Helpful Information About Medical Alerts
Best Medical Alerts, Based on In-Depth Reviews
Caring for a loved one once they can no longer fulfill all their needs alone is one of the most difficult jobs for any child or grandchild. Not only do you have to create a space in your life for your new role as a caretaker, but you also have to convince your relative to let you care for them. In this situation, purchasing a medical alert system can be a real game changer.
“Seniors sometimes feel that they are burdening their family with their caretaking, but also feel unsafe without it. Medical alerts can ease these worries while giving them the confidence they need to live on their own,” said Dr. Ariel Cruz Igartua, a geriatrician and family physician with more than 30 years experience.
There are numerous options to consider when choosing medical alert equipment. But whatever shape the hardware takes--a bracelet, necklace, or button on the wall--a medical alert system can increase your loved one’s independence while also giving you more freedom to do things away from them. This personal liberty can result in noticeable improvements in both the caregiver’s and the senior’s quality of life.
Ironically though, it’s almost as common for the caregiver to resist adopting a medical alert solution as it is for their loved one.
The Caregiver's Dilemma
When one becomes a caregiver to an aging parent or grandparent, a type of role-switching takes place. Caregivers have to help their loved ones perform typical activities of daily living like eating, dressing, and bathing. It can be an overwhelming and isolating experience. Many caregivers say they feel trapped by their circumstances because they are the only ones in their family who can provide this essential care.
For many, caregiving comes along with other struggles, such as reducing working hours or quitting jobs outright to take care of loved ones. Of course this situation is further complicated by the accompanying financial toll.
These hardships have a disproportionately heavy impact on women. According to a report by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and the AARP Public Policy Institute, over 75 percent of caregivers are female, most often taking care of elderly parents. It’s not surprising that 46 percent of high-intensity caregivers (providing care 21 or more hours per week) described themselves as “highly stressed” in the same report.
Despite this living situation, most caregivers balk at getting outside help. The NAC/AARP report found that 68 percent of caregivers did not pay someone to help them. Only 53 percent had assistance from another person. This could be due to the high cost or it might be that children feel the need to take care of their parents as they age. Some may feel that a stranger won’t give their loved one the quality of care they need and prefer to do it themselves. Long-time caregivers may find it even harder to delegate care to someone else because the routine has taken over their life.
“It’s common for family caretakers to refuse professional help until they’ve burned themselves out,” said Dr. Cruz Igartua. “The mounting stress can lead to serious consequences for both caretaker and senior, including poor living conditions, economic duress, anxiety and depression.”
People who provide high-intensity care find themselves in a Catch-22 of sorts: continuing to take care of their loved one unassisted brings with it a host of economic, psychological, and physical issues, but entrusting care to someone else doesn’t inspire confidence. We looked deeper into this situation, which is sometimes called Caregiver Martyr Syndrome.
Regaining Freedom and Peace of Mind
A medical alert system is an ideal way to preserve your freedom and peace of mind while also encouraging your loved one to be more independent. They allow older people the freedom to stay home alone or go outside (with the help of many GPS models that allow you to track the user’s location), while at the same time reassuring caregivers that their loved one is safe and secure.
A 2014 survey by the AARP found that 87 percent of seniors over age 65 want to “age in place.” In other words, they want to stay in their home, not live in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or another unfamiliar place. A medical alert system provides seniors with personal liberty. They have the freedom to stay home and live independently for as long as they are able to, while also giving you the serenity that comes from knowing that if anything happens, help can be summoned quickly.
What Types of Medical Alerts are Available?
When medical alert systems entered the market, they took the shape of a pendant-style button connected to a base station that was hooked up to a landline. This setup could only be used by people who didn’t often leave the house, since the button wouldn’t work a few hundred feet away from the base.
Today, technological advances have resulted in base station and button combinations with a range of 600 feet or more. They enable the user to move freely about the house, go into the yard, and even visit a neighbor’s house without much coverage loss.
Additionally, there are now cellular-based services that use a mobile network instead of a landline. These devices feature GPS positioning that lets the monitoring center know the user’s exact location. This is an ideal solution for caregivers who want their loved one to retain their freedom of movement outside the house while also being assured that they can get help if something happens.
One of the major concerns of caregivers—and one of the most frequent reasons why someone purchases a medical alert system for themselves or for others—is the possibility of the care-recipient suffering a fall and not being able to get to a phone and call for help. It’s a real fear, with over one in four American seniors falling every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Nowadays, many medical alert systems feature automatic fall detection. Once the device senses that the user has fallen, a call is automatically placed to the monitoring center. If the user can’t communicate with the monitoring specialist, perhaps because they’re unable to speak after the fall, a specialist at the monitoring center will automatically call emergency services.
What to Watch Out For When Buying a Medical Alert System
Medical alert systems are designed to save the lives of those who are most likely to require emergency services. As consumer electronics products in a competitive field, manufacturers sometimes make overly-broad claims about the capabilities of their systems.
For instance, consumers should be aware that the GPS on some devices are not always entirely accurate. Recently, Consumers’ CheckBook tested several medical alert devices over 200 times found the call centers sometimes had difficulty determining where the calls were coming from. Some even had a hard time finding users in high-rise buildings in urban areas because they couldn’t pinpoint the floor.
For this reason, we always recommend looking for companies that offer free trials and the ability to test the device.
Additionally, some companies might attempt to “up-sell” additional options that some users won’t need, or they may have fees and penalties buried in their monitoring contracts.
Medical alert monitoring involves an infrastructure of phone networks, operators, and emergency response systems. For the companies that sell monitored medical alert systems, subscriptions to the monitoring service are a greater source of revenue than selling the hardware. The ongoing charges, billed monthly, quarterly, or annually, can be a significant expense for consumers.
We have analyzed the monitoring contracts of the most popular medical alert systems so consumers can avoid those contract “gotcha” clauses and only pay for what they need.
Beware of Hidden Language in Contracts
The top items to consider when looking at the fine print of a monitoring contract are:
- Activation fees
Does the system have a one-time fee associated with initiating the equipment and opening an account?
- Cancellation fees
Are there charges associated with cancelling the monitoring service? And are there exceptions to the cancellation fee, i.e. the user becomes a resident of an assisted facility or passes away?
- Lost or damaged fees for leased equipment
With some monitored medical alert systems, companies will “lease” the equipment to the user – the equipment is expected to be returned to the company at the end of the contract or in case of cancellation. If equipment is lost or damaged, the company may charge the user for the replacement unit.
- Contract minimum length
Typically three years in length, the contract can work in the user’s favor should the system’s monitoring subscription raise its prices. A longer contract allows customers to “lock in” a great rate, but it also prevents them from switching services easily. With an extended contract, a user who wishes to cancel the monitoring service could be obligated to pay cancellation fees or the remaining balance of the service through the contract’s end date.
- Risk-free claims
Risk-free trials should mean that during the risk-free period, typically two-weeks to 30-days, there should be no fees or penalties to try the service. Some systems will require the user to at least test the system at home in order to avoid any setup charges. And it is also normal for customers to pay for a system up front and then be refunded upon returning the device.
Seniors Aren't the Only Ones Using Medical Alerts
During our research, we also identified women as a group that could benefit from medical alert devices, particularly with GPS tracking. Wearable personal safety devices that disguise themselves as everyday items (like a ring or a necklace) are trending. With medical alerts following suit to create wearable devices, women will have plenty of options.
Whether you’re a bartender getting off work late, a nurse leaving her swing shift, a college student heading home from the bar, or a jogger up for an early morning run, sometimes there’s peace of mind knowing there’s help at your fingertips.
And for good reason: the US robbery rate increased from 1.7 per 1,000 persons in 2016 to 2.3 in 2017, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Keeping Women Safe: Why We Think Medical Alerts Can Make a Difference
When you think of wearable tech, the first thing that might come to mind is a Fitbit or an Apple Watch. But founder and CEO of Women of Wearables (WoW), Marija Butkovic, said the “wearables” tech industry has become so much more than that.
“It can be hardware focused or garment focused,” she explained. “It can also be categorized into many different industries: health, military, sports, fashion.”
These days, the industry has exploded to create wearables specifically for women, often by women, that are geared toward personal safety. In an emergency where there are only a few seconds to react, a wearable personal device could be a better alternative to fumbling for pepper spray or defensive tools.
Within WoW’s global organization, which works to connect women in wearable tech, smart textiles, fashion tech, and other similar industries, Butkovic has seen an upswing in personal emergency devices.
Many of these devices offer sleek, wearable designs and look like regular jewelry or can be discreetly attached to clothes or a purse. Ultimately, most women would be more inclined to use a device they could easily incorporate into their daily use. At the end of the day, functionality is important.
“Women really focus on end use, need, and function,” Butkovic noted.
These include devices like Kwema, which is a smart bracelet that can call for help in three seconds, and Nimb, a smart ring with a panic button that alerts friends, family, and emergency services. The latter was created after one of the founders, Kathy Roma, was stabbed nine times in broad daylight by a man she refused to talk to.
Similarly, Roar’s “Athena” device, was created by CEO Yasmine Mustafa after returning from a trip to South America where she heard countless stories of women who had been victims of assault. This device, like others, has alarm buttons that alert friends or family to the wearer’s location. Some devices are even equipped with a loud alarm, which may scare off attackers.
The friends and family alert feature could also be helpful, particularly if the wearer is incapacitated or unable to use their phone safely. For instance, a woman walking home who suspects someone is following her, may not feel comfortable reaching into her purse to use her phone to call her friends or the police. With most of these devices, the alert is silent and sends out the location of the wearer to a pre-set list of emergency contacts who can call 9-1-1.
It’s worth noting if these devices are activated late at night or early in the morning, the user’s emergency contacts might well be asleep or away from their phones. However, some devices like Nimb are more similar in functionality to medical alert devices.
Nimb’s ring offers alerts to family and friends, but also contacts a 24/7 call center. If the user holds down the discrete panic button on the ring, it will alert the center and an operator will text the wearer within 10 seconds.
If the wearer doesn’t respond, the center will call within 30 seconds. If there is still no response, first responders will be sent and the ring will vibrate, signaling to the wearer that help is on the way.
Many of these devices also function off of Bluetooth paired with an app, so it’s not entirely clear how well these would work if the user's phone is stolen (as some only work if the phone is within a certain range) or is in an area with poor reception.
One user on Amazon complained that both times she tested Athena, the device did not notify her emergency contact. Another said the device suddenly disconnected from their phone, rendering GPS useless, noting also that: “You're out of luck if you don't have cell service, your phone gets taken, or it dies. The alerts won't go out and your location can't be tracked if that's the case.”
This differs from medical alert systems, or even smart watches, that use a combination of GPS and cellular networks.
The price points for the devices can vary. For instance, Medical Guardian’s “Freedom Guardian” wearable medical alert watch starts at $44.95 a month, and a one-time $99 equipment cost. Nimb’s monthly plan is $29.95 a month but costs less for longer commitments.
Butkovic advises that when it comes to tech wearables, women should consider ease of use.
“Do I really need this and how convenient it is to use?” she said. “Any device needs to be a solution for a problem, not the other way around.”
The Best Alert Systems for People on the Go (Not Seniors)
Getting out into nature and leaving our ever-buzzing-phones at home is one of the best parts of hiking. But for those who love spending time in the great outdoors, a GPS-enabled medical alert could be critical in case of an emergency.
Too often, we hear the horror stories of solo-hikes and jogs gone wrong. Take the recent case of Taiwan’s “Bikini Hiker,” Gigi Wu, who died after falling on a solo trek. Or even the story of adventurer Aron Ralston, who became the subject of the film “127 Hours” after he became trapped under a boulder on a hike and had to amputate his own arm.
Of course, these are extreme situations. But even a fall on a run, a twisted ankle while hiking, or a wrong turn somewhere remote without a buddy might require emergency help. And if you’re the kind of adventurer who likes to head out without a phone to really soak in all nature has to offer, a medical alert or a similar GPS-enabled device might be a good tool to take with you.
The latest series 4 Apple Watch offers fall detection that can directly contact emergency services. If, for instance, you’ve fallen and are knocked unconscious, the watch can detect if you’ve been immobile. It’ll then send an alert so that you, or someone nearby, can hear it. If there’s no response, it sends your emergency contacts your location and calls emergency services on your behalf.
Another perk of the watch, especially for those who are active, is that the device is water-resistant. This means that it can be splashed or withstand some water to a certain degree (but certainly can’t be submerged for too long or be worn while swimming).
Some obvious benefits are that the watch is a one-time purchase of a few hundred dollars and the wearer can talk directly into the watch to 9-1-1 operators.
On the other hand, the wearer must be in range of their phone or connected to Wi-Fi in some fashion. These devices also work with a cellular plan. Without that, the GPS on your watch won’t work unless you’ve brought your iPhone with you.
Several medical alert companies are offering similar devices, typically with a monthly subscription, including watches that offer the same, two-way capabilities. Most medical alert devices are also water-resistant and offer the same features at a similar, or less expensive, price when the subscription and device are factored in. The real deciding factor, beyond price, may be whether the user wants direct 9-1-1 calling.
FAQS ABOUT MEDICAL ALERTS
How accurate is the GPS feature on medical alerts?
GPS-enabled smart devices are typically accurate to within 4.9 meters. The level of precision depends on external elements that interfere with GPS satellite signals such as buildings, trees, mountains, and atmospheric conditions. Medical alert GPS may suffer from interference if the device is used indoors or in a multilevel building. It’s a good idea to let your medical alert company know the layout of the building where the user lives in order to make sure that when help is summoned, it arrives at the right place.
Are medical alert services available for non-English speakers?
Some medical alert systems claim be able to communicate in up to 180 languages by offering real-time translators as part of their services. However, these systems don’t offer much flexibility and state in the fine print that their translators may not be competent. If you need a medical alert for a non-English speaking person, it’s a good idea to inquire carefully how the company you’re considering addresses these issues.
Can the medical alert system monitor me and my spouse at the same time?
Some companies offer an additional alert button for a second user, providing free monitoring for the second device after its purchase. If the medical alert system works through a base unit, both devices can be linked to the same unit and be monitored simultaneously. Newer, mobile systems may have to be purchased separately.
How does fall detection technology work?
Some alert systems come with integrated fall detection technology. The wearable device, typically a pendant or wristband, continuously monitors the speed and direction of the user’s movements through accelerometers and gyroscopes that differentiate between falls and regular gestures. If it detects a fall, the device will alert the monitoring center after a period of inactivity.
Are medical alerts tax deductible?
The IRS does not currently list medical alert systems under tax-exempt medical expenses. However, if your medical alert system includes a feature that stores your medical information in a data bank that your physician can access, you may be able to claim the expense under the Medical Information Plan exemption.
Does Medicare or other insurance cover medical alerts?
Original Medicare, Part A and B, does not cover medical alert systems. However, people who receive their benefits through a Medicare Supplement plan can ask their providers if the cost of equipment can be covered, especially if the system is medically warranted. Those who have long-term care Insurance may also qualify for coverage or reimbursement.
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