Savvy Senior: How to pick a medical alert system

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, March 30, 2017

Dear Savvy Senior,

I would like to get my 82-year-old mother, who lives alone, a home medical alert system with a panic button that she can push in case she falls or needs help. Can you recommend some good options to help me choose?

~ Overwhelmed Daughter

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Dear Overwhelmed,

A good medical alert system is an affordable and effective tool that can help keep your mother safe, but with all the choices available today choosing one can be quite confusing. Here are some tips that can help.

How they work

Medical alert systems, which have been around for about 40 years, are popular products for elderly seniors who live alone. Leased for about $1 a day, these basic systems provide a wearable help button – usually in the form of a neck pendant or wristband – and a base station that connects to the home phone line, or to a cellular network if no landline is present.

At the press of a button, your mom could call and talk to a trained operator through the system’s base station receiver, which works like a powerful speakerphone. The operator will find out what’s wrong, and will notify family members, a friend, neighbor or emergency services as needed.

In addition to the basic home systems, many companies today (for an additional fee) are also offering motion sensitive pendants that can detect a fall and automatically call for help if your mom is unable to push the button. And mobile medical alerts that work when your mom is away from home. Mobile alerts work like cell phones with GPS tracking capabilities. They allow your mom to talk and listen to the operator directly through the pendant button, and because of the GPS, her general location would be known in order for help to be sent.

What to consider

When shopping for a home medical alert system, here are some things to look for to help you choose a quality system:

Extra help buttons: Most companies offer waterproof neck pendant and wristband help buttons, but some also offer wall-mounted buttons that can be placed near the floor in high fall risk areas like the bathroom or kitchen, in case your mom isn’t wearing her pendant.

Range: The base station should have a range of at least 400 feet so it can be activated from anywhere on your mom’s property – even in the yard.

Backup: Make sure the system has a battery backup in case of a power failure.

Monitoring: Make sure the response center is staffed with trained emergency operators located in the U.S., are available on a 24-hour basis, and responds to calls promptly.

Contacts: Choose a company that provides multiple contact choices – from emergency services, to a friend or family member who lives nearby – that they can contact if your mom needs help.

Certification: Find out if the monitoring center has been certified by Underwriters Laboratories, a nonprofit safety and consulting company.

Top rated companies

While there are dozens of companies that offer medical alert systems, here are some top options that offer both home and mobile alerts: Bay Alarm Medical (fees start at $30 per month for a home landline system,, 877-522-9633); Life Station ($30/month,, 800-554-4600); Medical Alert ($33/month,, 800-800-2537); MobileHelp ($30/month,, 800-992-0616); and Phillips Lifeline ($30/month plus a $50 activation fee,, 855-681-5351).

Most of these companies offer discounts if you pay three to 12 months in advance.

For mobile medical alerts only, you should also see GreatCall’s Lively Mobile and Wearable (these cost $50 plus a $20 to $35 monthly service fee,, 866-359-5606) and Consumer Cellular’s Ally ($150 plus $25 per month,, 888-345-5509).

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.