A medical alert system is also known as a personal emergency response system (PERS), medical emergency response system (MERS), health monitor, or fall monitor. It is designed to monitor and report an emergency situation requiring immediate assistance. Usually these are household devices that allow a person to quickly contact emergency help. They are primarily marketed to send help after a fall or other medical emergency, but some devices are also equipped to send help in a police emergency. Additionally, there are alert systems that send emergency help outside the home wherever the user goes and wears the alert device. These systems can include internet connectivity through a phone or tablet, as well as GPS technology.
Why should I have a medical alert system at home?
Because help is readily available, medical alert systems allow many older people to stay in their homes and retain some independence. They also help you feel an extra sense of security if you are at risk of falling or have other health conditions that require ongoing monitoring.
“There’s the concept of aging in place,” says Jason Garbarino, nurse practitioner, director of the undergraduate nursing program at the University of Vermont and member of the Forbes Health Advisory Board. “The majority of older people prefer to stay at home rather than being institutionalized,” he says. “Medical alert systems support this continued autonomy.”
How a medical alert system could help you
Depending on the device you choose, medical alert systems can help you:
- Activity monitoring and motion tracking
- Fall detection
- Daily recordings
- Socializing and connecting with family members and friends
- home security
Different Types of Medical Alert Systems
There are several types of medical alert systems. The base of the system is usually a small box that can be placed on a table or bedside table. The system is activated by a button on a bracelet or necklace worn by the user. Some alert systems offer services like automatic fall detection or GPS technology so emergency personnel can locate the person calling for help, no matter where they are. Some medical alert systems also have apps for smartphones and other smart devices, which can connect caregivers and loved ones to the system user, help them manage their medications and more.
The type of medical alert system that is best for you or your loved one depends on your specific needs and preferences. If a family member is looking for a medical alert device for a loved one, Linda Keilman, gerontology nurse, faculty member at Michigan State University College of Nursing and member of the Forbes Health Advisory Board, recommends that members of the family talk to their loved one first and “Engage them in meaningful conversations about quality of life and safety issues.
Here are some questions to ask about medical alert devices, according to Keilman:
- How much does the device cost?
- Can the user operate the system, or is it too complicated for him to manage it independently?
- What is the connection speed to the emergency service?
- Does the device offer automatic fall detection?
- Is the panic button waterproof and can it be worn in the shower or bath?
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Key Features of Medical Alert Systems
As for the wearable itself, some people may prefer a necklace that can be hidden under clothing while others may prefer a wristband to remind them that they have access to help. Meanwhile, tech-savvy users may prefer to use a medical alert system on their smartphone, which often offers more sophisticated features like GPS navigation, heart rate tracking, and texting capabilities.
Speed of emergency response is also a priority, Garbarino says. He observed systems where the user was put on hold for a long period of time before the emergency operator intervened. Another priority, he adds, is whether the user will be able to activate the device when needed.
Aside from specific medical alert features, Garbarino says it’s essential to know that the system user will not hesitate to activate the alarm if necessary. Some seniors may feel embarrassed using a medical alert device.
“Families can play a role in addressing this stigma,” he says. “They can reassure the individual that use of the medical alert device is appropriate.”