For many seniors and others, having either a monitored or non-monitored medical alert system at home can spell the critical difference when they experience an unexpected medical emergency occurs while they are alone. Once an alert is activated by pressing the help button, the system acts to connect the senior or system user with someone who can help them.
Monitored medical alert systems will connect the elderly with call monitoring centers where incoming calls are monitored 24 hours a day.
While monitored systems are overwhelmingly more popular with our readers, non-monitored systems serve a good purpose as well. Non-monitored systems will dial out to the senior’s emergency contacts and/or 911. In this guide, we will compare these two types of products and discuss the pros and cons of each system. With this, you can decide what to choose either for yourself or a loved one.
The typical medical alert system works like this: The senior wears a medical alert button or help button as a necklace or bracelet. In an emergency, they will press the button that sends a signal to a base unit. The base unit is connected to a phone line that dials out to either a monitoring center or other parties like 911 who can help the user.
Monitored Medical Alert Systems
In monitored systems, the call goes to a monitoring center that is manned 24/7 by professional emergency dispatching personnel. The call monitoring agent will speak with the senior or person in need to find out what the situation is. Perhaps the senior has fallen and need an ambulance, or they feel unwell and want their caregiver to be notified.
Depending on what the situation is, the agent will call emergency contacts on the senior’s file, such as their loved one, caregiver, friend or family doctor. They could also dispatch emergency medical services.
The most popular monitored systems are in-home base console units that include two-way voice functionality. By equipping the base unit with a very sensitive microphone and speaker, the patient is able to communicate with the dispatcher even if they are not in front of the base console. These products usually include an option to have a built-in cellular phone network connection, so that they will work for homes with no phone lines.
Newer mobile medical alert pendants come with a speaker and microphone set into a portable help button pendant. This allows elderly users to bring the help pendant out with them everywhere. These devices include a cellular network connection. Most are also equipped with GPS to determine the location of the system user.
Non-Monitored Medical Alert Systems
Non-monitored medical alert systems are base console units that will automatically call 911 and/or the user’s emergency contacts when the help is pressed.
These systems are also known as “no-monthly-fee” systems since they do not require the users to pay a subscription fee. When the alarm call goes out, it does not go to a monitoring center, but instead calls a designated list of people, such as a family member, neighbor and/or 911. Some systems are simply 911 dialers that will call 911 directly.
When the emergency call recipient picks up the emergency call, some systems will play a pre-recorded message so they’ll know that they have to come to the patient’s aid. Other systems will allow the senior or person in need to speak with their emergency contact.
Some senior phone systems, like the Vtech Careline, have emulated the help button feature of a non-monitored alert system. Their phone system incorporates an egg-shaped pendant that allows seniors to quickly call out to their loved ones or 911 by pressing a button.
For an example of a non-monitored medical alert system, check out the LogicMark Freedom Alert.
Similarities and Differences
Both systems attempt to address the issue of getting a senior or product user the help they need when an emergency happens while they are all alone at home. Here are some important differences when you compare the two:
The main difference is that with a monitored system, the alarm call is sent to a monitoring center, where a live person will definitely answer the call. Good medical alert companies have professional agents handling these calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
These monitoring center agents are typically trained emergency dispatchers. They are always available and have been paid to to answer customer calls, whether to help with a critical emergency or for an important but less critical issue. Some seniors may feel uneasy about calling into 911, but that may be less an issue with a private monitoring service that you are paying for.
Some companies also store personalized profiles for each customer. This feature provides an additional avenue to convey critical information to first responders. With monitored home medical alert systems, the address of the senior or system user is kept on file, so there is no need to further trace the address of the person in need.
Non-monitored systems, in comparison, will automatically send calls out to designated individuals or to 911 when the help button signals are received. Seniors can speak directly with a 911 operator through these systems.
With non-monitored systems, there are some concerns that the loved one or caregiver may not be able to pick up the call immediately. Other times, the elderly system user may be hesitant to call a 911 operator directly.
For an explanation of the 4 main types of senior alert systems, check out our senior alert systems guide.
Equipment Set-up & Choices
Monitored systems are easier to set-up. With non-monitored systems, either the senior or a family member needs to review the product manual and program the help buttons to call the right sequence of phone numbers.
Monitored systems offer a better choice of system options and equipment. They have console units that do not require a home phone line to work, as well as options for mobile GPS alert pendants, GPS information dashboards, Activity Monitoring, Daily Activity Assurance and automatic fall detection pendants.
Good monitored medical alert companies support their equipment on an on-going basis. If there are issues, customers can call to get assistance.
There are no recurring monthly costs with non-monitored systems, other than the initial cost of setting it up. Monitored systems require the user to pay a subscription fee to the monitoring center. In some cases, there are also initial setup costs.
The presence of medical alert systems allow seniors and other users to get help quickly in case they meet with emergencies while alone. Depending on what you or your parent’s needs, comfort level and budgets are, one type of system would make more sense than another. Whichever type of system you choose, please be sure that you, your parents or the system user will test it out periodically to ensure that it is in working condition.
Here are links to get more information:
Monitored Medical Alert Systems Reviews (Connects to live monitoring call center)
Non-monitored Medical Alert Systems Reviews (Equipment dials out to emergency contacts and/or 911)