There are a lot of good medical alert systems on the market, and the one that’s right for you might not be the right one for your neighbor.
Here are some factors to consider:
Are you on a tight budget?
Then you might want to consider a system that doesn’t require a monthly monitoring fee. Here’s how these work: you buy a unit that you plug into your phone line. It’s like a speaker phone. You program it (or have a helpful friend do this for you) so that it will dial the phone numbers of people who care about you. Usually you can program these machines to call up to 4 or 5 friends. Maybe the first call goes to your neighbor. The next goes to your son who lives across the country. Etc. If you have an accident, you just press the button on the transponder you wear, and the machine starts dialing. When someone picks up, the machine automatically announced that this is a distress call from you. Then the speaker phone allows you to communicate with the person you called. Read more about no-fee medical alerts (and get my opinion on preferred systems).
Do you want a monitored system so you have professional responders to help you?
These systems are by far the most popular. Be aware that the kinds of equipment vary widely, and so do the fees. It’s not hard to find a vendor with affordable monthly fees, but I don’t recommend buying solely on price. After all, if a company isn’t charging much for the monitoring service, you might wonder how well they staff their monitoring centers, and whether you’ll be able to get service when you need it.
Is money no object? There are quite a few companies that are happy to speak to you if money is no object. They will happily charge you upwards of $50 a month (some as high as $100) for the monitoring service, and $500 for the same base station equipment that others sell for just $200. Some companies will lock you into a 3 year contract that you can’t get out of even if you’re disappointed in the service. It’s not clear to me that paying a lot more than average actually gets you anything better, though.
What kind of equipment do you need?
There are now several different kinds of life alerts in use.
The first is the standard “old-school” medical alert that consists of a base station that has a powerful speakerphone in it. These aren’t fancy, but they work great for many people. Click here for more info about the different standard medical alert systems.
The second is a medical alert with a “two-way pendant.” This means you communicate with the monitoring staff not through a speakerphone, but through the pendant you carry around. If this interests you, check out the Medipendant.
The third is a medical alert that also has automatic fall detection. Phillips Lifeline is an example of this (but you pay a good bit for the automatic fall detection feature).
The fourth is a mobile medical alert, which can contact a monitoring center when you’re away from your home. There are a lot of different systems in this market, and things are evolving rapidly, so it’s a little hard to keep it all straight. Some systems are hybrids which have standard functionality at home, and some are just for when you’re out. Others work with a special cell phone, or even your existing cell phone.
(My opinion is that the home is the most important place to protect yourself, because that’s where you’ll be alone.)
Want to learn more about medical alerts? Start by downloading my free report, 5 Common Medical Alert Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. Then check out my overview of medical alert systems.
See the comments below for a helpful discussion with a sales rep for Life Alert. Their contract terms have changed sometime since the difficulties with the issues referenced in various consumer protection websites. They are a lot more consumer-friendly now, at least according to the rep. As with all contracts, you’ll want to read it yourself and seek legal advice if you need it.
To summarize: there are a lot of options when you’re looking for life alert or medical alert services. It’s important to understand all your options before you sign a contract.