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Your Guide to Medical Alert Devices

If you’re worried about falling, a medical alert device can offer peace of mind and more independence.

By Clover Health

Did you know that one in four older adults in the U.S. fall every year? Falling can lead to a bump or bruise or cause more serious injuries like a broken bone or a traumatic head injury. Falls will increase your risk of hospitalization and increase the likelihood of having another fall in the future.

There are a few ways to reduce your risk of a fall. You can make your home safer, install grab bars in the bathroom, and do some daily exercises to improve your balance. If you do fall, a medical alert device can make sure you get the help you need as soon as you need it.

What Are Medical Alert Devices?

Medical alert devices let you call for help just by pushing a button. You don’t need to find the phone, look up a phone number, or try to stand up. These devices give you and your family peace of mind knowing that you can easily call for help in any situation. They can even prevent further injury by helping you access care as quickly as possible.

Alert systems usually have three parts:

  • small, wearable device. You can wear this device on your wrist or as a pendant around your neck.
  • communication system. This is usually installed in your home and connects to your landline. Some mobile systems have portable communication systems you can use anywhere.
  • An emergency response center. When you push the button, you’ll be connected to the response center. The person who answers the phone will make sure you get the help you need.

How Do Alert Devices Work?

Medical alert devices let you call for help with the push of a button. If you’re in an emergency or you’ve had a fall, pushing the button activates the communication system and calls the emergency response center. Some devices are even voice-activated, so you can call the response center just by saying a key phrase. Medical alert devices may also have a GPS system, so if you're not at home, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) can find you easily.

Why Use a Medical Alert Device?

One of the main advantages of using an alert device is that you’ll get help fast. When you’re having a medical emergency, such as having a fall or feeling chest pains, you can quickly call for help with the touch of a button. Regardless of the situation, the sooner you get help the better. Having EMS at your door or getting to the hospital quickly can improve your treatment options and lead to a smoother recovery.

Another advantage of medical alert devices is having access to the response center. You don’t need to find your phone or know who to call. Staff are trained to ask the right questions and find out exactly what’s wrong. They’ll quickly determine who can help and dispatch the appropriate care. The response center also has your address and medical information, so they can make sure EMS finds you easily and knows what to expect. If you're not having a medical emergency, staff can also call your family.

Types of Medical Alert Devices

Fall Detection Systems

One popular type of medical alert device is a fall detection system. These devices are usually attached to a pendant you can wear around your neck. The device has numerous sensors to detect your position and location. If you fall, the device will automatically call for help, without you needing to push a button. This is perfect for anyone who may be easily confused or who is worried they may have a head injury if they fall.

The system is designed to limit false fall detection. But depending on how you normally move or handle the pendant, the system could trigger a fall alert even if you have not fallen.

Home Systems

The most common medical alert device is the home system. The communication system is installed in your home, and you can push the button on your wearable device to call for help from inside your home. Some systems are also voice-activated, so you can call for help by saying a key phrase.

This is a great system if you need help at home. If you’re at home and within the range of the base station, you can easily connect to help. The downside? If you’re not at home, you will not be able to call for help.

Mobile Alert Systems

These alert systems don’t have a fixed base station. When you’re in trouble, whether in your home or while you’re out, you can push the button on your wearable device and call for help. As long as you have cell service coverage you can still get help. Response center staff will find out what’s wrong and send your family, EMS, or even the police.

These medical alert devices have their own built-in cell connection, so they do not need to be connected to your landline or your cell phone. Mobile alert systems also have GPS tracking. If you call for help and you’re not at home, the responder can look up your location so you don’t have to waste time explaining where you are.

What’s the Cost of Medical Alert Devices?

Most alert systems have a one-time activation fee and a recurring monthly fee. Fall detection alert devices usually have the lowest monthly fees. Home systems have higher monthly fees, and mobile systems are the most expensive.

Along with monthly fees, you may have additional costs. This could include the cost of purchasing and installing the alert system.

If you still have questions or aren’t sure if a medical alert device is right for you, talk with your doctor to see what they recommend. The CDC also is a great resource with tips for preventing falls. If you’re a Clover Health member and have questions, we’re always here for you. Give us a call at 1-888-778-1478 from 8 am to 8 pm local time, 7 days a week.


Published on 8/9/21

Photo credit: Getty