How We Rank Alert Systems
Our senior care experts personally test, review, and recommend systems that are the best in their category. Everything we publish is 100% unbiased and objective.
And we would never recommend products that we don’t truly believe in. This means you get an expert in your corner to guide you and help you find an alert system that makes sense for your budget and lifestyle.
Our goal is to remain a top resource that helps seniors live more independently with peace of mind. And we can only accomplish this if readers like you trust our integrity and ethics. So we always strive to remain:
About Our SecureScore™
You might already know that our research and testing results in our proprietary SecureScore™. This score covers 5 important categories: Customer Service, Value, Equipment, Features and Technology, and Ease of Use. In other words, we do our best to get a full understanding of what it’s like to actually use the best alert systems on a daily basis. Then we share our findings with you! We do the homework so that you don’t have to.
Medical Alert System Buyer’s Guide
It’s no secret that there are lots of medical alert systems to choose from. But narrowing down your options and making a decision doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it should be easy! That said, you’ll want to look out for little things that can turn into big-time deal-breakers.
For instance, not all help buttons are waterproof (there goes safe showering!). And did you know that some only have a 300 ft. range from the base station, while others work up to 1,300 ft. or more. Also, certain alert systems only work at home, while others work on-the-go. Don’t worry — we’re going to show you exactly what to look for in a medical alert system.
FYI: Most slip and falls happen in the bathroom, that’s why we always recommend a waterproof alert system. With a waterproof device, you or your loved one can bathe or shower without sacrificing safety.
As they say, you don’t know what you don’t know! That’s why you have us. We’re going to cover features and monitoring, monthly costs and fees, customer service, and other important points you should keep in mind. So let’s dive right in.
How to Choose an Alert System – Start Here!
Now, you might be tempted to go straight to the top-rated alert system on the market, place your order, and call it a day. But that could be a mistake. While Bay Alarm Medical and Medical Guardian are ranked #1 and #2 on our list, you should know that each brand out there sells a handful of different devices, each meant for totally different lifestyles.
In truth, the best alert system depends on your lifestyle and coverage preferences. Or, if you’re shopping for a loved one, the alert system you choose should make sense for their activity level or lifestyle. For instance, if you spend a lot of time at home, we recommend an in-home alert system. But if you live an active lifestyle and love visiting friends or going shopping, then a mobile alert system is the better choice.
In-Home Alert Systems – A pendant alert will summon emergency response help at the push of the button. Note that the biggest advantage of in-home systems is their affordability: they range between $19.99 to $29.99 per month. But their main weakness is their short range. Some will keep you protected while you’re in your house and gardening out back, but you won’t have coverage when you leave home. So that’s something to keep in mind.
Pro Tip: In-home or mobile alert? It’s the age-old question. And it’s the primary difference between alert systems. If you can swing the extra cost, we recommend choosing a mobile unit, especially if you or your loved one lives an active lifestyle.
Mobile Alert Systems – We think these are great for active seniors who want emergency coverage on-the-go. Instead of running off your home Wi-Fi network or landline, mobile medical alerts are powered by reliable cellular signals (just like modern smartphones!). This means you can go pretty much anywhere in the country, so long as there’s a cell signal. You can choose from bracelets, necklace pendants, and even fashion-forward smartwatches.
One nice feature of some mobile alert systems is GPS location tracking. This allows emergency personnel to quickly locate your whereabouts when it matters most. If you have an elderly parent who is prone to getting lost or disoriented, you’ll probably want a mobile alert with GPS. We think you’ll like the unlimited range, but keep in mind they do cost more than at-home alerts.
Getting Set Up
Thankfully, it only takes a few minutes to set up an alert system. Most brands offer plug-and-play setup these days. If you have an in-home unit, you’ll plug the base station into your wall and follow the step-by-step prompts. Mobile units are even easier to get started. So even if you’re not Bob Vila with lots of DIY handy skills, you should have no issues. That said, some seniors choose to have their tech-savvy children set it up for good measure.
How It Works
These devices are meant to save your life during a health crisis or other emergency. Every second matters, so you can imagine that the products are easy to use (actually, they’re foolproof!). And if it’s not easy to use, you won’t find it anywhere on our site.
No matter the time of day or night, all you have to do is press the help button and your alert sends a signal to a professional monitoring center. The monitoring center fields the alert, typically within 20-30 seconds, and they jump into action to get you the help you need. They can call police, fire, or EMS. Alternatively, they can call a friend or family member to check on you.
Did You Know: One of our top-rated medical alert systems, Philips Lifeline, has an impressive 12-second average response time.
It’s also worth mentioning that the best alert devices come with two-way talk. With a built-in microphone and speaker, you or your loved one can communicate with emergency agents directly through the wearable unit, or via the base station. And again, we’ve found that almost every medical alert system is intuitive and easy to use. Although, some are easier than others!
Connectivity: Landline, Wi-Fi, or Cellular
When you’re researching medical alert systems, you’ll notice they offer either a Landline connection, Wi-Fi connection, or Cellular connection. So what’s the difference? Well, the difference is night and day. We recommend a system that communicates with the monitoring center with lighting-fast speed and reliability so that you can get help immediately. Remember, seconds matter when it comes to an emergency.
With this in mind, landline alerts tend to be slower and less reliable, and they require a phone line. But landline alerts are also the cheapest. Then you’ve got Wi-Fi alert units, which tend to provide a faster connection, but they’re dependent on the speed and reliability of your home’s Wi-Fi network. And finally, cellular alert systems are the fastest and most reliable, as they use cutting-edge cellular technology (just like the iPhone in your pocket). But cellular alerts aren’t cheap!
We typically recommend wireless units, which are your Wi-Fi and Cellular medical alert systems.
Pro Tip: It’s important to remember that many Wi-Fi alert systems offer cellular backup. Cellular backup ensures you remain protected in the event you lose power, your Wi-Fi goes down, or you happen to wander out of Wi-Fi range.
Medical Alert System Costs & Pricing
Equipment & Monitoring
While some brands require upfront payment for equipment, you’ll like that today’s best alert companies include the equipment for free with paid monitoring. So it’s usually pretty cheap to get started. Depending on the type of system you choose, you should expect to pay between $19.99 and $49.99 per month for potentially life-saving emergency coverage. Here’s a basic rundown of monitoring costs:
- In-home alert systems (Landline): $19.99-$29.99 per month
- In-home alert systems (Wi-Fi): $24.99-$34.99 per month
- Mobile alert systems (Cellular): $34.99-$49.99 per month.
Installation & Activation Fees
Some companies, like Life Alert, require miscellaneous fees like membership fees and activation fees. Of course, we’d rather not pay these additional costs, but sometimes it’s worth it. We recommend finding a system that doesn’t charge extra fees (and there are lots out there!). But if you do have to fork out a little more money to get started, just be sure it’s under $100.
We think a company that charges a dime more than $100 just to get started probably cares more about making money than helping seniors. So steer clear of those guys! Thankfully you can get the coverage you need without breaking the bank. Aim to keep your first bill (and subsequent bills) under $40-$50, even with fall detection.
Fall Detection and Other Add-Ons
Fall detection is a popular add-on that we’ve tested extensively. It’s usually built into an alert device, and it automatically signals the monitoring center when it detects a slip or fall. Note that most alert companies charge a flat fee of $10 per month for fall detection. But keep an eye out for $5 monthly fall detection — as top brands like LifeFone offer it on-the-cheap.
FYI: Fall detection isn’t 100% accurate, but we still recommend getting this life-saving upgrade. For an extra $10 monthly, your alert system can call for emergency help, even if you’re not able to! That’s money well spent in our eyes.
You can also buy add-ons like a key lockbox to give first responders access to your home during an emergency ($29-$49), a Vial of Life to share your medical history and medications with first responders ($10), and extra help buttons for around your home ($10-$20). We advise you to go easy on the add-ons and upgrades, as you can always buy them as needed in the future.
Our Favorite Features & Tech
In our experience, we’ve found that a handful of medical alert companies are staying on the cutting-edge of innovation. These are companies like Medical Guardian, GreatCall, and Bay Alarm Medical. They are constantly unveiling new technology and making advances in the field of senior safety.
While our list below of the latest (and greatest!) technology isn’t 100% exhaustive, it does cover the main advances in the medical alert industry as of late. Of course, the features and tech will continue to evolve over the years, as competition is sure to drive innovation. Thankfully it’s a win-win situation for seniors and caregivers alike. Here are a few of our favorite alert features.
Features & Tech Include:
- Automatic Fall Detection – In a nutshell, fall detection uses the same electromechanical technology that airbags use to save lives. With a combination of accelerometers, sensors, and sophisticated algorithms, fall detection devices measure acceleration and changes in velocity. If the system senses a sudden change in speed or velocity, the alert system automatically contacts the monitoring center on your behalf1.
- GPS Location Services – This technology is pretty fascinating. GPS (or Global Positioning System) uses 30 satellites that orbit 12,500 miles above the Earth’s surface!2 Now, if you happen to slip and fall while out for a walk, your alert system with GPS will triangulate your exact location using those satellites. This allows a caregiver or emergency responders to find you in a jiffy. Many mobile cellular systems offer this.
- Two-Way Communication – The top medical alert systems offer two-way communication, which can save a life in the event of a fall or other emergency. We’ve found that Bay Alarm Medical has one of the best two-way talk features in the industry. The high-output speakers and sensitive microphones allow you to talk with the monitoring center when it matters most. It’s especially helpful for seniors who lack mobility.
- 4G LTE Connection – Connection speed matters. We’ve found that 4G LTE cellular technology offers the fastest connections3. Another nice thing about 4G LTE is that you do not need a landline; in fact, this upgrade is typically cheaper than installing a landline in your home. Just expect to pay an extra $8-$12 per month for this upgrade.
- Mobile App / Caregiver Tools – We think you’ll like that select alert systems let you track your loved one’s whereabouts using a modern mobile app. Other than location monitoring (using that neat GPS feature we talked about), you can review activity reports, use two-way talk, receive event notifications, etc. So if you’re looking for a little extra peace of mind, we recommend checking out the Caregiver Connection offered by Bay Alarm Medical or Philips Cares from Philips Lifeline.
- Fast Response Times – This doesn’t point to any specific technology, it’s more of a nod to the monitoring centers. A handful of alert systems (see our top 10 list above) are backed by CSAA Five Diamond monitoring centers. These centers are staffed with highly-trained emergency responders. Most offer response times under 30 seconds, with others clocking in closer to 10-15 seconds. Now that’s fast!
- Environmental Monitoring – Whether it’s smoke from an electrical fire, or a carbon monoxide leak, you can bet that environmental hazards pose a serious threat to seniors.4 Thankfully, we’ve used a handful of medical alert systems that offer reliable environmental monitoring as an upgrade. You’ll pay a little extra for the sensors, and maybe $10 more per month for monitoring, but we think it’s well worth the cost.
- 140+ Languages Supported – English not your native language? You’re in good hands, as the best medical alert companies now support over one hundred different languages. So long as you choose a company like ADT Health that provides multilingual support, you’ll get the response and care you deserve no matter the language you speak.
Contracts & Returns
Very few companies require lengthy contracts these days, and most don’t require any contract at all. That’s really good news. The way we see it, aging is an uncertain new stage of life, and companies should offer flexibility in their terms and conditions. So keep in mind there’s no need to sign a contract, as there are loads of top quality medical alert systems that offer affordable month-to-month deals.
You’ll also want to look for other customer-friendly policies like money-back guarantees, free activation, free shipping, and the like. The truth is, alert systems are becoming more popular every day, so companies are scrambling to secure their share of the market — which means deals and discounts for folks like you!
Does Insurance Pay for Medical Alert Systems?
We offered information on Medicare coverage in bite-sized pieces above. You may be thinking: doesn’t this cover everyone using medical devices? The vast majority of individuals who use or might benefit from using a medical alert device receive their medical benefits through some form of Medicare. But not everyone. Below are a few other groups of people who might be seeking coverage for medical alert devices.
- Individuals who work past the Medicare-qualifying age of 65 and continue to use their employee group health plan.
- Individuals who are 65 or older and are using a working spouse’s employee group health plan.
- Individuals who have not yet turned the Medicare-qualifying age of 65 but have a medical condition requiring the use of a medical alert device.
(One other group not yet mentioned are individuals using Veteran’s benefits. We will discuss these benefits in more detail below.)
The three groups of individuals mentioned above use either job-based insurance plans, plans bought directly from insurance companies or plans purchased through the “marketplace” set up by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
We have noticed that health insurance plans are covering more and more preventative services than they have done in years past. So whether private insurance companies completely cover or discount medical alert devices is a great question to ask. Unfortunately, the answer for most insurance companies is no, medical alert devices are not covered by insurance. We do recommend contacting your provider to learn about the specifics in your policy.
Does VA pay for Medical Alert Systems?
From what we’ve seen, the Veteran’s Administration (VA) partners with two medical alert companies and offers specific devices sold by these companies to eligible veterans free of charge. Excellent news, right?
Here’s the nitty gritty:
LiveLife Mobile Alarm offers a wearable device that provides a great basic level of protection. Their pendant is worn around the neck and is programmed to text and call designated contacts including 911. Because it connects to a 4GX network, it also includes two-way talk and location detection. One thing to note: it doesn’t include (and this is an integral piece of most other systems) the ability to connect with a certified, 24/7 monitoring center. However, the device does include fall detection, a feature that we think is very important.
The other available device is offered through MedEquip Alert. Worn as a necklace or clipped to a belt, it runs on an LTE wireless service so can be used both at home and while away. The device does include two-way talk with a 24/7 monitoring center. We also like the GPS tracking. It does have one disadvantage – no fall detection.
Though each system is missing one or two features found in other systems, we love that the VA provides a basic level of safety and protection to our older veterans. As you can see above, full insurance coverage of medical alert devices is uncommon – it definitely is not a standard insurance benefit. It is great to see that this benefit is going to our veterans.
And, the VA offers one more option for seniors looking for medical alert systems. If a veteran prefers another system, perhaps one that is more comprehensive, no problem. VA Medical Health Care will provide partial coverage.
Our Expert Recommendations
If you’re on the fence about getting an alert system for yourself or a loved one, we’d like to encourage you to go for it. These devices will almost certainly give you greater peace of mind, and they could even save a life.
As far as our recommendations on individual devices and alert companies, we’ve revealed those above in our ‘Best Medical Alerts Systems’ list. You really can’t go wrong with any of those brands, but a few of our favorites are Bay Alarm Medical, Medical Guardian, and LifeFone.
The truth is, any protection that helps you age safely and with confidence is better than no protection at all. In other words, any alert system is better than no alert system! That’s an important point we like to emphasize. Thankfully, you can find alerts that cost less than $20 per month, and without contracts or any hidden fees to worry about (we personally can’t stand hidden fees).
All in all, medical alert systems have never been more accessible, affordable, and easy to wear. We hope this comprehensive guide has enriched your search and has helped you to narrow down your options to find the right fit!
Medical Alert System FAQs
It depends. We typically recommend fall detection for seniors who are prone to slip and falls, like seniors with balance problems, bone & joint issues, diabetes, vision loss, and the like. If you or your loved one is still active at home (and away from home), fall detection might not be necessary. But it’s an individual choice that you have to make. The good news is that it only costs an extra $10 per month. And since nearly 3 million older people fall every year and end up in the ER, we think it’s an incredibly important feature to have.
You should certainly consider an alert system for your spouse or partner. After all, if you two aren’t together if/when an emergency occurs, one of you will get the short end of the deal. The good news is that most medical alert companies offer coverage for a spouse or other household occupant at a greatly reduced price. Sometimes they’ll even offer additional coverage for free. So in our eyes, there’s no reason to forego coverage for your spouse or partner.
As experts, we always recommend a full-on waterproof alert device. We mentioned before that most falls happen in the bathtub or shower, so you should think of the bathroom as a hot-spot for medical emergencies. Now, if you go with a water-resistant pendant (or another wearable), it won’t function when submerged or exposed to heavy water use. A waterproof help button, on the other hand, will keep you protected even when submerged. So it’s easy to see the advantage of waterproof alert systems. That said, it’s best to check with the manufacturer to clarify the capabilities of their medical devices before deciding on which one is right for you.
Unfortunately, no they aren’t covered by Medicare at this time. Since Medicare does not consider these devices as a “medical necessity,” they typically are not covered by Medicare Parts A and B. Obviously, the majority of seniors and leaders in the medical alert industry (including us!) argue that alert systems are absolutely a medical necessity. But don’t expect your Medicare plan to cover your monthly monitoring fee. With that said, in some cases, Medicare Part C does cover alerts. It’s also worth noting that certain healthcare reimbursement accounts (HSA’s) cover alert devices as well.
That’s an easy one to answer! We recommend you get an at-home system if you (or your loved one) spends the majority of your time at home. However, if you live a more active lifestyle and leave home often, we recommend getting a cellular mobile alert system.