How Do Medical Alert Systems Work?

For many older adults, wearing a personal medical alert device, like a pendant or a smartwatch, offers peace of mind because they can get help when they need it the most. Considering that nearly 700,000 people are fatally injured in falls every year — making falls the second most common cause of accidental death behind traffic accidents — wearing a device that can automatically contact emergency services can save lives. 

But how do medical alert systems work? How are they different from calling 911 or a loved one in an emergency? Why should families consider investing in a personal emergency response system (PERS) for a senior loved one? And how do you choose the right option? 

All of these are important questions — and HandsFree Health has the answers.

The Basics of How Medical Alert Systems Work

All medical alert systems have the same intended purpose: Connect an individual with assistance when they need it

When someone using one of these systems triggers the alert, an alarm is immediately sent to a monitoring service via a wireless voice or data connection. Most PERS devices also use GPS technology to notify emergency personnel of the individual’s precise location. 

 A smiling older couple embraces on a sofa.

When the alarm is sent, the monitoring center attempts to make immediate contact with the customer. This may happen via two-way communication directly through the medical alert device (such as a smartwatch with two-way communication capabilities), by telephone, or via a nearby base unit. 

The next steps depend on whether the monitoring center is able to make contact with the individual who pressed the button and the circumstances of the emergency. The operator can dispatch emergency services to the scene when necessary, and reach out to a family member, neighbor, or other emergency contacts to respond. If the operator cannot make contact with the individual wearing the device, emergency help is automatically dispatched. 

Fall Detection and Medical Alert Systems 

Many families wonder how medical alert systems work if the wearer cannot press the button to call for help. For example, if they fall, hit their head, and are unconscious, they will not be able to trigger an emergency alert. 

Choosing a medical alert device with fall detection can help solve this problem. Fall detection uses technology to detect when the person wearing the device takes a hard fall; that is, the device detects a sudden downward movement at a certain speed. When this happens, an alert is automatically triggered, and the monitoring center can reach out to check on the situation. 

How a Medical Alert System Differs from Calling 911

It is common for older adults to resist wearing a medical alert device in any form. Some find them cumbersome, while others see them as a sign of advancing age and frailty. A common argument among those who do not want to wear one of the devices is that they can always call 911 or a family member if they need help. 

That is true — but only if a phone is nearby and accessible. In an emergency, such as a fall that results in injury, getting to a phone may be impossible. It also may not be possible to make a call during a medical emergency like a heart attack or stroke. Pressing a button at the first sign of a problem gets emergency help on the way more quickly. 

This is especially helpful when the call comes from an apartment or multi-family home. Medical alert devices are equipped with GPS, which directs the emergency responders to an exact location. 911 dispatchers can only direct responders to the address, and if the caller cannot provide a unit number, precious minutes are spent locating the right one. 

Another advantage of a medical alert system is the ability to automatically notify family members of an emergency. If a loved one calls 911, family caregivers may not be made aware right away, and have to scramble to find information. A medical alert service automatically notifies designated individuals so they can respond appropriately. 

HandsFree Health Medical Alert System Options 

HandsFree Health offers several devices with medical alert capabilities that offer peace of mind and safety for older adults and their families.

The WellBe® Smart Speaker is a voice-activated virtual personal assistant. A simple voice command will automatically call emergency services or any individual contact. The speaker features two-way communication, so an individual can get help whenever they are in range. 

The Smart Speaker offers additional features, like personalized reminders, access to entertainment, and a library of answers to health-related questions. 

The WellBe® SmartWatch allows older adults to access emergency services while on the go. The stylish, water-resistant smartwatch provides two-way communication when the SOS alert button is pushed. It also includes a pedometer and heart rate monitor to help with health management.

The WellBe® Pendant is the smallest and lightest medical alert pendant available and provides discreet reassurance for seniors on the go. The Pendant is also equipped with optional fall detection, as well as two-way communication, so it is ideal for active adults.

Choose WellBe® for Caregiving Peace of Mind

A medical alert system provides peace of mind for both caregivers and their loved ones. If you are ready to explore your options for reducing the stress and worry that can come with a loved one living on their own, or give yourself peace of mind that you can get help when you need it, start shopping the WellBe® collection today.