If you or a loved one has made the decision to age in place, then you likely already understand that your caregivers aren’t going to be by your side 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Not that you’d want them to be, obviously—everyone needs a bit of privacy now and then, after all. One problem, though?
If you struggle with limited mobility or are at a high risk of slips, trips, or falls, a little privacy could go a long way towards landing you in the hospital (or worse). Even if you’re otherwise hale and hearty, all it really takes is one accident. One slick tile in the shower, one bit of clutter on the floor, one slight dizzy spell.
In a worst-case scenario like that, the elderly individual needs the ability to notify their caregiver that something has gone wrong, either manually or automatically. They need a caregiver alert system.
What is a Caregiver Alert System?
“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
You probably remember that line, even if you can’t quite recall where you first heard it. It’s from a 1987 commercial for a medical alarm and protection firm known as LifeCall. As you’ve probably already guessed, it’s basically another version of Life Alert—a personal medical alarm system, worn as a pendant around the wrist or neck, that subscribers can use to alert emergency services in the event that they require immediate assistance.
Those kinds of systems are still around today, though they’re quite a bit more advanced than they used to be. Modern medical alert devices are absolutely packed with features, including GPS, gyroscopic sensors, accelerometers, and even heart rate and temperature monitors. They still serve the same purpose now as they did back then.
Ensuring that if something bad happens to the wearer, help is just moments away.
Caregiver alert systems follow the same basic principle as medical alert systems. The main difference is that they usually contact a friend, loved one, or care provider rather than immediately flagging emergency services. In addition to notifying caregivers about potential emergencies, these systems can be used to contact the caregiver for non-emergencies as well.
In all honesty, we’d recommend springing for a medical alert system rather than a simple caregiver pager—these can not only alert caregivers, but also send notifications to emergency services as needed.
How Do Caregiver Alert Systems Work?
At its most basic, a caregiver alert system generally takes the form of a pager and receiver set. When the patient needs something, they simply push the help button on their pager, causing the receiver to emit a signal. Some caregiver pagers also feature multiple buttons to account for different possible scenarios, while others include multiple receivers.
These systems typically have an effective range of anywhere from 150-500 feet. They tend to run on disposable batteries, though some of them are rechargeable. All in all, they’re quite straightforward—though they may admittedly be a bit too low-tech for some people’s liking.
If you count yourself among that crowd, there are a few possible alternatives to a caregiver pager that you might want to consider. The first potential option available to you is a smartwatch with the My Medic Watch smart detection app. Developed by two sisters looking for some way to deal with the constant worry that their mother might fall and injure herself while neither of them were there to help, My Medic Watch is compatible with most high-end smartwatch models.
As it turns out, because these watches are so frequently designed with fitness-focused components like accelerometers and blood pressure readers, they’re also a perfect stand-in for an official medical monitoring device. The My Medic Watch app makes full use of these features, automatically sending alerts to any number of predefined contacts if it detects anything amiss such as a fall or seizure.
Caregivers and loved ones can then immediately coordinate to provide assistance, ensuring that help is never far away, even when the wearer is unconscious. The app basically combines the best features of a medical alert system and a caregiver pager into a single utility by leveraging the devices that many of us already have on hand.
You might even take things a step further and install smart contact sensors and cameras throughout your home, allowing loved ones to check in on you and make sure you’re safe (while also providing a bit of added security).
Finally, smart assistants such as Google Nest or Amazon Alexa can function as caregiver alert systems in a pinch, requiring only a simple voice command to reach out to a caregiver or medical professional. In all honesty, it wouldn’t hurt to explore all of the options described here—after all, every little bit helps.
Things to Consider When Buying a Caregiver Alert System
When you’re buying a caregiver alert system, the first and most important thing you need to account for is who’s going to be using it. What are the medical needs of the person you’re caring for? What health conditions do they suffer from that might end up being a risk factor for a serious injury?
For instance, let’s say you’re caring for an elderly loved one with a disorder that causes them to have regular seizures. A standard caregiver alert system likely won’t be enough for that scenario. You’ll need some sort of automated system that alerts you the moment there’s any indication that your charge might be about to seize—otherwise, by the time you realize what’s happening and go to check on them, it might already be too late, and they may have already suffered serious injury.
If you’re caring for someone with some form of dementia, you may also want to invest in some form of GPS, either as part of your alert system or via a separate tool. That way, if they wander off and end up getting lost, you won’t have to tear the neighborhood apart trying to find them. You’ll be able to track them down quickly and easily.
On the other hand, if the person you’re taking care of is otherwise healthy and simply chose to age in place, all those extra bells and whistles are probably overkill. More importantly, if your care is too overbearing, it might end up making them feel as though their autonomy is being violated. In this scenario, you’ll probably be just fine just sticking with a simple pager system, or even just having them install an app on their smartphone.
Other features to consider include:
- Medication reminders.
- Smart home connectivity.
- Remote access for family members and caregivers.
- Two-way voice communication.
- Two-way video chat.
- Built-in oximeter.
- Fall detection.
- In-car functionality.
- Movement monitoring.
- Daily check-in.
- Activity and fitness tracking.
- Time and date display.
- Home security monitoring.
Functionality and medical needs aren’t your only considerations, either. As we already hinted above, you also need to think about the preferences of the person you’re caring for. To that end, ask yourself the following questions:
- What style of system would work best? Ideally, you’ll want to find something that’s comfortable, easy to use, and unobtrusive.
- What type of equipment would the patient prefer? Some people might prefer to wear a smartwatch, while others might lean more towards a pendant or something that clips onto their clothing.
- What services are available in my area? Although this is less of a concern with the advent of cloud software, there are still certain caregiver services that are only available regionally. You’ll want to bear this in mind.
- Do I need the system to contact emergency services? Basically, this comes down to whether you’re looking exclusively for a caregiver alert system or if you also require the functionality of a medical alert system.
- Is it waterproof? Does it need to be?
Patient needs and system functionality aside, cost another major consideration. Although caregiver pagers aren’t particularly expensive, most modern alert systems require a subscription at the minimum. Pay very close attention to the terms and conditions presented to you.
In particular, you’ll want to look out for the following:
- Hidden costs such as activation fees, service fees, and fees related to shipping, installation, and repair.
- Free service offers—as noted by the AARP, these frequently end up being scams.
- Contracts. Avoid contracts in general, particularly those that come with cancellation fees. You have enough options that you don’t need to lock yourself in.
- Cost. Watch your wallet, and shop around. Some vendors are more than willing to fleece you if they think they can get away with it.
- Insurance coverage and tax deductions. Although most insurance companies generally won’t cover the cost of a medical alert system or caregiver alert system, there’s still a small chance you might get lucky. They may also be a deductible medical expense.
Finally, stop and take a moment to think about who will be providing the care, as well. What are your preferences as a caregiver? What features do you need to make the process simpler?
- How the system notifies caregivers when an alert is sent.
- The level of customizability.
- The range of the device—will the patient be able to alert you from anywhere in the house?
- Battery life. How often will you need to charge the system or replace its batteries?
- Software updates. If the system requires regular over-the-air updates, are these managed automatically?
- Does the system feature any sort of emergency monitoring and response functionality?
- How are false alarms handled? Are there any consequences for accidental alerts?
- What sort of customer service does the vendor provide?
- If we move, will the system still function?
- What sort of warranty does the vendor offer?
- What’s involved in repairing and maintaining the system?
How Much Do Caregiver Alert Systems Cost?
Generally speaking, caregiver pagers rarely cost more than a few hundred dollars. Medical alert systems are usually around the same price, though they generally also require a subscription fee for regular use. As noted by Senior Living, most systems will run you between $20-$60 per month.
The cost depends on both the type of system you deploy and on what extra features you choose to deploy with it. Optional add-ons such as fall detection and wall-mounted help buttons will typically add anywhere from $5 to $15 extra per month to your fees. With that said, some providers will also allow you to rent your equipment rather than purchase it outright; you might even get lucky and find a vendor that sets you up with your equipment for free.
Are Caregiver Alert Systems Covered by Insurance?
Unfortunately, no. Medicare generally doesn’t consider them a necessary expense, nor do most health insurance providers. With that said, it may still be possible to treat them as a deductible on your taxes—you’ll want to speak to an accountant to find out for certain.
Ultimately, if you’re considering a caregiver alert system, we’d strongly recommend springing for something more than a pager. Most modern medical alert systems include the same basic functionality as caregiver pagers, while also safeguarding a patient’s safety in a multitude of ways. And at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.