Welcome to the Tech-enhanced Life guide to medical alert systems & services for older adults. (These products are also known as personal emergency response systems, or PERS.)
This guide is designed to help you answer the question: “Which medical alert system is right for me?”
If you are looking for independent, objective evaluations of medical alert systems — that include actual hands-on testing — you have come to the right place.
Table of Contents
- Introduction. How to use this Guide
- About our Research
- What is a Medical Alert?
- How to Choose the Best Medical Alert System for YOU
- Selection Tool
- Just Tell Me What to Buy
- Medical Alert System Reviews
Introduction. How to Use this Guide.
In our research we have found that while there is no one “best medical alert system” for everyone, there are often a handful of systems which are best suited to any given individual.
But which flavor of system matches your needs, and which exact products have those characteristics? And of those, which is “best of breed”?
In this work we have tried to create an independent and objective guide that helps you:
- understand what types of medical alert systems exist;
- decide which flavor will be right for a specific individual;
- sort through the marketing chaff to generate a short list of products that have the right feature set for your needs; and
- pick the “best of breed” based on independent and objective analysis and testing, supported by clearly explained data.
If you need to buy a medical alert system now, you will want the Selection Tool, as it helps turn a set of desired features into a short list of actual products.
Before using the Selection Tool, you may need to read the section below on “What is a Medical Alert” and follow the links to the lecture or tutorial — to understand what features are likely to matter to you, and which flavors of medical alert system are likely to suit your life situation.
Once you know which types of product you need, you can use the Best of Breed Recommendations to learn which products worked best within a given category. And the individual Medical Alert System Reviews are where we document our testing, and summarize what we learned about individual products.
Sometimes, we get feedback along the lines of “I don’t want to become an expert on medical alerts. Just tell me what to buy“. In Medical Alerts: Just Tell Me What to Buy” we make specific product recommendations for several individual “personas”, so all you need to do to get some specific recommendations is to identify which persona is the best match to the person for whom you are shopping.
About Our Research
We started evaluating medical alert systems back in 2015, when members of the Tech-enhanced Life community told us they were having great difficulty making sense of the competing marketing claims, and that there seemed to be no objective source of information on the Internet about these products.
In our initial evaluations we acquired, and did in-depth, hands-on evaluation of over 50 medical alert products, and then published our research in the form of this “Selection Guide” and accompanying “Selection Tool” — so others could benefit from our work.
Since 2015 we have updated this research multiple times, and expanded it, and today it represents a rather comprehensive resource for anyone who needs to find the right medical alert for a specific life situation.
The people who do the actual evaluations are technologists rather than journalists, and are themselves either older adults or the children of aging parents.
And for our initial research project, we recruited a panel of expert advisors to guide our questions, including clinicians and aging services professionals with extensive experience in working with the older adult population that uses these medical alert systems. Professional competencies in the advisor panel included social work, physio-therapy, and nursing, and experience operating independent living communities.
We strive to produce independent and objective research — with a focus on helping older adults and their families.
Thus, our research is NOT funded by any of the vendors. Nor do we accept sponsored content or allow the medical alert manufacturers or distributors to influence what we write. For our initial research project we acquired all the products at our own expense, without the vendors being aware we were conducting the study. As we subsequently updated our research, we sometimes ask the vendors to loan us the equipment.
We do sometimes use affiliate links, which means that if you purchase products that you learn about on this website, we sometimes receive compensation as a result of being a member of an affiliate program. See How we Fund our Research.
You can read why we created this guide to medical alert systems, and some testimonials from people who have found it useful here:
What is a Medical Alert System?
A Medical Alert System is an electronic “gadget” that includes some type of button you press, or an automatic sensor that detects you have a problem. When you press the button or the problem is identified, the system somehow sends a message to a “responder” and then that responder takes some action — if necessary summoning help in the form of the emergency services (eg 911).
Medical Alert Systems are conceptually simple. You press a button and help comes.
But when it comes down to choosing one, it turns out there are quite a few subtleties that one needs to take into account to be sure of choosing the best medical alert for a given person.
Our companion Selection Tool is designed to help make an actual product choice. But to use it well, you really need to know which types of features you actually want.
To get an introduction to the different types of medical alerts, and how to think about what is most important for your specific life situation, learn more using the two pieces of content below:
- A “tutorial” explaing what medical alert systems do, and the key features; and
- A video lecture by Dr. Caro explaining what medical alerts do; which features mater most; and how to approach selecting the right one for you.
Tutorial: The Basics
- Start with this tutorial if you want a basic tutorial on what a medical alert system is, and how they work.
For most readers, a recording of a lecture (with slides) is a great way to get an overview of the medical alert system topic.
We have a recorded lecture (audio plus slides) of Dr. Richard Caro presenting to a collection of Washington-based “Villages” on: Summoning Help in an Emergency: Devices; Emerging Trends. The focus of the lecture is “How to Choose a Medical Alert”.
If you would like to watch this lecture (it’s free), sign up at the link below, and we will email you an invite to watch the lecture (online), at a time of your convenience.
- Get access to the lecture on medical alerts (and our “Medical Alert Email Series”).
How to Choose the Best Medical Alert System for You
We believe the quest for the best medical alert system starts with a series of questions about your needs, and then some answers that lead to a choice of a specific “category” (we call them flavors elsewhere) of medical alert system.
Only after figuring out which “category” is right for you, is it time to dig into the “Best of Breed” analyses or the “Selection Tool” discussed below.
(If you are confused about the different terminology, personal emergency response system is an alternate term for what are more commonly known as medical alert systems. These products are also called PERS)
Why Comparative Evaluation is Key
The Internet is chock full of material about medical alert systems, as it is a fairly large market with a lot of small companies all competing to sell you their products.
You can find numerous “review sites” for this category of product. But almost no actual hands-on testing. In fact, when you read the majority of the “review sites”, it seems clear that no-one has actually tested the products at all. And the “reviews” are mostly repurposed marketing material from the companies that make the products.
We think it is essential to perform actual, hands-on testing of these products if one wants to make specific recommendations.
But we think you need to go further than that. For each “category” of medical alert system, we decided what is needed is a sort of comparative evaluation of the most promising products in that category. This way we end up being able to recommend both the best medical alert system in a specific category, as well as the best medical alert system for a specific person.
When we do a deep dive into one of the subcategories of medical alert — what we call a “best of breed” analysis — we include the following steps:
- generating a list of the most promising products in the category (“breed”) using various types of desk research;
- acquiring all the most promising products in the category;
- designing a simple research protocol to let us do a comparative evaluation that tests the more important features of the products;
- carrying out actual hands-on testing of the individual products, each with the same protocol, and capturing the results;
- synthesizing what we learned and condensing it into a simple “best medical alert system” report for each category.
More useful than reviews alone
We do indeed capture our analysis of each specific medical alert and write it up in a review, and you can find our medical alert reviews here.
However, unless you are the sort of person who likes to pore over individual reviews yourself, make a detailed table of comparisons yourself, and then decide which features matter most for the analysis, we think it is far more helpful to have the sort of best of breed comparative analysis we have created here.
Specific Best of Breed Comparisons
Here are some of the most popular “best of breed” analyses.
Selection Tool: Choose a Medical Alert
If you already know what features you want in a medical alert system, use the selection tool to turn that list of features into a list of specific products. And access reviews and analysis of those products from our analyst team.
Choose the Best Medical Alert System for YOU.
Just Tell Me What to Buy!
Some people like to understand all the nuances and then make their own decisions. We designed the Selection Tool (above) with that sort of person in mind.
For those of you whose point of view is “I don’t want to become an expert on this stuff. Just tell me what to buy!“, we added a section in which we make specific product recommendations for each of several specific personas. So all you need to do is to pick the most relevant persona, and then you can see what we recommend. Of course, you can always go back and broaden your search later with the Selection Tool if you wish.
The bad news is that different types of people really should buy different types of medical alert systems. So there is not “one best medical alert for most people”.
The good news is that its pretty easy to group people into some broad “categories” — which we call personas. And for a given persona there are indeed some specific products we recommend.
We created several distinct “personas”, as follow:
- “Go-Go” Persona;
- “Slow Go” Persona;
- “No Go” Persona;
- “Needs Some Care” Persona;
- “24/7 Care at Home” Persona.
Specific Medical Alert Recommendations for Each Persona
Follow the green button below to see detailed descriptions of the personas, and then specific product recommendations for each different persona.
Choose a Persona that matches your situation.
Medical Alert System Reviews
The best way to access the individual reviews of the medical alert systems in this guide, is via the Selection Tool (above). It will let you narrow down your selection using a set of feature selectors, and then you will be able to click through to individual reviews of the products that match your needs.
If you prefer to go straight to the product reviews, follow the green button below. You can also see the reviews for the top ranked medical alert systems if you scroll down.
Hands-on Evaluation and Testing.
Individual reviews for many different medical alerts.
Best Fall Detection Watch: Hands-on Evaluation
Which is the best fall detection watch, many older adults and their families are wondering? We look at how to choose the best fall alert watch for a given individual. The evaluations described here include actual hands-on testing, done by technologists who also happen to be older adults.
Best Medical Alert Systems with GPS
At Tech-enhanced Life, our community of technologists, Longevity Explorers, and children of aging parents have been conducting hands-on, comparative evaluation of a wide variety of different medical alert products for years. In this article we dive into a specific sub-category of medical alerts: medical alert systems with gps — with the goal of helping people choose the best products in this category.
Smartwatch as Medical Alert?
For years we have been hearing older adults complain about how ugly and stigmatizing medical alerts are. As one lady told us: “My medical alert button makes me look like I escaped from the Intensive Care Unit. So I hardly ever wear it“.
A handful of medical alert watches have come to market that look like smart watches, and have some or all of the functionality of stylish smartwatches, but also work as medical alerts. We wanted to see how well they worked, and set out to test them — hoping they might change this dynamic. Here are the results, updated for 2021.
Mobile Alert Systems: Comparison Testing
We did hands-on, comparative evaluations of mobile alerts: a specific sub-category of medical alert systems. We looked at appearance, ease of use, speed to respond when we pressed the “help” button, how well the “location capability” worked in various different locations, battery life, sound quality, price, and more. While none of the products was “perfect”, several worked rather well. But some fell short.