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Problems with Medical Alert Systems

Medical Alert System Issues and Common Failures


Updated January 19, 2011

Medical alert systems are used to get help when -- for whatever reason -- you are unable to call 911. Falls are the most common way for seniors to get injured. Medical alert systems provide a way for seniors to get help after a fall when they are unable to get to the phone.

There are tons of medical alert systems to choose from and new companies come along all the time. Each company works basically one of two ways:

  1. The system makes calls to friends and family directly, playing a recording to let them know you've pushed the button. This is known as a stand-alone medical alert system.
  2. The system contacts an operator who may or may not be able to communicate with you through the machine. This is known as a monitored medical alert system.

Each of these systems has its own problems. However, some things are common issues for both types:

  • These systems all require a telephone line to call for help. They won't work with cell phones and some won't work with VOIP phones.
  • The system can't call out if the line is in use (such as when another phone on the same line is off the hook). To avoid that, you have to install a line seizure device on that line. Line seizure devices let the system take over the phone line even if it's in use.
  • If you wear the pendant on your wrist and suffer a stroke, you might not be able to push the button.
  • The FDA released a report that some users were strangulated by pendants worn around the neck. Some companies provide breakaway lanyards, but others refuse, claiming breakaway lanyards might come off during a fall, which would render the system useless.
  • No matter what style you have, it's your responsibility to keep the medical alert company (or stand-alone device) up to date. Old phone numbers won't work when you need help.
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