A maintenance-free medical alert system for seniors
“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” Those iconic words — made famous by Life Alert’s late ‘80s commercial — once filled homes across America. Some might argue that the commercial painted older adults as silly or helpless, leading to increased resistance to using medical alert devices. Others, including Life Alert, might say that the commercial led to greater awareness of the devices.
Regardless, 30 years later, Life Alert is still going strong. I recently looked into their full lineup of products for seniors and found that the company continues to offer easy-to-use, maintenance-free equipment.
The features and options are somewhat limited, though, and the packages can cost a pretty penny. In addition, their medical alert systems aren’t exactly fashionable, and you don’t get as many freebies as I’ve seen from others in the industry. But the response times are solid, and I found the monitoring service to be all-around reliable where it counts. (However, their customer service leaves much to be desired.)
So … is Life Alert right for you or your loved one? I’m going to share everything you need to know, the good and the bad, right here in my full review of Life Alert medical alert systems. So, let’s hop to it!
Life Alert is a household name, thanks to a long-running infomercial with the iconic line, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” The company was established in 1987, and has been in the medical alert industry for over 30 years. Over 600 people are employed by Life Alert, which is headquartered in Encino, California,1 and has offices in New York, New Jersey, and Florida.
FYI: Life Alert receives approximately 2 million calls for assistance every year. And more than 45,000 of these involve life-saving responses that prevent potentially catastrophic outcomes.
I like that Life Alert’s response centers are TMA Five Diamond-certified (the gold standard for the industry), and the products are UL listed. Overall, Life Alert is a trusted name. But let’s take a closer look to see how their alert systems perform compared to the best medical alert systems available today.
First off, Life Alert isn’t exactly transparent with their pricing. Their website appears dated and doesn’t offer medical alert system prices or information on monthly costs. Instead, I was prompted to call for a brochure.
Rather than offering practical information about products and pricing on the website, I found numerous claims from Life Alert demonstrating that they are the best in the industry. For example, the website states: “Life Alert is the only company that proves it saves a life from a catastrophe every 11 minutes. In addition, we are the only company that is proven to have its members live in their own homes 5 years longer than the general population.”
While I cannot prove or disprove these claims, I do know that a number of other medical alert companies provide quality, cost-effective, and life-saving systems.
Moving on to customer service …
When I did get through to an agent, he transferred me to a sales representative who was helpful and courteous in answering my questions. (But my agent talked a mile a minute, so it’s best to take notes!)
I ended up speaking to a few sales representatives, and each offered varying prices based on current promotions and other factors. Unfortunately, the company only provides service with a 36-month contract attached (three years to be exact), and I found Life Alert to be more expensive compared to other medical alerts in the market.
Ultimately, I had to rely on the information the sales reps gave me and what I could find on the website. With that said, I recommend reading the fine print in your paperwork before signing on the dotted line.
While DIY installation is possible, in most cases Life Alert will visit your home and provide professional installation for their equipment. Fortunately, this service is available nationwide. But I’ve set up many medical alert systems, and I know that DIY setup is fast and easy. (Most systems only take about three-to-five minutes to install.) So I’d like to see a bigger focus on do-it-yourself setups from Life Alert.
Now, if you choose the in-home option, you’ll receive one or two help buttons that you can place on a wall where falls are more likely to happen, perhaps a hallway leading to a bathroom2 or a place where you spend much of your time.
These Life Alert buttons are large and bright red with ‘HELP’ emblazoned across the device. (It’s hard to miss!) The Mobile + GPS system is designed to be worn as a necklace pendant or placed in your pocket or purse. While I found these units to be more discreet, they make it just as easy to summon help with the push of a button.
If you or your loved one needs assistance, you’ll press the button to reach Life Alert’s emergency monitoring center where you can speak to an agent directly. In my experience, Life Alert was just as easy to use as some of the top-rated alert systems, like Medical Guardian.
Did You Know? Once your help button is pressed, the monitoring center can dispatch police, fire, or EMS if the situation calls for it. We’ve found that Life Alert emergency response agents are patient and professional. So even if you press the button in a non-emergency, you won’t get in trouble or have to pay a fine.
You can also use Life Alert through your smartphone with the Life Alert app. It has the same one-button interface that the traditional devices offer, which makes it simple to get assistance. The app also features emergency signals, like flashing lights so bystanders know that you need help. We should also mention that the mobile app is a little outdated and it only has a 1.5 star rating (out of 5) in the Apple App Store.
Thankfully, I can say that wearing a medical alert device is comfortable once you get used to it. For Life Alert’s in-home wearables (lanyard or wrist pendant), you press the round button and, within one minute, the base unit will connect with a response agent who will ask if you are okay. If you’re unable to answer, the agent will dispatch first responders to your home.
I would have liked to see more fashionable options, like Medical Alert’s sleek Mobile LTE. And if you’re looking for something ultra-discreet and elegantly designed, I recommend reading my latest review of Bay Alarm Medical, an alert provider that offers fashion jewelry pendants called Bella Charms. But for the most part, I think the Life Alert help button is well designed, comfortable, easy to wear, and most importantly, works when you need it. In fact, you might even forget you’re wearing it.
As for the mobile GPS button — unlike the in-home pendant — this wearable device includes two-way talk. It’s about the size of a credit card and weighs two ounces (the same weight as a tennis ball), so you can discreetly clip it on the inside of your purse or on your keychain.
I also appreciated that both the in-home wearables and GPS device are waterproof, so you’ll have a little more peace of mind when taking a shower, washing dishes, or watering your lawn. Although waterproofing is becoming more common in the industry, there are still lots of brands that don’t offer it. So kudos to Life Alert here.
Did You Know? Life Alert’s in-home alert pendants can hold a charge for 10 years, which is very impressive. When your battery power gets low, the company will send you replacement equipment for free.
When you press your medical alert button, you can expect to receive a response from a highly-trained specialist in 50 seconds or less. So if you or your loved one faces a crisis, no matter if it’s day or night, you can rest easy knowing Life Alert will get the notification and immediately respond.
Now, if you’re looking for an alert system that delivers faster response, one of the most responsive units that I’ve used is Lively, which has a response time under 19 seconds. Now that’s what you call lightning in a button. (You can read more about their offerings in my latest Lively analysis.)
Another thing to keep in mind is that you can provide health history to Life Alert, which the monitoring center can then relay to paramedics in the case of an emergency. In addition, you can add a list of caregivers and family members to notify during an emergency situation. We think this is a nice touch, but it’s something that most services offer these days.
FYI: With the number of unpaid caregivers growing in the U.S. to 53 million in 20203, add-ons to medical alert systems that assist caregivers are becoming more commonplace. One of the more popular tools that I have seen is an app that enables caregivers to track the location of a loved one’s medical alert device.
So I found plenty of things to like about Life Alert. But I was disappointed that their systems don’t offer fall detection, which automatically alerts medical responders if (or when!) you fall — even if the medical alert button isn’t pushed. This surprised me, as fall detection is a fairly standard feature in the market today. Even if I need to pay an extra $10 per month to get it, I think it’s worth it. For a look at systems that do offer fall protection, read our Best Fall Detection Devices guide.
FYI: Life Alert doesn’t offer automatic fall detection. While the technology isn’t 100 percent accurate, it can be life-saving.
One thing I really value is great customer service. As mentioned above, ordering the Life Alert medical alert system was not exactly smooth sailing.
That said, it is important to distinguish customer service agents from the monitoring center agents who generally receive good reviews from people who appreciate their calm and professional approach.
However, the customer service/sales agents were actually a tad pushy, and each gave me slightly different information about the products. During one conversation in which I had hoped to order a system, I was told by the agent, in so many words, that I was wasting his time.
If you choose to go with Life Alert, hopefully your experience will be more positive. At any rate, I don’t think Life Alert service quite compares to Lifeline’s stellar customer service. Check out my full Lifeline review to learn more.
I found that the typical Life Alert plan requires a 36-month contract and offers customized systems that can be combined. Each plan also requires a pretty steep $198 one-time membership fee that covers shipping, setup, and installation. (One sales agent with whom I spoke referred to the $198 cost as an activation fee.) Included with this fee is a lifetime warranty. It covers equipment that is either damaged or stops working. I suppose this is another silver lining to signing a long-term contract. Other companies offer protection plans that cost an extra $5 to $10 per month.
Other perks that Life Alert offers include a free month of service with an annual payment plan and a lifetime price guarantee. The guarantee ensures that the price you pay when you begin your subscription is the same when your contract ends. I liked that this remains the same if you decide to renew your plan. But keep in mind, this only applies to existing members. So, if you cancel and want to renew at a later date, the rate will be adjusted.
FYI: If a loved one passes when they are home alone and protected by Life Alert, the company provides a 100 percent refund and the contract is canceled without penalty. You can also cancel the contract if your loved one needs to move into a 24-hour care facility.
This system includes a base station, necklace pendant or bracelet, and two help buttons. You have your choice of using either a landline or cellular connection. But at $89.85 per month, the price is much steeper compared to most of the other brands I’ve tested. Here are the features you can expect:
FYI: Most in-home medical alert systems I’ve tried cost about $20-$30 per month, with no membership fees or long-term contracts to worry about.
Life Alert’s Modified Home Plan is a cheaper option at $69.90 per month (which is still pricey compared to the industry average) and provides some of the same equipment: one base unit and pendant. But with this subscription you only get one wireless wall button instead of two. It can be a good option for a household with only one senior, whereas the complete in-home plan may accommodate two. This package will contain the following:
This system offers combined in-home and mobile coverage. It might be a good fit if you or your loved one lives an active lifestyle. For $89.85 per month, you’ll receive a mobile GPS button in addition to your in-home base unit, one wearable pendant, and one wireless wall button. Features include:
Like most medical alert systems, Life Alert offers a few additional features in order to customize your system. I have them listed for you below.
Waterproof Wireless Wall Button — Many falls take place in the shower or bathroom, so Life Alert offers help buttons that easily attach to a wall. These buttons are battery-powered, so you don’t have to connect them to an outlet. They are also waterproof with a battery that lasts up to 10 years (impressive). An extra button costs $19.95.
Spouse Monitoring — You can add on a spouse or other loved one to your subscription for an extra $10 per month. We do like having this option, as some brands don’t offer it at all. You’ll receive an additional in-home wearable pendant with this plan.
Personal Protection at Home — By pressing an intrusion alert button, you can contact Life Alert’s security dispatchers without accessing your phone to call 911. Using the built-in, two-way talk, you can speak directly with the dispatchers who will stay on the line until help arrives.
Did You Know? Your Life Alert rate will not change for the duration of your contract length. This is one perk to signing a contract although several other companies also offer price locks without the contract.
While Life Alert is one of the best known medical alert companies due to their “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercials, their product offerings are somewhat limited, they require long-term contracts, and the prices are definitely on the steep side. Life Alert also requires an expensive membership fee that I just don’t see from other brands. On the other hand, they do have a quality response team that’s prepared to deal with every type of emergency.
The company also offers a lifetime warranty and a lifetime price guarantee. So, that’s nice. But again, the brand doesn’t stack up with many others I’ve researched and tested. Other companies provide more price transparency and important features like fall detection, which can be lifesaving.
Overall, it’s important to choose an alert system that allows you to age with confidence and live with peace of mind. So I hope my in-depth Life Alert review has helped you to narrow down your options and make a decision one way or another.
Yes, all of their plans require a 36-month agreement (3 years).
No, Life Alert does not include fall detection features.
Either a cellular or landline connection can be used with the at-home base unit.
It may be possible to get a discount for Life Alert. However, the frequency of these discounts and what they cover can range widely. Be sure to look for these discounts before making your purchase.
Life Alert subscriptions are more expensive than the industry average, but they offer high quality emergency monitoring.
Glassdoor. (2021). Life Alert.
Mulley, Graham. (2001, April). Falls in Older People. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
AARP and NAC. (2020, May). Caregiving
in the U.S.