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Medical Alert Systems vs. Security Systems
People who need medical alert devices sometimes end up reading security system reviews, but they aren’t the same thing.
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Sometimes, people searching for medical alert devices end up on our home security review pages. To avoid further confusion, we want to explain the difference between a medical alert system and a security system.
Medical alert devices are for personal medical emergencies, while security systems guard your property. Because they’re so different, you can use both, but you don’t want to mix up one for the other.
Typical monitoring price range
Primary protection for
The user’s home
Data effective 8/10/2022.
Medical alert systems
The typical medical alert system consists of a wristband or pendant with a button attached and a base unit that communicates through cellular tech or a landline. Some systems also include auxiliary devices, like separate panic buttons.
Medical alert systems generally serve the following two purposes:
- To provide a way for the user to get help during medical emergencies
- To alert medical personnel that the user has fallen
If the device doesn’t have built-in fall detection, the user is responsible for hitting the button on their device. Once the alert goes off, the provider either contacts the user’s emergency contact or sends first responders straight to the user’s home, depending on the device plan and settings.
Many of the best medical alert companies don’t require contracts. You usually pay month by month or in six- to twelve-month chunks (if you want a bulk discount).
However, some companies are combative if you try to end their services, even if the user has passed away. In those instances, it’s not much different than having a contract.
A medical alert device is for anyone worried about falling or other medical emergencies. Aging adults tend to use them the most, but these devices are also perfect for individuals with chronic illnesses. And the GPS-enabled ones (more on that in a minute) are perfect for users with memory problems.
Automatic fall detection isn’t a default feature for most medical alert devices unless you're willing to pay an extra fee. You usually have to pay $10 or $15 extra to add it to your system. But falls can cause users to lose consciousness or comprehension, so it makes sense to add the automatic alert instead of relying on the user to press the device button.
Also, standard medical alert devices are designed for home use. They have limited range, so generally, if you want the basics only, you’ll need to live in a smaller house or apartment.
Most providers also offer GPS-enabled alert devices that work outside of the home and allow caretakers and first responders to locate the user. You can even get in-car medical alerts that call 911 after a car accident. Just know that opting for these upgrades will increase your monthly price.
The average security starter kit comes with a hub or control panel, a keypad, a door or window sensor, and a motion detector. Once you arm your system, it’ll go off when it senses motion or when an armed door or window opens, making it easy to catch burglars and trespassers in the act.
Extra safety features like smoke alarms or carbon monoxide detectors aren’t part of a traditional home security suite, but you can often add them to a basic security package. Depending on your setup, you might also be able to integrate locks, lights, or garage door openers into your security system.
If you choose to self-monitor your system, you’ll be alerted of every breach. It’s then up to you to contact law enforcement.
If your system is professionally monitored, the provider rep may try to contact you before sending the police, or they may jump straight to alerting the authorities. (Again, that will usually depend on the plan or settings.)
Security systems are for everyone. In the past, they were permanent fixtures used mainly by homeowners, but with the advent of easy-stick systems, home security’s now more common for renters.
While medical alert devices specifically protect people, security systems protect your property when you’re gone or indisposed. Don’t get us wrong; an armed security system definitely offers your family greater safety, but that’s more of a fringe benefit than its main purpose.
Home security systems can be disabled or have false alarms. They also have varying levels of effectiveness depending on the equipment you choose and how you monitor it.
A home with a full security suite (door and window sensors, motion detectors, strategically-placed cameras) and professional monitoring will usually be safer than a home with a few sensors and self-monitoring.
While home security and medical alerts serve two very different products, they’re both designed to make people feel safer.
Because of this crossover, some home security companies, like ADT and Vivint, offer medical alert devices. (It’s uncommon for medical alert companies to sell home security, although we have seen it.)
Best known for
*Bay Alarm Security and Bay Alarm Medical operate as two separate companies.
Some medical alert providers, like Life Alert, encourage you to use the emergency button on your medical alert device for any situation. For instance, if there’s an intruder in your home, you can press the button to alert the monitoring center. They’ll send you help even if it’s not a medical emergency.
The difference is that medical alert devices are for personal medical emergencies, while security systems guard your property. Because they’re so different, you can use both, but you don’t want to mix up one for the other.
For more information on home safety, check out our pieces on ways to make your home safe and how Google Home can help the elderly.
Medical alert device FAQ
There are tons of companies that sell medical alert services only. With so many options available and with your health on the line, it might not make sense to go with a home security company over a medical alert company.
If you do, the biggest benefit is bundling services. You might get a better deal buying an ADT security system plus ADT medical alert than you would buying an ADT security system and a separate medical device from, say, Medical Guardian.
If you’re concerned enough to get a medical alarm, we think you should get the fall detection too. That’s probably the most useful feature. Falls are no joke. They can be especially damaging to an older adult.
Most medical alert pendants have panic buttons, even if they have automatic fall detection. But if you aren’t keen on wearing the alert device all the time, there’s value in having a separate panic button or two near your shower or bed.
Key features you should look for include the following:
- Automatic fall detection
- Backup battery (and number of hours it lasts)
- More than one monitoring center
- Power source (typically needs either a landline or a cell phone plan)
You also want to make sure the device has a large enough range for your home. If your home’s too big for the average medical alarm system, we suggest getting a mobile system with a GPS plan.