I don’t always love speakerphone-style medical alarm systems.
While these systems are the most common ones on the market, they’re not the best for most people.
Here are 3 reasons you want to avoid one of these medical alerts.
1. They don’t have enough range.
Although the companies and the shill sites that try to drive traffic toward them claim ranges of 600 to 1000 feet, they’re not being 100% honest with you.
Yes, the base station can sense the button being pressed from that distance (in a straight line, without obstructions), but you can’t communicate with someone at that distance through a speakerphone.
The maximum distance you can communicate through a speakerphone is a lot less. No way around it.
You put the speakerphone in a central location in your house, close enough to the phone line. From there, you have probably a maximum of 100 feet of good communication distance. Really it’s more like 30 to 50 feet. And if you have closed doors between you and the speakerphone, or if you have any kind of hearing problem (and what older person doesn’t have at least some hearing loss?) your ability to communicate will be impacted.
Or what if you’re in the bathroom, where most falls take place? You’ll probably have the door closed. Maybe the vent fan will be on. And the water might be running. It’ll be hard to communicate, I can almost guarantee.
Now, as long as the medical alarm system gets activated, the monitoring company will send help. But it might not come as fast or as effectively as you would like.
For a sense of what could happen in a situation like this, read this page about what happens if you’re too far away when you press your medical alert button.
Lack of good communications range in standard medical alerts is a real problem.
2. The lack of range will trap you in your home.
All of us want a good quality of life as we age. But what happens if we’re scared to get hurt and we start reducing our activities out of that fear? Nothing good.
With standard medical alerts, the problem with lack of range becomes a problem of diminished life choices and happiness.
Several elderly people I’ve communicated with have felt trapped in their homes because their medical alerts only worked well in certain parts of their home. They were nervous to go outside to do simple things like enjoy their flowers or take out the garbage for fear they would fall and not be able to get help.
(It’s also common for older people to choose not to activate their medical alarm in a fall because they don’t want to cause a fuss for other people; this is made worse when they feel like an ambulance might be sent for a simple injury.)
An older person who is scared of falling needs our support to feel more independent and more confident. In most cases, a 2-way medical alert is going to give a much greater sense of freedom.
3. You’re more likely to get stuck in a payment arrangement that isn’t in your favor
On average, most of the companies selling standard speakerphone medical alarms have payment policies that are less friendly to you, the purchaser, than the policies of the companies selling newer 2-way alerts. For example, Life Alert requires a 3 year contract that can only be broken if the person dies or moves into a certain kind of assisted living situation. Medical Guardian locks you in for 3 months before allowing you to quit and get back any pre-paid months you haven’t used. Bay Alarm Medical doesn’t return your prepaid months if you cancel (this is part of what allows them to offer such low prices, but you should factor this in).
Arguing the other side:
To be fair, there are also a couple of reasons you MIGHT want to consider one of these units.
1. There’s no maintenance or thought required. Once you’ve strapped the ugly little button on your wrist, you don’t have to think about it again for a year or more. The battery lasts almost forever, without any need to recharge or do anything. The wrist buttons are very lightweight, so you don’t even know they’re there. If something happens, you know you have the button on you.
However, this advantage disappears if you choose to remove the wrist button every night, or if you go with the belt clip or lanyard options.
2. They’re reliable. Most of “reliability” is the fact that it’s very hard to forget to wear your alert button. (As long as you’re wearing it on your wrist.) The other part of reliability is that these systems have been relatively unchanged since the 1980s, so it’s a time-tested technology. They work.
But the new systems designed in recent years also work as designed. In my opinion, there is no significant reliability difference between speakerphone models and more modern talk through the pendant models.
3. They’re affordable, sometimes. Many medical alarm companies that sell speakerphone style medical alerts charge just as much as you would pay for a more modern system. That’s because they can: enough customers don’t do their research and don’t understand their options. 90% of the time you’re not saving money with one of these systems.
4. For someone who really is home bound, these systems are the simplest way to provide that extra measure of security.