Since starting this blog, I have been talking to a lot of people about medical alert systems, and the vast majority thought that you need a landline. I have to admit, I did too when we first looked with my mom.
Not all medical alert systems require a landline –
- In-home medical alert systems can use wireless and cellular networks, as well as landlines
- All mobile medical alert systems use cellular/mobile phone networks and can be used wherever there is cellular network coverage – in the home or elsewhere
Medical alert systems can be divided into another two categories –
- those which monitor in, and around the home, known as in-home medical alert systems
- and those which monitor you anywhere you go, known as mobile medical alert systems
Contents Overview & Quicklinks
What is a cellular network in-home medical alert system ?
The cellular network medical alert systems work in almost the same way as a landline medical alert systems, except for the fact they use a wireless cellular/mobile connection.
The system uses the cellular/mobile network exactly in the same way as your cell/mobile phone.
An in-home medical alert system comprises a home base station unit which makes the emergency calls, and one or more emergency help buttons.
The buttons will be in the form of pendants for the neck, or wristbands.
You may also be able to purchase fall detection, and other add-ons together with the main package.
You will have the same help buttons and add-ons, such as fall detection, extra help buttons, lock boxes etc., as with a landline in-home medical alert system, it just uses the wireless cellular phone network.
You just need to make sure that you have good cellular/mobile phone signal strength, as the system depends entirely on this.
How does a cellular network in-home medical alert system work ?
In the event of an emergency, you simply press one of the help buttons, either on the wrist, the neck pendant, or the base station.
If you have a system with monitoring, and you are using one of the help buttons on the wristband or pendant, it will send a signal wirelessly to the base station, which then uses the cellular phone network to connect with the monitoring service and its operators.
If you don’t have monitoring, the base station will simply dial through your list of preferred contacts, usually family, neighbors or a caregiver, until one of them answers the call.
If you have a false alarm, there is a button you can use to cancel the call on most systems.
On a monitored system, once the Response Center receives your call a trained operator will assess your situation and the required assistance – this may be a visit from the Emergency Services, or calling a family member, or caregiver, to let them know that you need help.
The operator will typically also call family members if they have had to call the Emergency Services.
The base stations for the in-home systems are equipped with powerful speakers and microphones, so you should be able to hear them and speak to the operator from all parts of your home.
If you are unable to speak with the operator, for whatever reason, they will call Emergency Services to assist you.
If you are using an unmonitored system, your contacts will be responsible for whatever action is taken and whom they choose to call.
What about the mobile medical alert systems ?
Mobile medical alert systems all use cellular/mobile networks, and because of this they can be used anywhere that they have a strong enough signal.
You can get them with –
- two-way-talk communication
- GPS location tracking
- automatic fall detection
- GEO fencing
The mobile systems tend to come with apps, which allow caregivers and families to connect with your mobile medical alert device to see where you are, send messages, track your movements and talk to you.
Mobile medical alert devices come in the form of phones, pendants, smartwatches and devices which can just be carried.
Generally, the mobile devices come with a charging cradle, in which they are simply left to charge at night.
It is advised to also have a wireless call button, which you wear while your device is charging at night.
If you have a problem, you can press the call button, which will send a signal to the mobile device in the cradle, which will still be able to connect with the monitoring service, and an emergency operator.
How do I use a mobile medical alert device ? Let’s take a look….
The devices on the systems with 24/7 monitoring vary from cellular/mobile phones, which are both phones and medical alert devices, to devices which are strictly mobile medical alert devices.
Monitored system devices, in general, have two-way communications, so you can actually speak into the different devices. They have both speakers and microphones.
If you have a medical emergency, you can talk through the device to the operators in the monitoring centers.
If a system has automatic fall detection, or you have pressed the help button on your device, but you can’t speak, the operator will simply send the emergency services to your location.
Some systems even give a second help button which you can wear as well, and in the event that you can’t reach your mobile device, you can activate the second help button, which will then wirelessly signal the mobile device to call the monitoring center.
Using the apps which come with most of the systems, you can set up geofencing, which simply put, means you can set boundaries, which when crossed will trigger an alert from the device, which is sent to family members and caregivers with the wearer’s location.
You can also set medication reminders and appointments on some systems.
There is almost always GPS tracking on these mobile devices, so that if you are confused, or can’t talk, your location can be found.
Unmonitored medical alert systems for mobile devices are not so varied.
The unmonitored systems will have the medical alert devices paired to an app for smartphones, and everything will run through the app.
Inside the app, you will set up your emergency contacts’ telephone numbers to be called when you need assistance.
A lot of mobile devices, for the unmonitored systems, will not all allow you to talk through them when you have an emergency, and may simply send a text, or automated voice message to your selected contacts with the alert.
The message will contain your GPS location and say you have an emergency.
Some mobile devices, which have speakers and a microphone, will allow you to talk to your contact when they pick up their phone.
You have to hope, with the unmonitored systems, that your contacts answer and pick up quickly. The device will continue to cycle through the contact telephone numbers until someone answers.
My preference is for the monitored systems, but they do have a monthly subscription, which is not always affordable for everyone.
Do I want an in-home system or a mobile medical alert ?
You need to consider who you are getting it for, what their needs are today, and how their needs are going to evolve.
If your loved one is already home bound, and doesn’t go out on their own, then you really only need the in-home cellular medical alert system.
For an elderly person who is still active, a mobile medical alert system could be just the ticket.
Even if your loved one hasn’t had any falls yet, they can have a system which will give them the assurance that they can continue to be active, and if anything happens they will get help wherever they are.
The family and caregivers of a user will also have the possibility, with the apps for the mobile devices, to see where their loved ones are, to call them, to track their locations and sometimes much more.
What is great is that even the most basic unmonitored systems can give a level of assurance to all concerned from just knowing that if there is a problem they will get a call, or a message straight away.
Who makes the cellular network medical alert systems ?
There are many suppliers of cellular medical alert systems.
Here are a few popular ones in the US –
- Medical Guardian
- Life Station
- Medical Alert
- Bay Alarm Medical
- Medical CareAlert
- Philips Lifeline
- Rescue Alert
- Life Alert
Here are a few popular ones in the UK –
- Telecare24 Careline
Cellular vs landline systems
I found that each manufacturer who makes cellular and landline medical alert systems offers pretty much the same equipment quality for both types, and that they perform in the same way, and with the same degree of efficiency.
There may be some slight differences with battery life for certain elements of the different systems, but this is unavoidable.
The cellular systems will have cellular network fees as they use a cellular network.
The choice is really one of your loved ones’ personal circumstances.
If your loved one is housebound, it would seem logical that they would have an in-home system.
This means they can choose either system, landline or cellular. They may find there is more choice among the landline systems, and this may lead to better pricing.
If you live in an area which has a poor cellular signal, then your loved one will need a landline system, as the cellular devices may not function.
If your loved one has memory problems and a tendency to wander, you may wish to get a mobile device system with geofencing, GPS tracking and reminders, and this would need to be a mobile medical alert system, and that would have to be cellular.
For the more active seniors who wish to have a medical alert device that they can take with them when they go out, this will have to be a mobile medical alert system using a cellular network.
I think it really comes down to common sense.
If you are not sure what the cellular signal is like in your area, I would drive around and test it or look it up on the internet, or ask friends who have cellphones working on the same network as the device you are looking at.
You can always get a system and test it immediately, and then return it if it doesn’t work well. Most medical alert companies have a 30-Day money-back guarantee, so test it straight away ! Don’t hang around to test it, as some companies start the 30 days from the day they ship out to you.
What else do I need to consider ?
Just a few last pointers on what to consider if you decide to get a medical alert system, of which ever type –
- does it have a 24/7 monitoring center ?
- is it self-monitoring ?
- if it is an in-home system, what is the range of the base station ?
- what are the battery lives of the different parts ?
- how long do devices take to recharge ?
- does it have backup in a power failure ?
- are the help buttons comfortable to wear ?
- does it have automatic fall protection ?
- is the device waterproof ?
- can I get a key safe ?
- if it is a mobile device, does it have GPS
- if it is a mobile device, does it have two-way talk ?
- is there an app for the family and caregivers to use, to help keep an eye on your loved one
- do you have to sign a contract – most companies don’t do this ?
- who owns the equipment ?
- are you responsible for the loss or breakages of any equipment ?
The answer is of course no, you do not have to have a landline to have a medical alert system.
The in-home systems are pretty much the same in their capacities whether they are landline or cellular, and all the mobile systems and devices are actually cellular.
Of course, none of this will work if your parent, or loved one, doesn’t use the devices, and this can be the greatest problem of all. You have to have a wearer who is willing to use the systems.
Good luck and I hope this was of help.
I’m Gareth, the author and owner of Looking After Mom and Dad.com
I have been a caregiver for over 10 yrs and share all my tips here.