COVID-19 Update: Medical Alerts are considered essential devices during the COVID crisis, so monitoring and customer service centers are still open and ready to help. To learn more about how these and other essential products can keep older adults safe and connected during this crisis, take a look at our list of 10 essential products.
Anyone can experience a medical emergency, but the risks increase with age. Seniors often deal with age-related mobility issues, vision loss and chronic conditions that can leave them vulnerable to falls and other problems that have the potential to be life-threatening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four seniors aged 65 and older experience a fall each year, and enduring one fall doubles the chances of falling again.
Medical alert systems are designed to help improve the outcomes for those who suffer a fall or other situation that requires immediate assistance. These systems come equipped with a personal emergency device that the senior can wear on a lanyard, their wrist or even place in a pocket, making a call for help as simple as pressing a button.
How Do Medical Alert Systems Work?
Simply put, medical alert systems connect users with a 24/7 emergency call center via a device that uses either an existing landline phone or a wireless cellular service. All medical alert systems have a button that the user presses to activate a call to the response center, and some devices feature automatic fall-detection technology that alerts the monitoring center if the user suffers from a sudden fall.
Other features include GPS tracking, which allows the medical alert service to pinpoint the exact location of the caller so information can be shared with first responders. Some systems offer wall-mounted wireless help buttons, medication reminders, daily wellness checks and automated system checks to ensure the medical alert device is working correctly.
Consumers now have access to medical alert smart watches, mobile app services, online caregiver portals and in-car devices that have onboard crash detection. In this article we take a look at the two most common types of medical alert devices, pendants and speaker phones. You’ll find in-depth descriptions of each type of device along with valuable information on the pros and cons to help you decide which one is the best solution for yourself or your loved ones.
What Is a Medical Alert Pendant?
A medical alert pendant is a small, lightweight device worn around the neck on a lanyard or chain. It contains a battery and has a button on the front. In most cases, the pendant is water-resistant, making it safe to wear in the shower or outside in the rain. Most medical alert pendants are delivered with a non-rechargeable battery included, so the user never needs to worry about changing the battery or charging up the device.
The medical alert pendant needs to be paired with a base unit in order to connect with an emergency call center. To call for help, the user simply pushes and holds the button for a few seconds. The device sends a wireless signal to the base station, which is either plugged into an existing phone line or connected via a cellular phone transmitter.
Once the call is answered by an operator, the subscriber can talk to the operator via a speaker and a high-sensitivity microphone built into the base unit. The operator then determines what kind of help the caller needs, dispatches that assistance and remains on the line with the caller until help arrives.
What Is a Medical Alert Speaker Phone?
Also called an all-in-one medical alert device or a talk-through system, a medical alert speaker phone is a small, wireless unit that’s equipped with a help button, speaker and microphone and a cellular transmitter. It eliminates the need for a base unit, since all the same components used in the traditional medical alert base are included in the speaker phone.
Most personal emergency speaker phones often feature a GPS transmitter that allows the call monitoring center to pinpoint the exact location of the caller, so information can then be shared with the first responders. Many speaker phone units are water-resistant, so they can be carried into the shower or bath, and its common for these units to come with a lanyard to wear the unit around the neck.
Because all-in-one speaker phone help buttons have multiple functions, these devices tend to be significantly larger and heavier than medical alert pendants. The onboard battery also requires regular charging with a special cable or cradle, and most devices last one to three days between charges.
Advantages and Drawbacks of a Medical Alert Pendant
Pendant-style medical alert help buttons are the most common type of medical alert device because they’re lightweight, small, easy to use and require no maintenance. These buttons are designed to be worn 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure that the user can always contact the emergency response center.
Medical alert pendants are popular because they’re affordable and exceptionally reliable. The only thing users need to do is press the button — there’s no programming, wires or settings to worry about. Some companies even offer fashionable pendants that look and feel like costume jewelry, which help make the pendants more appealing for users, and many medical alert services have fall-detection pendants that are just a bit bigger than the basic units.
Despite the popularity of pendant-style help buttons, these devices do have some limitations. Users need to be within range of their base unit for the device to work, and with some systems, that range can be as little as 300 feet. Because the pendant is light and small, it can be easily misplaced.
Advantages and Drawbacks of a Medical Alert Speaker Phone
Medical alert speaker phones are less popular than medical alert pendants, but these all-in-one devices do offer a number of advantages to users who want a system that works anywhere without worrying about staying within the base unit range. Most medical alert companies use nationwide cellular networks to power their speaker phone devices so that subscribers can call for help from anywhere there’s cell phone service.
Many speaker phone help buttons are equipped with a GPS locator, making these devices ideal for active seniors and loved ones who may be prone to wandering. Automatic fall detection is also a common feature offered on medical alert speaker phones that uses built-in sensors to determine if a user has suffered from a sudden fall. If that occurs, the device immediately places a call to the monitoring center automatically.
Speaker phone help buttons do have some drawbacks, namely, the larger size when compared to a traditional medical alert pendant. These all-in-one devices also need to be charged up regularly, and the increased size may make the help button uncomfortable to wear as a pendant. Companies usually charge more for medical alert speaker phones as well, given that these units contain a number of high-tech features along with a dedicated cellular connection.
Which One Should You Choose?
Whether you choose a pendant help button or speaker phone device depends on a number of factors. Consider your budget, where you plan on using your medical alert system and the added features and services that you require.
Seniors who often travel alone in the community may want to consider the all-in-one convenience of a speaker phone device, while those who simply need access to a medical alert system in their home may find that a pendant is just the right solution.