Medical Alert Systems: Questions to Ask

As many of you know, I am part of the ElderTech Advisory group, put together by Joan Green, Innovative Speech Therapy. This is a diverse group of specialists and the aged, all working together to share information and tips on how to teach and use technology.  An interesting question popped up recently, which set me on a quest to gather information.  

Woman with white hair and an apron on washing hands at a kitchen faucet.

Many of you are familiar with the Medical Alert systems.  They provide a way for someone to get help should they need it, by either calling out or pushing a button.  Someone was asking about systems that work out in the community, as opposed to the home system.  And, it had to be a system that did not rely on a smartwatch.  So I started digging around to find out what systems were out there, and what might work. I came up with a list of questions that should be considered by anyone looking into these devices. 

First, I discovered there really are two different types of systems- those that are home-based and use a home WiFi connection, and those that work using GPS and cell service.  As this person was looking for a system that could be used out in the community as well as at home, I looked into the GPS/cell service systems.  These systems rely on cell service, so it is very important to find out what cell reception is good in the areas they usually go to.  This alone may eliminate some devices. 

Next, you have to find out what sort of device will work best for them.  If the person always carries their cell phone on their person, and at home has it in the same room they are in, then a voice-activated app may work well.  However, if they put the cell phone in a purse, or on a counter at home and wander away from it, that won’t work for them.  My mother had a cell phone alert system, but she rarely was in the same room as the cell phone, so we dropped it after a year as it wasn’t the right system for her.

If the individual can manage a smartwatch, including putting it on and off, and charging it, then a system paired with a smartwatch may work well.  However, if they can not, then a button system is the best option, something they can put in a pocket, or wear around their neck. 

Finally, you have to consider the cost.  Some Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C) will pay for the systems under certain conditions. If the individual has Medicaid (Medi-Cal in CA), and qualifies for their Home and Community Based Services program (HCBS) the systems may be covered.  The VA may also cover the systems if certain criteria are met.  Be aware, that there is no easy funding answer for them!
Medical Alert Systems can truly be life-saving.  These devices can provide a way for someone to quickly get help should they need it.  Just be sure that you ask the right questions, to get the right system!