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Are Medical Alert Systems Reliable?

As a growing segment of the population in the United States continues to age, the need for medical alert systems also is increasing. Baby boomers and the generation beyond want the option of staying in their homes - rather than being forced to live in a nursing or personal care home - for as long as possible.

But with age come new challenges and illnesses which can make it difficult to remain in your own home, especially if you live alone. Adult children of aging parents also face the unique challenge of being able to help their parents remain independent, even if they do not live close enough to regularly check on them in person.

So how does an aging population maintain its independence without stressing out friends and family?

Enter the medical alert system, and all of these stressors are greatly diminished.

There are a variety of medical alert systems on the market today, but they all basically work the same. The person wears or carries with them a transmitter, which communicates wirelessly with a remote device which is plugged into a landline telephone jack. If a person requires assistance, they simply push the button on their wearable device. That sends a signal to the remote base, which in turn contacts the call center associated with the medical alert system.

Most medical alert systems have their own operations centers, so calls go directly to them, rather than being routed to 911. The person who activated the device can then speak to the communication center, indicating the nature of their problem. The person at the communication center must then decide whether to call for an ambulance, or to alert a friend or family member who can assist in person.

Some medical alert systems even are designed to detect when a person wearing them falls. In these cases, the person may be unconscious and unable to push a button to request help, so the device automatically will send a report to the communication center.

Sounds great, right? In theory, these kinds of systems seem like the perfect solution to those who wish to remain in their homes, with the added security of knowing help is just a button push away. But how reliable are these kinds of systems?

According to the companies which sell them - and the various testimonials posted about them - the devices are incredibly reliable. The wearable units, of which the majority is waterproof, have a battery life span of three to five years on average. So there is little concern the unit will require frequent battery changes, or that the user will be unprotected while it charges.

Even during a power outage, customers are protected for 24 to 36 hours, depending on the brand name of unit they purchased. Most devices now come with a back-up battery supply for such times. The only time this will be an issue is if the person using the medical alert device does not have a traditional landline telephone, but rather has Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP, service through a cable company. Modems which operate VOIP systems lose power during a power outage, which will prevent the medical alert system from functioning. Those who wish to ensure their safety during a power outage should connect their devices to a traditional telephone landline.

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