Understanding Medical Alert Systems

A medical alert system is a personal emergency response system designed to provide quick and efficient access to help in the event of a medical or personal emergency. These systems are typically composed of a base unit and a wearable device, such as a pendant or bracelet, equipped with a help button. When the button is pressed, the user is connected to a 24/7 monitoring center where a live operator can assess the situation and provide the necessary assistance.

Medical alert systems are particularly important for older adults. According to research, 1 in 4 seniors experience a fall every year, leading to life-threatening injuries. Over 800,000 hospitalizations occur each year because of falls. Medical alert systems can literally save a user’s life by sending help immediately after a fall, providing an added layer of peace of mind and protection, especially for older adults who live alone or away from family.

There are several types of medical alert systems tailored to meet the needs of different users. Some systems are designed for in-home use, others are mobile for on-the-go use, and some are a hybrid of the two. The choice of system depends on the user’s lifestyle, health condition, and personal preferences.

Choosing the Right Medical Alert System

When choosing a medical alert system, there are several factors to consider:

  • Landline vs. Cellular Systems: In-home alert systems will either run on a landline or cellular connection. If you live in an area with spotty cellular coverage, a landline system will be ideal for a steady and reliable connection. However, if you don’t have a landline or would rather not have to connect your system to a phone jack, a cellular system is a great option. For those looking for an on-the-go system, essentially all mobile systems run on a cellular connection.
  • Pendants, Smartwatches, or Portable Base Stations?: If you want a system that can be used on the go, you’ll need to decide how you want to carry or wear the system, as there are a few different options on the market. The first option is an all-in-one wearable system that can be put on like a necklace. The second option is a two-piece system that comes with a help button that can be worn as either a necklace or bracelet and a small, portable base station. The last option is an all-in-one smartwatch system.
  • Automatic Fall Detection: Medical alert providers typically offer automatic fall detection pendants in certain packages or as an add-on feature. With fall detection, the user won’t even have to press a button after a fall. The pendant will detect the downward motion followed by inactivity and automatically connect to the monitoring center.
  • Costs: The cost of a medical alert system varies greatly by the provider and type of system you choose. The most affordable systems on the market start at around $20 per month. For mobile GPS systems or more advanced in-home systems with activity monitoring or other unique features, prices typically jump to about $30 to $50 per month.

There are many medical alert companies to consider, each offering different systems and features. Some of the top companies include Medical Guardian, Bay Alarm Medical, and WellBe.

The Role of Medical Alert Systems in Emergency Services

Medical alert systems play a crucial role in emergency services. During an emergency, all the user has to do is press the help button on the base station or pendant and they’ll be connected to the company’s 24/7 monitoring center. A live operator will help the user get the assistance they need based on the situation, whether it’s a family member, neighbor, or first responders. If the operator is unable to get a response from the user, they will automatically dispatch emergency services to the user’s location.

Medical alert systems can significantly improve EMS response times. When a user presses the help button, the monitoring center can provide EMS with vital information about the user, such as their medical history, allergies, and preferred hospital, which can help EMS provide more effective and personalized care. Furthermore, the monitoring center can stay on the line with the user until EMS arrives, providing reassurance and potentially life-saving instructions.

Medical alert systems are a valuable tool for older adults and anyone who may require immediate medical assistance. They offer peace of mind, independence, and a direct line to help when it’s needed most. Whether you’re considering a system for yourself or a loved one, it’s important to understand how these systems work and what to look for when choosing a system.

Setting Up Your Medical Alert System

Unboxing Your New Medical Alert System

The moment you’ve been waiting for has arrived – your new medical alert system is here! As you open the box, you’ll find several components, each playing a crucial role in ensuring your safety. Here’s what you can expect to find:

  • Base Unit: This is the heart of your medical alert system. It’s responsible for connecting you to the monitoring center when you press the help button.
  • Help Button: This can be a pendant or a wristband. When pressed, it sends a signal to the base unit, which then connects you to the monitoring center.
  • Power Cord: This is used to power the base unit. It needs to be plugged into a power outlet that’s not controlled by a light switch.
  • Telephone Cord: If you have a landline system, you’ll use this to connect the base unit to your phone jack.
  • Charger Cradle (for mobile systems): This is where you place your mobile device to charge.
  • Additional Devices (if applicable): If you’ve opted for additional features like fall detection or a mobile system, you’ll find these devices in the box as well.

Preparing for Installation

Before you start setting up your system, there are a couple of things you need to do:

  • Choose the Best Location for Your Base Unit: The base unit should be placed in a central location in your home. This ensures that the signal from your help button can reach the base unit from anywhere in your home. The base unit should also be placed near a power outlet and a phone jack (if you have a landline system).
  • Ensure a Stable Cellular Connection or Phone Line: If you have a cellular system, make sure that the location you’ve chosen for your base unit has a strong cellular signal. If you have a landline system, make sure your phone line is working properly.

Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Up Your Medical Alert System

Now that you’ve unboxed your system and prepared for installation, it’s time to set up your medical alert system. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Connecting the Base Unit to a Power Outlet: Plug the power cord into the back of the base unit and the other end into a power outlet that’s not controlled by a light switch.
  2. Connecting the Base Unit to a Phone Jack or Setting Up Cellular Connection: If you have a landline system, unplug your phone cord from the back of your phone and plug it into the jack marked WALL JACK on the back of the base unit. Then, using the telephone cord provided in the box, connect one end to your phone and the other to the base unit’s PHONE port. If you have a cellular system, you don’t need to worry about this step.
  3. Testing the System: Turn the medical alert unit on its side and locate the “ON/OFF” switch, which is found in the hole under the phone cords. Slide the switch to the “ON” position. The unit will automatically turn on and announce, “System Initializing.” This process may take a few moments. Soon, the unit will announce its signal strength followed by either “System Ready” or “Insufficient Cell Service.” If the signal strength is insufficient, relocate the base unit to another location, wait 30 seconds, and press the RESET button. Repeat the process until signal strength is adequate.
  4. Connecting Additional Devices: If you’ve opted for additional features like fall detection or a mobile system, now is the time to connect these devices. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer for each device.

Using Your Medical Alert System

Understanding How to Use Your Medical Alert System

Once your medical alert system is set up, it’s important to understand how to use it effectively. Here’s how:

  • How to Make an Emergency Call: In most cases, making an emergency call is as simple as pressing the help button on your pendant or wristband. This sends a signal to the base unit, which then connects you to the monitoring center. The monitoring center will communicate with you through the base unit’s speaker and microphone. If you’re unable to speak or they can’t hear you, they’ll assume it’s an emergency and dispatch help immediately.
  • Using the Help Button: The help button is your lifeline in an emergency. It’s waterproof, so you can wear it in the shower or bath where falls are common. It’s also designed to be easy to press, even if you have limited hand strength or dexterity.
  • Understanding the Test Mode: Most medical alert systems have a test mode that allows you to test the system without triggering an emergency call. This is a great way to familiarize yourself with how the system works and ensure it’s functioning properly. You should test your system regularly, at least once a month.

Using Additional Features

Many medical alert systems offer additional features that can enhance your safety and convenience:

  • Using Fall Detection: Fall detection is a feature that can automatically detect if you’ve fallen and send an alert to the monitoring center. It’s not foolproof and may not detect 100% of falls, so you should still press the help button if you’re able to after a fall.
  • Using the Mobile System: If you have a mobile system, you can take it with you when you leave the house. It works just like the home system, but uses a cellular connection to connect to the monitoring center. Some mobile systems also have GPS tracking, which can help emergency services locate you if you’re unable to communicate your location.
  • Using the Answering Machine: Some systems have a built-in answering machine that can answer incoming phone calls. This can be a convenient feature if you have difficulty getting to the phone.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Even the best medical alert systems can encounter issues. Here’s how to troubleshoot some common problems:

  • Dealing with False Alarms: False alarms can occur if the help button is accidentally pressed. If this happens, simply communicate with the monitoring center through the base unit and let them know it was a false alarm. They’ll cancel the emergency response.
  • What to Do When the Power Cord or Telephone Cord is Not Working: If your system isn’t getting power or can’t connect to the monitoring center, check the cords. Make sure the power cord is securely plugged into the power outlet and the base unit, and the telephone cord is securely plugged into the phone jack and the base unit. If the cords are damaged, contact your medical alert company for replacements.
  • What to Do When the System is Not Fully Charged: If your system has a backup battery and it’s not holding a charge, it may need to be replaced. Contact your medical alert company for assistance.

Remember, your medical alert system is there to help you stay safe and independent. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your medical alert company if you have any questions or concerns about using your system. They’re there to help you get the most out of your system and ensure your peace of mind.

Maintaining Your Medical Alert System

Regular Testing of Your Medical Alert System

Maintaining your medical alert system is crucial to ensure its reliability when you need it most. Here’s how to conduct regular testing:

  • How Often to Test Your System: It’s recommended to test your system at least once a month. Regular testing ensures that your system is working properly and can help identify any potential issues before they become a problem.
  • How to Test Your System: To test your system, simply press the help button on your pendant or wristband. This should trigger an alert to the monitoring center. The operator will communicate with you through the base unit’s speaker and microphone. Let them know that you’re just testing the system. They’ll confirm that they received the alert and that the system is working correctly.

Cleaning and Caring for Your Medical Alert System

Proper care and cleaning can extend the life of your medical alert devices and keep them functioning at their best:

  • How to Clean Your Medical Alert Devices: To clean your devices, use a soft, damp cloth. Avoid using harsh chemicals or submerging the devices in water. Remember, while the help button is waterproof and can be worn in the shower or bath, the base unit and other devices are not waterproof and should be kept dry.
  • Maintaining the Base Unit and Other Devices: Keep the base unit and other devices free of dust and debris. Avoid placing them in direct sunlight or near heat sources. If you have a mobile system, remember to charge it regularly to ensure it’s always ready when you need it.

Understanding the Monitoring Center

The monitoring center plays a crucial role in your medical alert system. Here’s what happens when an alert is triggered:

  • What Happens When an Alert is Triggered: When you press the help button, the base unit sends an alert to the monitoring center. An operator will communicate with you through the base unit’s speaker and microphone. If you’re unable to speak or they can’t hear you, they’ll assume it’s an emergency and dispatch help immediately.
  • The Role of the Monitoring Center in Emergencies: The monitoring center is staffed 24/7 by trained operators who are ready to assist in an emergency. They can dispatch emergency services to your location, contact your designated emergency contacts, and provide vital information to EMS, such as your medical history and location.

Remember, maintaining your medical alert system is just as important as using it. Regular testing, proper cleaning, and understanding how the system and the monitoring center work can help ensure that you get the help you need when you need it most.


How Do Medical Alert Systems Work?

Medical alert systems work by providing a direct line of communication to a monitoring center. When the help button on the medical alert device is pressed, a signal is sent to the monitoring center, where trained professionals assess the situation and dispatch emergency services if necessary.

How to Get a Medical Alert System?

Getting a medical alert system involves researching different medical alert companies and choosing a system that best fits your needs. Once you’ve selected a system, you can usually order it directly from the company’s website or over the phone. The company will then ship the system to your home, where you can set it up following the provided instructions.

Do Medical Alert Systems Require Internet?

No, medical alert systems do not necessarily require an internet connection. Many systems use a landline phone connection or a cellular network to communicate with the monitoring center. However, some advanced features, like mobile tracking or online dashboard access, may require an internet connection.

Does Medicare Provide Medical Alert Systems?

Medicare does not typically cover the cost of medical alert systems. However, some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans may offer coverage. It’s best to check with your specific plan to see if it provides any coverage for these systems.

Does ADT Have a Medical Alert System?

Yes, ADT, a well-known security company, offers a range of medical alert systems. These include in-home systems and mobile systems with GPS tracking. ADT’s medical alert devices come with 24/7 monitoring and a wearable help button.

Can I take my medical alert system with me if I move?

Absolutely! Most medical alert systems are portable and can be moved and set up in a new location. You just need to inform your medical alert company of your new address.

What happens if I press the help button and can’t speak?

If the help button is pressed and the user can’t speak or is too far from the base unit to be heard, the monitoring center will follow a pre-determined protocol. This usually involves attempting to contact the user via the base unit and then calling the user’s emergency contacts. If the situation is unclear, the monitoring center may dispatch emergency services as a precaution.

How often should I test my medical alert system?

It’s recommended to test your medical alert system at least once a month. This ensures that the system is working correctly and can provide help in an emergency.

What is the average response time after I press my help button?

The average response time can vary between different medical alert companies. However, most companies aim to respond within a few seconds to a minute after the help button is pressed.

What if I’m not absolutely happy with my medical alert system?

Most medical alert companies offer a trial period during which you can return the system for a refund if you’re not satisfied. The length of this period can vary, but it’s often around 30 days. It’s important to check the return policy of the company from which you’re considering purchasing a system.

Are medical alerts tax deductible?

Medical alert systems may be tax-deductible if they are considered a medically necessary expense. However, tax laws vary and change frequently, so it’s recommended to consult with a tax professional to determine if this applies to your situation.

Do you need a landline for a medical alert system?

No, you do not necessarily need a landline for a medical alert system. Many modern systems use cellular networks to communicate with the monitoring center, making them a good option for households without a landline.

Can I wear my medical alert device in the shower?

Yes, most medical alert devices are designed to be water-resistant or waterproof, so they can be worn in the shower or bath. This is important as many falls happen in these areas.

How long does the battery last on a medical alert device?

The battery life of a medical alert device can vary depending on the type of device and how often it’s used. In-home systems that plug into the wall don’t require battery changes, but wearable devices often have a battery life of several years. Mobile systems with GPS usually need to be charged more frequently, often every 24-72 hours.

How do I get technical support for my medical alert system?

Most medical alert companies offer customer service and technical support over the phone. Some also provide online resources, like FAQs and user manuals, on their websites.

How do I add a spouse to my account?

To add a spouse or another person to your medical alert system, you’ll need to contact the company’s customer service. They can provide an additional wearable help button and add the new user’s information to the account.

How do I cancel my medical alert service?

To cancel your medical alert service, you’ll need to contact the company’s customer service. They can provide instructions for returning the equipment and cancelling your service. Most companies do not charge cancellation fees, but it’s important to check the company’s cancellation policy.


Recap and Final Thoughts

In this guide, we’ve walked through the process of how to set up a medical alert system, highlighting the importance of these systems, especially for older adults living at home. We’ve discussed the various components of a medical alert system, including the base unit, the help button or emergency button, and additional devices like fall detection or a mobile medical alert system.

We’ve also delved into the role of the medical alert monitoring service, which provides 24/7 support and assistance in case of emergencies. This service is a crucial part of the system, connecting users to help at the press of a button.

Choosing the best medical alert system involves considering various factors, such as the type of system (in-home or mobile), the cost and any additional fees, and the reputation of the medical alert company. It’s also important to consider the type of phone service (landline or cellular) that the system uses.

The setup process for a medical alert system is usually straightforward, involving connecting the base unit to a wall outlet or electrical outlet, setting up the phone connection, and testing the system to verify that it’s working correctly. Regular testing and maintenance of the system are crucial to ensure its reliability when needed.

Additional features, like a watch or fall detection pendant, can enhance the system’s functionality and provide extra peace of mind. It’s also worth noting that some systems come with a large end button, designed to be easy to press, even for those with limited hand strength or dexterity.

Finally, it’s important to remember that your doctor or healthcare provider can be a valuable resource when choosing a medical alert system. They can provide advice based on your specific health needs and lifestyle.

A home medical alert system can provide peace of mind and a lifeline in emergencies, helping to ensure the safety and independence of older adults. Whether you’re considering a system for yourself or a loved one, we hope this guide has been helpful. Remember, it’s always a good idea to visit the medical alert company’s website or contact their customer service for more information and assistance.

Jose Alpuerto

Written by

Jose Alpuerto

With a heart that beats for the young and young-at-heart alike, Jose dives headfirst into the world of tech wizardry and safety gadgets, all with the mission of turning aging at home into an adventure. Armed with a keyboard and an unquenchable enthusiasm, he spins tales of gadgets that bring laughter and ease to the lives of the elderly, proving that growing older doesn’t mean you can’t keep the spirit of play alive.