte). This is nice, as many seniors live on a fixed income. And who doesn’t like saving money?
In the case of Bay Alarm bundles, you will save between $59 and $119 per year when you combine in-home and mobile systems. If you purchase the SOS Smartwatch with the in-home system, you will receive an additional $30 discount on the watch. We purchased the SOS Smartwatch bundle, so we loved this extra $30 bonus in addition to our $59 annual savings.
That said, here is where the rubber meets the road. Saving money is only valuable if you actually NEED both systems. We recommend investing in this extra layer of protection if you are someone who is frequently home alone and travels outside of your home on a regular basis.
Speaking of money, let’s lay out the details. The SOS Smartwatch bundle includes an initial equipment charge of $149. While this is a pretty significant up-front cost, you’ll own the watch which includes multiple safety features as well as other features for daily living.
From what we’ve seen in the industry, the monthly fee for dual alert systems (in-home and mobile) typically runs between $35 and $45.
The monthly subscription for this bundle costs $49.95 for the cellular system, reviewed here. By bundling the two systems, customers save $4.95 per month or $59.40 annually. For a more complete look at costs and fees, we suggest reading our Bay Alarm pricing guide.
|Bay Alarm Medical Bundles||In-Home + SOS Smartphone||In-Home + GPS Button||In-Home + In-Car Alert|
|Leased or Owned?||Smartphone is owned.||GPS device is owned.||All equipment is leased.|
|Monthly Price||$39.95 landline $49.95 cellular||$39.95 landline $49.95 cellular||$39.95 landline $49.95 cellular|
If interested in a combination of in-home and on-the-go systems at a less costly price, LifeFone offers a package starting at $36.95 per month. You can read more about LifeFone’s alerts and their reasonable monitoring fees in our full LifeFone review. We’d also recommend looking into Medical Guardian, our top-rated alert system for seniors, as they have plans starting under $30 monthly for in-home units.
Time to get things working. Returning to our folder, we began with our “Welcome & Next Steps” letter. It instructed us to complete three tasks. Because each of these initial steps requires the use of a desktop or mobile device, we recommend that a caregiver or family member assists in this process.
The first step directed us to save the above-mentioned phone numbers in our phone for caller ID recognition. This may seem mundane, but is a really important step. If you are anything like us, you avoid calls coming in when you don’t recognize the number. How easily we assume that every call with an actual phone number rather than a name is someone asking for money, or someone asking for a vote, or someone asking us to buy their product … you get the idea. You may get a call from the emergency call center or customer service associate, so it is important to be able to identify their numbers.
Did You Know: A survey conducted by Jive Communications revealed that 61% of Americans regularly avoid phone calls.2
Step two instructs you to either sign in or set up an account on a desktop or mobile device. After doing so, step three directs you to complete an Emergency Plan. This includes providing contact information for those individuals that you wish to be contacted in the case of an emergency.
Having completed our first steps, we moved on to the In-Home Guide. We really liked that the guide had a list, including photo images, of each of the items that should have been included in our package. It confirmed that we received everything that we were supposed to receive. From our experience, this isn’t always the case.
The instructions for setting up the system were quite simple. They included plugging in the base unit, flipping the power switch on, and then testing the personal help button.
FYI: Wondering where your calls go? Bay Alarm has two emergency call centers: one in Ogden, Utah and the other in Rexburg, Idaho. If one were to ever go offline, the other would immediately provide coverage.
Next came the range test, something our goldendoodle, Tilly, always enjoys participating in. After pressing down the “MODE” button on the back of the base unit and strapping on the bracelet, we held down the personal help button and traveled from room to room with Tilly in tow.
A constant tone sounded from the base unit, indicating that we were within range of the unit. We could clearly hear the tone from each room that we traveled to, and so could Tilly, her ears perked in alert and a low-level growl announced her uncertainty about this new sound in our environment.
Note that any stops in the tone should indicate that a call for help cannot be made from that area. We were pleased to discover that the tone did not cease as we moved through both floors of our home, all corners of the basement and into our backyard. Our conclusion was that the range is excellent. On its website, Bay Alarm Medical states that the range is 1,000 feet.
While this range is probably sufficient for most older adults, those who have even larger properties may want to consider a company like One Call Alert, which boasts a range of 1,400 feet. You can read all about the brand in our One Call Alert review.
We were excited to put this slick-looking watch into action. Unfortunately, the watch was not ready for us. When we held down the power button as instructed, nothing happened. Must be an uncharged battery, we thought. We tried placing it on the charging station, but it still would not power on.
This was not the first time we ordered and received a faulty product from an alert company, so we didn’t think twice about calling and exchanging it. One thing we didn’t like was the length of time it took to connect with a customer service representative in order to make this happen. It took us two calls, the second one requiring a wait time of 35 minutes to speak with someone. It did help that once the representative answered, she was friendly, polite and helpful. And in the end, Bay Alarm expedited the order of another SOS Smartwatch to replace the first.
Three days later, we were strapping on our new SOS Smartwatch. And it turned on like a champ!
We loved the face of the Smartwatch, with large numbers that even older eyes could easily see. The senior-friendly watch also allowed for two other screen options, one digital and one decorative.
A dog lover’s warning: the decorative option includes the face of a cat. We love both, a cat and a dog being a part of our family, so we happily went with the decorative option!
The functionality of the watch gets an A+ too. We immediately pushed the SOS button on the left side of the watch and quickly had two-way talk going with a call center representative. Her voice came through loud and clear. Before placing an emergency test call, we do recommend consulting your SOS Smartwatch Quick Start Guide. You will be cued on what to expect and what the options are that will show up on your screen.
Pro Tip: When pressing the SOS button on the left side of the watch in order to call for help, you need to hold the button down for five seconds in order for the call to go through.
We made a short video below testing the Bay Alarm Medical SOS Smartwatch. We recommend watching it to better understand the response time and what to expect.
In addition to the SOS button, the smartwatch includes a GPS locator, a feature essential for on-the-go devices. In order to understand why this feature is important, we imagined the following emergency situation.
One sunny day while out for a walk with our goldendoodle, one of us suffers a stroke. While lying on the ground, we push the SOS button but are not able to effectively communicate through two-way talk. A monitoring center associate immediately pings our location and pulls up our records including any chronic medical conditions and medical history which she can quickly relay through a 911 call. If this were an actual situation, EMS would have a good shot at arriving quickly at the correct location with accurate information, ready to provide assistance.
Could a regular smartphone or smartwatch provide this same safety net? Not exactly. Tracking capabilities do exist on smartphones, but 911 responders would not have access to this information or to medical records. Communication could be difficult or impossible and time would likely be lost.
Aside from using the watch as a safety mechanism for emergency help, it does provide another option that active older adults will like – a step counter. Again, the Quick Start Guide will instruct you on how to set a daily goal for yourself. The CDC recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise like brisk walking.3 This translates into approximately 8,000 steps per day. Taking their advice and following the Quick Start Guide, we set the daily goal at 8,000 steps.
Pro Tip: While we think many older adults will welcome the extra features that the SOS Smartwatch offers, we also know that some folks like to keep things simple. One alert system that keeps things simple (maybe too simple) is Life Alert. Unfortunately, though, in our research we found that the cost of Life Alert is pretty steep. And as you’ll read in our Life Alert Review, getting out of their contracts can prove difficult.
Another thing we have not talked much about are the emergency contacts that users designate when registering online. Sometimes an older person may need assistance or advice that does not rise to the level of an emergency call. Users of the SOS Smartwatch do have the ability to call these contacts directly.
Bay Alarm also includes caregiver tracking in its other mobile devices that they hope to use with their SOS Smartphone in the future. This enables not only the emergency call center but also designated family members or caregivers to track the user’s whereabouts using GPS. This is a feature we will continue to watch for and report on in the future.
While conducting our review, we tested the help button several times. And we were thrilled to see that each time we reached out to test the system, calls came through on our two-way talk at 27 seconds or under. Twice the response time was 21 seconds. Bay Alarm more than beats the industry average of 30 seconds! The professionalism of their associates was impressive, too.
FYI: The Bay Alarm Medical emergency call centers are CSAA Five Diamond Certified. This is the gold standard in monitoring services certification.
Much less impressive was the response time from customer service associates. As mentioned earlier, we had a wait time of 35 minutes to troubleshoot our faulty SOS Smartwatch. Later, we contacted customer service with a few other questions about the smartwatch and had a wait time of 40 minutes. When we did finally get through, the associate, although very pleasant, did not seem knowledgeable about the watch and was unable to answer our questions.
While our experience with customer service was not a great one, we do recognize that the most important response time is with the emergency call center where time is of the essence during a real emergency, and this Bay does exceptionally well.
We did not include fall detection in our bundle but could have easily added it. It would require wearing a necklace rather than a wristband and paying an additional $10 per month for the service. Note that some companies, like Lively, include fall detection in their monthly fees (you can read our hands-on review of Lively here). Fall detection is not available for the SOS Smartwatch. Most companies that sell medical alert systems agree that fall detection is less accurate when used in a device worn around the wrist.
We typically encourage the use of fall detection. Falls often cause fractures and even head injuries. The sooner that EMS can get to someone with a critical injury, the better their chances for recovery. So this is something to keep in mind for yourself or your loved one.
Bay Alarm supports the use of fall detection, too, although with a few caveats. They recommend fall detection as an add-on for individuals who have fallen before or have a history of blacking out or fainting. They do not recommend it for individuals who have seizures or memory loss.4 Fall detection is available through the Bay mobile GPS device or the In-Home pendant necklace.
While we waxed poetic about the value of bundles earlier, it is true that the bundles might not contain everything you want. In addition to the two devices with fall detection, Bay Alarm Medical offers a number of other a la carte items. The two that caught our attention were the Bella charms and the lock box.
One of the more unique options is the Bella charms that can be used with the personal help necklace. We took a look at the four different charm designs on the website and thought them attractive. Two immediately appealed to our individual tastes. The interchangeable, hand-crafted charms are two inches in diameter, weigh less than two ounces when attached to a pendant and are waterproof. The pendant slides into a bracket on the back of the charm. The charms cost $25 each or all four can be purchased as a package for $90. We thought they might make a nice gift for a birthday or other holiday.
Fun Fact: “Bella” means beautiful in Latin. And these alert charms certainly offer an added layer of protection with a dash of elegance. In fact, it looks like you’re wearing jewelry.
Another accessory that you might find useful is the lockbox. In the case of a medical emergency, time is everything. On average, emergency response time in the U.S. is seven minutes.5 Without easy access to a person’s house, this response time will likely increase. A poor outcome could be the result of delayed entry. In addition, medical personnel will need to break down a door to gain entry. A secondary consequence is a large repair bill for the homeowner.
A lock box ensures that medical personnel can easily and quickly gain entry to your house. The box hangs on the front door, has a combination-style lock that you set and has a one-time $30 purchase price. The combination code is kept on record at Bay Alarm Medical’s call center and is relayed to EMS in the event of an emergency.
Lock boxes can be purchased elsewhere as combination locks that eliminate the need for a box hanging on your front door. Whether you choose to invest in this safety feature through Bay Alarm Medical or elsewhere, we believe that it is a good safeguard to have in place.
Other Bay Alarm extras that can be purchased a la carte include the following:
|Monitoring for a second person||Free with in-home systems|
|Fall detection||$10 per month|
|Bella charms (Fashion pendants)||$27.95 each|
|Wall-mounted buttons||$2.50 each per month|
|Tracking app for caregivers||$5 per month|
|Lock box for house key||$34.95 one-time charge; free with some plans|
|Vial of Life||One free; $8.95 one-time charge for a second person|
|Equipment insurance||$5 per month|
Because it is stylish, has the essential safety features of GPS location and a help button, and is connected to an emergency call center with excellent response time, we think the SOS Smartwatch is a great buy. It is an item that can enable older adults to age in place safely because we believe that individuals will actually want to wear it (not always the case with some alerts!).
Of course, we reviewed the entire In-Home + SOS Smartwatch bundle. Will seniors be able to justify the extra monthly fee in order to receive both in-home and mobile services? We’re not exactly sure. Importantly, the in-home system can be used while the smartwatch is charging or when the individual is in the shower or in bed. However, it is also safe to assume that the smartwatch will be the device that is used the majority of the time, and it is a device that does not include fall detection.
We recommend the dual system for a narrow group of older adults: those who live independently, leave their property on a regular basis, and do not have a history of falling. For these individuals, we think the cost and the functionality of the dual system is warranted. Overall, Bay Alarm Medical has proven again to be one of the best alert systems for seniors.
Yes, the Smartwatch as well as the help button on both the wristband and necklace are waterproof. On their website, Bay Alarm states that most customers choose to take off their Smartwatch before showering so that it doesn’t get in the way. At the same time, showers/bathtubs can be a high-risk area for falls. We recommend replacing the SOS Smartwatch with the wristband or necklace during a shower or bath to ensure safety.
No, the Smartwatch does not need to be connected to a smartphone. It runs on a pre-installed 4G LTE sim card. The watch is preprogrammed for ideal lighting and clear communication.
The base unit for the in-home system has a battery for 32 hours of back-up protection in the case of a power outage. The battery automatically recharges itself when power returns. Most in-home systems match this battery life. For those who are especially concerned about battery life, such as individuals who live in areas prone to hurricanes, a system that has a more extensive battery life might be a good call.
The standard help buttons have a battery that will last up to 5 years. When it needs replacing, it will automatically send a signal to the monitoring center. An associate will contact you with instructions on battery replacement. Note that the help buttons with fall detection have a battery life up to two years. *The SOS Smartwatch has a battery life up to 24 hours. It should be recharged daily.
The SOS Smartwatch does not include caregiver tracking at this time. However, Bay Alarm Medical says they hope to add this feature to the watch in the near future.
Bay Alarm partners with Language Line Services to provide support for seniors who do not speak English or for whom English is a second language. More than 170 languages are available.
Pewresearch.org. (2020, Jan. 9). About One-in-Five Americans Use a Smart Watch or Fitness Tracker.
Onepoll.us. (2017, Aug.). How Americans Really Use Phones.
CDC.gov. (2012, Aug.). More People Walk to Better Health.
Bayalarmmedical.com. (2021). Auto Fall Detection Is Not for Everyone.
Medical News Bulletin. (2020, Dec.). What Is the Average Emergency Response Time?
As SafeHome.org’s medical alert system expert, Jenny Wisniewski researches, tests, and reviews the best solutions to help seniors age in place. Her experience includes providing caregiving for her own Mother and regularly writing in the elder care consulting space. Jenny pays attention to the nuances in each alert system she reviews so that seniors and family members can find the best fit for their needs. In addition to elder care, Jenny also enjoys writing about travel, education, and the environment. And in her free time, she loves spending time outdoors with her family and golden doodle. Learn more about Jenny here