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Senior Care Made Easy: How Do Medical Alert Systems Work?

It is not a myth that we are always worried about either us or our loved ones having an accident or medical emergency, especially our elderly family. And this situation becomes even worse when there is nobody to give immediate help under those circumstances. Fortunately, technology is evolving, and the new era of medical alert systems is already here to assist them in real time and provide them with the support needed during any emergency. Keep reading to discover how this fascinating technology saves lives.

What are the medical alert systems?

Medical alert systems are devices responsible for verifying the physical integrity of a person in real time. The key feature of these devices is that, in case of an emergency, they can be activated manually (by the person pressing a push button) or automatically (by the device itself using an intelligent detection algorithm), creating immediate contact with the emergency personnel to assist you straight away. In other words, medical alert systems are the intelligent bridge between the user and the emergency personnel 24/7.

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How do medical alert systems work?

Medical alert systems are designed to be friendly and easy to use, without complicated equipment, just a single push button, so that any user can simply press it, and everything else happens automatically backstage. This unique feature makes emergency alert systems perfectly senior-friendly.

The process can be summarized in the following steps:

Medical alert system

Understanding medical alert system types and features

Nowadays, there are different medical alert systems in the market, going from in-house operation to even portable. Each one has unique features that make it ideal for different cases.

Medical alert system types

There are mainly two types of medical alert systems designed for different scenarios:

  • In-house technology (AT-HOME): the device is installed in a fixed place in the house.
  • Wireless technology (ON-THE-GO): a handheld device that can be taken anywhere. They are commonly necklaces, bracelets, and watches.

Even though both medical alert systems (in-house and wireless) do the same job, they have some key differences in terms of features and cost, making them ideal for different cases.

Medical alert system features

The main objective of a medical alert system is to be able to establish immediate communication between the monitoring center and the user anywhere and at any time. Because of that, these devices are integrated with all different telecommunication gadgets such as cellular, Wi-Fi, and GPS technologies, ensuring that communication is never lost.

In addition to these, medical alert systems can also be upgraded with more technology to increase the effectiveness and user experience. Here, we have taken some LifeFone medical alert systems to show you a direct summary comparison between the two types of devices.

Used in-houseYesYes
Used anywhereNoYes
Water resistantYesYes
Battery performanceNot needed/32-hour emergency backupUp to 10 days
CameraYes (some of them)No
Speaker and microphoneYesYes
Ambient temperature detectionYesNo
Fall detection technologyYes (optional)Yes (optional)
Cellular, Wi-Fi, and GPSYesYes
Monitor heart rateNoYes

Comparison between two types of medical alert systems (AT-HOME and ON-THE-GO). LifeFone brand

Medical alert system costs

Costs for medical alert systems can be attributed to different factors: embedded technology used for building the device (hardware and software) and the operative costs for the monitoring station.

Embedded technology cost. Each type of medical alert system is equipped with different hardware technology (most importantly sensors) such as camera, temperature, GPS, microphone, and so on. The more complex the medical alert system, the higher the cost and the better the performance and quality of service it provides.
More advanced medical alert systems also have a fall detection mechanism, which not only utilizes sensors but also a special software (algorithm) to analyze real-time data coming from the sensor, which monitors the user and then decides whether the user experiences a fall or not, triggering an immediate signal to the monitoring center if needed.

Operative cost. Communication between the user of the medical alert system and the monitoring center (cellular, Wi-Fi, and GPS) requires the use of either antenna or satellite coverage from telecommunication companies.
In addition to this, the monitoring center is operated by emergency personnel, which works actively 24/7. These two factors mentioned previously produce an operative cost to the entire workflow.

Accessible cost for a medical alert system

Nowadays, medical alert system companies are providing many payment options so that any person (especially seniors) can acquire this technology.

They regularly release special offers such as free months of service based on the payment plan chosen (monthly, quarterly, or annual) and free equipment and activation. In addition to this, it is guaranteed that the monthly payment price is locked, meaning that it won’t increase in the future.

Here we summarize some monthly costs for different types of medical alert systems from the brand LifeFone:

Types of deviceMonthly cost
Smart Watch

Monthly costs for different types of medical alert systems (LifeFone brand)

In addition to this, there is normally a 30-day money-back guarantee, in which if you are not satisfied with the product, you can return it and get your money back.

Which medical alert system should I buy?

It depends on the user’s needs. For example, if the user is at home most of the time, it would be advisable to opt for the AT-HOME medical alert system. It will provide special features not found on the wearable device, such as the camera as well as ambient temperature detection.

However, if the user is used to doing more physical activities, whether indoors or outdoors, the ON-THE-GO medical alert system would be recommended.

Technology behind the medical alert systems

Medical alert systems are being upgraded more and more, embedding more sensor technology to boost their capabilities, such as fall detection recognition and GPS. Here, we will explain to you how these two technologies work.

Fall detection on medical alert systems

Let’s say you are taking the subway. How do you know if it is moving fast or slow?

As soon as it starts accelerating, you may feel a force pushing you. The force of that push depends on how fast the subway is going. This means that your body is the sensor that senses the force, your brain analyzes that information, and finally, you can predict how fast the subway is moving.

This is exactly how the fall detection mechanism works, but instead of a person, it is a miniaturized chip called a micro-electromechanical system (MEMS), and instead of a brain, it is an algorithm loaded into the medical alert systems.

The MEMS chip within the medical alert system detects the movement, speed, and acceleration of the user in 3 dimensions (back and forth, left and right, up and down). If the movement of the user increases drastically downward, then the algorithm detects that as a fall and triggers a signal to the monitoring center to start the emergency procedure.

Those MEMS chips can be made by different technologies such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, and piezoelectric materials. Each one relies on different physics principles, but all of them perform the same task.

GPS on medical alert systems

GPS is a telecommunication system with over +30 navigation satellites circling around the Earth. Each satellite is positioned in a certain location, sending a unique signal all the time. The signals coming from the different satellites travel all the way toward the GPS receiver embedded in the medical alert system. Once the GPS receiver gets the signals, it starts calculating its own position based on the satellite’s position.

Thanks to this technology, it is possible to know the location of a device with great accuracy. In the particular case of the medical alert systems, once the device calculates its location, this information is automatically sent to the monitoring center, where emergency personnel will receive it and be ready to assist the person in case of any emergency.

AI for future medical alert systems?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being integrated into various technological products. The most interesting thing is that it could also be applied to medical alert systems. How?

AI is basically a system that has the ability to interpret the data received, make autonomous decisions, and learn from each interaction to make future decisions increasingly precise. AI's real power relies on the algorithm we as humans create. This algorithm is loaded into the 'brain' of the devices (processors).

In medical alert systems, an AI algorithm could learn from every false fall alarm produced and personalize its performance based on each person using the medical alert system. AI for medical alert systems is already being researched in different universities around the world, and it is just a matter of time before we see new medical alert system products based on AI on the market.


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