Innovations in senior alert systems
Probably when you think about medical alarm systems, you think about the old-fashioned ones you often see advertised on TV.
These are what I call “base-station speakerphone” systems. They’re a lot like an answering machine. (Remember those?) They consist of a bulky unit with a speakerphone which you plug into the wall and into your telephone. Then you carry around a little button that activates the system.
When you press the button, the speakerphone turns on and dials the monitoring center. The agent answers and you talk to them through the speakerphone.
These systems are not that bad for homebound seniors, especially if they live in a pretty small house. The wrist buttons are small and lightweight, and the batteries last forever. (But the buttons are ugly in almost all cases.)
Drawbacks of old systems
The biggest drawback is that they only work well if you’re in shouting range of the base station.
It really bothers me that most of the so-called “review sites” for medical alerts just repeat the companies’ claims that their systems work “up to 600 feet” or even “up to 1000 feet” without clarifying what that really means. It’s misleading and it’s not helpful to you when you’re trying to make a decision.
Yes, the button is designed to activate the base station at up to 600 or 1000 feet, depending on the button (some only work at 100 feet). But this is too far away for you to hear the speakerphone. So you won’t know if it’s working, and you won’t be able to talk to the emergency responders. (They will send help if they can’t reach you, but it adds a delay and sometimes means they send the wrong kind of help – because they don’t know what the problem is.)
If you’re not a homebound person, you really don’t want one of these systems because they’re going to end up limiting your sense of independence.
Innovation #1: Carry the speakerphone with you
You’d think this would have happened a long time ago, but it was only about 2010 that companies started making a medical alert button that actually contained a small microphone and speaker.
These emergency pendants still connect to a base station, but now the base station’s only job is to dial the phone and connect wirelessly to the pendant.
The speakerphone in the pendant means that if you have an emergency at the far end of the house, or upstairs, or in the garden, or any other place away from where the base station is, you can still have a (non-shouted) conversation with the emergency responders.
This means you’re protected if you’re in the garden. You’re protected if you’re taking out the garbage. You’re protected walking to the car. You’re protected even inside the house, if you’re in the bathroom with the door closed and the water running (and the bathroom/shower is where a lot of falls happen).
Innovation #2: Carry the speakerphone anywhere
The next big innovation is cellular medical alerts that work anywhere you have cell coverage. When they were first released, most of these systems were junk. But the current generation of mobile medical alerts are getting pretty good.
Mobile systems are smallish pendants that contain a speaker, microphone, stripped down cell phone, and usually GPS locators. As long as you have cell service, you can talk to a responder and they can find your location and send help.
But they’re not without their drawbacks. If you’re in an area with spotty cell service, like I am, you could be taking a risk. And one important consideration is battery life: you’ll need to recharge your cellular alert every few days.
A lot of companies have cellular/GPS systems now.