Medical Alert Systems and In-Home Care

As mobile technology continues to improve and a growing number of older adults choose to age in place, medical alert systems have become an increasingly popular means of promoting independence.Red phone with cord

The following blog discusses various features offered by modern medical alert systems that any would-be user should consider before investing, as well as the role medical alert systems play in a wraparound aging-in-place plan.

What Is a Medical Alert System?

A medical alert system is an in-home and/or wearable device that allows you to call for help if you fall, feel confused, get injured, or have a medical or healthcare need. Rather than calling 911, the medical alert system directs you to a monitoring center with care professionals available around-the-clock who assess your situation and alert your loved ones and dispatch emergency medical services to your home if necessary.

The purpose of a medical alert system is to act as a “backup to a backup,” These devices do not replace the role of a caregiver, but they are an extra layer of protection and oversight for older adults and offer peace of mind to loved ones.

Monitored vs. Unmonitored Medical Alert Systems

Monitored medical alert systems connect you to a call center that is open 24/7 and staffed with operators who field calls for help, dispatch emergency medical services, and contact loved ones. With monitored medical alert systems, you get the peace of mind that when you press the help button or when a fall detection device is triggered, you’ll be automatically directed to a monitoring center that will assess the situation and alert the appropriate people or emergency staff.

Unmonitored medical alert systems have limited capabilities. While the unmonitored system will connect directly to 911 or the contacts you provide, these systems can be less useful if an emergency renders the user unable to speak or explain their current situation.

Do I Need a Medical Alert System?

Consider using a medical alert system if you live at home alone and want the assurance of a direct call for help in case of an accident, medical emergency, or healthcare need. These devices are ideal for people who are older, at risk for falls, or have fallen in the past and who have medical conditions that elevate the risk of falling.

Many medical alert systems provide text and email alerts to designated emergency contacts when an incident occurs or if the system was activated.

Other reasons to use a medical alert system include:

  • If you take medications with side effects
  • If you feel anxious about living alone or worry about getting help when you need it
  • If you do not live close to family or caregivers who can help
  • If you have a health condition that can result in confusion or wandering
  • If you want the assurance of being able to contact help when you are out of the house

Choosing a Medical Alert System

Today’s medical alert systems include a variety of features, such as being able to automatically detect falls and call for help, track your location, and remind you to take your medications. You can go for a simple system or opt for a high-tech wearable smartwatch. Of course, with features comes added cost. When buying a medical alert system, you’ll want to consider which features you’ll actually use and how much each cost.  Review the alert company’s policies so you understand how the monitoring center works, your contract obligations, and out-of-pocket fees like activation and equipment charges.

Special Features to consider:

  • Automatic Fall Detection
  • Medication Reminders (this is a reminder not a guarantee that medications were taken)
  • Wellness Checks
  • Spouse monitoring
  • GPS Tracking and Monitoring Activity Tracking
  • Lockbox for extra keys to the adult’s home

Consumer Reports and US News are great references for comparisons of Medic Alert Systems.

Does My Medicare Policy Cover Medical Alert Systems?

Traditional Medicare (Parts A and B) does not cover medical alert systems, but Medicare Advantage (Part C) provides some extra benefits that could include reimbursement or some coverage for these devices.

Do Other Insurance Policies Cover Medical Alert Systems?

Other insurances such as long term care and catastrophic benefits could cover a medical alert system subscription or equipment, or provide some reimbursement for these expenses. Contact your carrier and ask about additional benefits you may not be aware of.

Medical Alert System Equipment

Most medical alert systems are either in-home base units that operate from a landline or cellular service and include a help button that you wear. Some are mobile systems that work anywhere a cell phone network reaches. (Check to see if the specific cellular network is available in your area.).

Devices: Medical alert devices can include in-home base units that plug into a wall electrical socket and connect via your landline or the provider’s cellular service. With this unit, you’ll usually also get a wearable help button that is about the size of a silver dollar and weighs a couple of ounces. These are sometimes completely waterproof, and all are at least water-resistant and can be worn in the shower. Some companies offer mountable help buttons you can post on walls or in the shower. There are GPS mobile units that you can wear on a lanyard or as a wristwatch. Some larger GPS units clip to a belt. You can also opt for a smartphone or smartwatch that has medical alert capabilities.

Two-Way Communications: Base units, GPS devices, and wearable help buttons are typically equipped with a speaker and microphone for two-way communication. Basically, two-way communication is like using a speakerphone. This allows you to speak to the monitoring center or caregiver when you call for help. Two-way communication is a feature that should be a standard feature especially if the adult falls at the time they are not wearing their call button.

Monitoring: Make sure your medical device is part of a reliable monitoring center.  A real person should answer calls. A lot of competitors use the same monitoring center and the caller may get a busy signal instead of an operator. Make sure the monitoring center has the latest technology and resources so you can rely on them.

Medical Alert Systems Vs. In-Home Care

Medical alert systems are useful tools for providing improved safety in a home, however they do have some limitations.

Medical alert systems typically come into play only after a major emergency event like a fall, household accident or stroke. While a rapid response to one of these emergency scenarios can lower the event’s long-term impact by quickly contacting emergency responders, these tools remain reactionary.

Rather than relying exclusively on a rapid response to an emergency event, many seniors instead choose a hybrid solution that includes both medical alert systems and some form of in-home care.

Unlike a medical alert system, an in-home caregiver can proactively prevent possible emergency events by spotting and removing fall hazards, perform higher-risk chores and potentially spot symptoms of a major medical event before they become emergencies.

In this hybrid solution, a medical alert system provides coverage when a caregiver is not on-duty and ensures a timely emergency response, while an in-home caregiver serves a preventative role that lowers a senior’s risk of needing an emergency response system.

If you or a loved one are considering a medical alert system or in-home care due to a previous emergency or medical condition, now is the best time to contact SelectCare and learn how our team of home health care experts have helped New Yorkers live happier, more independent lives in their long-time homes for more than 37 years.