The best medical alert systems provide peace of mind, with long ranges, consistent signals and flexible contracts at affordable prices. In our medical alert sytem review, you'll learn why these features matter and how we chose the best sytems. We meticulously research, test and review the best medical alert systems available each year so that you can make the best decision for you and your family. These systems are an essential part of maintaining a high quality of life and independence for seniors and can save your life or the life of loved one. As such, we take our review and recommendations very seriously.
Medical Guardian's basic system, the Classis Guardian, has a listed range of 1,300 feet, but it had a range of 2,000 feet in our outdoor tests, giving it the longest tested range in the industry. In addition, this service offers excellent premium packages, including GPS medical alert systmes and fall detection devices, without locking you into long-term contracts. Infact, you can cancel at any time with no fee.
The distance the pendant can be from the main unit.
The days the main unit can work in the event of a power outage.
No cancellation fees. No long term contracts. Fair terms.
Water resistant pendants, fall detection, GPS packages and more.
Helpful, versatile service with a quick response.
Medical alert systems are designed to allow senior citizens to maintain their independence. However, one in three people over 65 will suffer a fall, and one in five of those falls will result in a serious injury. Plus, the older you get, the greater the chance you will fall or need emergency medical attention. If you fall and you can’t reach your phone, how are you going to get help? Medical alert systems provide peace of mind, not only to the elderly who want to maintain their independence but to their families as well.
In our review of medical alerts, we researched and considered almost 70 systems. To find the best medical alert systems, we had to cut most of the services from our initial list, and we used the following criteria:
We based our first cuts on nationwide coverage. If a service isn’t available everywhere, it can’t be considered the best. Most of the medical alert systems in the industry are provided by regional security system providers, and the medical alert systems are secondary to the security systems.
The second cut of medical alert systems was based on the contract and purchasing process. Services that require long-term contracts with aggressive language and cancellation limitations were excluded from consideration.
Finally, we cut services that don’t provide 24/7 monitoring centers. Emergencies don’t happen on schedule, so your emergency response device shouldn’t either.
This left us with a short list of medical alert systems. We ordered and tested each of the systems, and the best 10 products made our final lineup.
Medical alert systems consist of a base unit and an emergency pendant or bracelet. The base unit connects to your landline, though some of the premium packages connect to a cellular network. You wear the pendant or bracelet at all times, even in the shower. If you need help, you press a button on your pendant or bracelet, and it wirelessly communicates with the base unit using radio frequencies. Once the base unit receives the alert from your pendant, it calls the medical alert system’s call center. A 911-trained operator will talk to you through a powerful microphone and speaker system on the base unit to determine whether emergency personnel should be sent to your house or a family member or neighbor needs to be contacted.
Since receiving help depends on the communication between the emergency pendant and the base unit, the operating range is the most important feature to consider with a medical alert system. If the pendant can’t alert the base unit when you need it, then everything else about the service doesn’t matter. A long range suggests that the communication between the devices is consistent, which means it’s less likely to be interrupted by walls and other objects. When this is the case, you can trust the system to perform when you need it to.
Every medical alert system we tested has a listed range, which is how far away from the base the manufacturer claims the pendant can be and still work. Listed ranges vary greatly, from 1,300 feet with Medical Guardian to 300 feet with ADT. To put this in perspective, this is like the difference between the height of the statue of liberty and the height of the Empire State Building.
We tested range by going out to a large field, which we measured out in 100 foot increments. With each service, we pressed the emergency pendant at each 100-foot marker. If the base unit received the alert, we moved on to the next 100-foot marker. We did this until the base unit no longer received alerts. In most cases, the medical alert systems outperformed the listed range by several hundred feet. However, this is based on a direct line of sight without anything obstructing the signal from the pendant and the base unit.
In these tests, Medical Guardian not only blew way past its listed range by reaching the 2,000-foot marker, but it had the longest range by almost 300 feet. The range was over a quarter mile. Again, by comparison, the shortest range in our tests was 390 feet, which is just a little longer than a football field.
We also tested the indoor range, since most emergency situations occur in the home where walls and other objects can interfere with the signal. These tests were very much the same as the distance tests, only we tested the range in our large office building, which is constructed of antique brick and drywall. Again, Medical Guardian had the longest indoor range of 450 feet. The indoor ranges were consistent with the strength of the outdoor ranges – both inside and outside, those with longer ranges have better signal strength and are more consistent, which translates to a more trustworthy medical alert device
The base unit plugs into an outlet in your home, so you don’t have to worry about recharging it, unless you opt for a premium package that has a GPS unit. However, each base unit has a backup battery that acts as an emergency source of power. This ensures you can still receive help if the power goes out during a storm or other event.
Testing each unit’s battery life was simple. We fully charged the batteries and then unplugged the medical alert systems. We used the medical alert pendants to alert the base units of an emergency every hour until their batteries failed and they could no longer receive alerts.
In our battery tests, Rescue Alert’s battery lasted 90 hours, which is nearly three times as long as most medical alert systems’. Medical Guardian had the second longest battery life with 32 hours. In most cases, you only need the battery to last a few hours, as the average power outage in the U.S. lasts for about an hour and a half. That said, if you live in an area with a high risk of natural disasters, which can cause prolonged power outages, then a long battery life can be critical.
Cost is a significant factor in choosing a medical alert system, especially if you’re retired and live on a strict budget. You don’t want to overspend on a service you hopefully never have to use, and you certainly don’t want to lock yourself into a lengthy contract that heavily favors the service. As such, when you’re considering cost, you should ask yourself the following question: How much do I value peace of mind? Whether you’re buying a medical alert system for yourself or a loved one, peace of mind is what you’re paying for – the comfort that you can get help when you need it and the quality of life afforded by the independence that help provides.
To weigh value against peace of mind, we closely reviewed the contracts and fees associated with each medical alert system in our review. We found that the most valuable emergency response systems have no activation fee, cost less than $1 a day and allow you to cancel at any time without a fee. This type of flexibility means you’re never locked into a long-term contract.
The medical alert systems with the best contracts offer multiple payment options that can decrease the monthly cost if you make a yearly or quarterly payment. For example, Medical Guardian’s Classic Guardian system costs $29.95 per month, but if you make the yearly payment, the monthly cost decreases by $2.
The service cancellation policy is a critical part of the overall value of a contract, so we paid close attention to the language in this section of the contract. You never know when you’ll have to move in with family or into a retirement facility or nursing home. You don’t want to be locked into a contract that you can’t get out of or that costs a lot of money to cancel.
In general, most companies allow you to cancel your service at any time without a cancellation fee. However, we omitted some medical alert services from our lineup because the contract had stipulations we felt were too aggressive. For example, Life Alert is not included in our list because the service requires a minimum three-year contract commitment and features additional fees that other services include in the monthly cost. For example, you have to pay a technician to install the device in your home. With Life Alert, you only have two options for cancelling a contract: either the loved one using the system passes away or he or she moves permanently to a long-term care facility. In both cases, a technician must confirm it before the contract can end.
At the most basic level, a medical alert system consists of three parts – a base unit, an emergency pendant or bracelet, and the service. However, there are additional features that help delineate the best medical alert services from the rest of the pack.
Some services offer multi-person medical monitoring. Instead of paying for a completely separate system, you pay a smaller additional fee to add another person to the account. This is ideal for elderly couples. Just because you live with someone doesn’t mean you can rely on the other person for help. This ensures that both of you receive help without the cost of an additional system.
When you fall and activate your emergency response pendant, the base unit calls the service’s operating center. Through the base unit, the operator will try to communicate with you to gauge the severity of the emergency before sending help. The base units have powerful speakers and microphones, but this often isn’t enough. Voice extenders are like mini base units you can place in strategic places in your home to ensure you can hear the operator and the operator can hear you, regardless of where you need help.
It’s unfortunate, but some emergencies result in scenarios where you’re unable to press the emergency pendant’s Help button. You could hit your head and become unconscious. You could have had a heart attack or a stroke. With a check-in service, the medical alert service calls your home periodically to check on you and to ensure your medical alert system still works properly. Most services charge additional fees for this service, but the best ones on our lineup include check-in service at no additional cost to you.
There’s nothing more frustrating than being trapped in a lengthy contract with a service provider that isn’t meeting your needs. For this reason, we place a high value on processors that provide service on a month-to-month basis, with no lengthy contract and no early termination fee, which means that you can discontinue the service anytime without incurring expensive fees. It’s important to note that in order to avoid contractual entanglements, you want to purchase your equipment rather than lease or accept free equipment offers or free equipment placement programs, as these routinely require you to sign a contract.
In addition to being away from your base station, there are times when you may not be wearing your device. For example, you may like to remove it when you go to sleep or when you take a shower.
A wall-mounted device is a separate alert button that you station in locations where you are likely to remove your wrist or neck pendant. You can strategically place these buttons to ensure you are never far away from help and that you don’t need to wear the device at inconvenient times.
Your medical alert device only works if you wear it. As such, the comfort of the device is an important feature to consider. Most medical alert systems come with a pendant that you can wear around your neck. Others come with a medical alert bracelet that looks and feels like a watch. Some services provide both options. Whatever your preferences may be, you should choose a medical alert system that you’ll actually wear.
The best medical alert services offer a fall detection add-on at the time of your purchase, though you can add it later if you want. It usually increases the monthly cost by between $5 and $15, but you receive a pendant or bracelet that can detect falls. As mentioned earlier, in the elderly population, one in five falls results in a serious injury. You may not be conscious enough to press the Help button on your pendant. With fall detection, help is called without pressing any buttons, giving you a much greater chance of surviving the emergency.
Every basic medical alert system we reviewed connects to a landline to communicate with the service’s emergency responders. However, it has become more and more common for households to abandon landlines in favor of cellular phones. As such, most of the services also provide medical alert systems that connect to one of the nationwide wireless cellular networks.
Many services also offer a GPS system, either as an add-on or as part of a premium package. The GPS system is ideal for seniors who are active. As with the cellular-based systems, the GPS device connects to a cellular network, and it allows you to get help wherever you are, so long as you have a signal. You can go on walks at the park or even go hiking, and you’ll still have access to the medical alert service.
A service’s response time is a measure of the time it takes the company to answer your call for help, from the moment you press the button to the moment it answers the call. Many medical alert services make a big deal over their fast response times, which makes sense – the faster you can get help, the safer you are. However, we found very little difference in the response times of the services we reviewed. On average, the fastest response time was less than four second faster than the slowest average response time, which was a little less than a minute. As such, we believe that response time is generally the same for the best medical alert systems in our review.
All of the systems we evaluated offer 24/7 monitoring service, which means there are always emergency response operators available to answer you call for help. Not all, however, offer the option to provide a translation service should you or your family member use a primary language other than English. The best call centers are capable of communicating in 150 or more languages. Our top-rated system, for example, has a call center with representatives who can speak over 200 languages. It’s important to notify the service if you have multilingual needs. This way, it can be better prepared for situations when a translator may be needed.
|Listed Range (feet)||1300||1000||1000||600||600||500||500||600||300|
|Maximum Tested Range (feet)||2000||1300||1150||1070||1710||831||1080||350||700|
|Indoor Tested Range (feet)||450||300||350||180||400||325||350||130||200|
|Base Station Battery Backup (hours)||32||32||32||24||90||32||30||30||20|
|Additional Medical Monitoring||$||$|
|Remote Phone Answering|
|No Activation Fee|
|No Cancellation Fee|
|Free Equipment Delivery|
|Payment Plan Options|
|Mobile GPS System||$$||$$||$$||$$||$$||$$|
|Fire & Smoke Monitoring||$$||$$|
|Cellular Base Station||$$||$$||$$||$$||$$||$$||$$||$$||$$|