Needs and circumstances of the person wearing the device
You will want a device the person can operate. Do they have arthritis, which might make it difficult to grasp or press small buttons, for example? Do they have a hearing or speech impediment that would make it difficult for them to talk to the person in the call center? Will they need a daily check-in? Where is the best place to wear the device — on a cord around the neck, on their wrist, or on a belt? Does the device need to be waterproof so it can be worn in the shower? (Many falls happen in the bathroom.)
If you are considering a home-based unit, think about what range you will need — porch, patio, garage, lawn? If a mobile unit, you need to consider how it will be connected — through smart phone, wireless, or Bluetooth? Make sure the unit has a long battery life, will indicate when the battery is low, and is easy to charge. You also need to consider how tech updates are made, and be sure the device is not too complicated for the user. They will need to understand where to get service and tech support. Check to see if there is a website with easily understood FAQs.
If the system uses a call center
Find out what the average response time is. Does the company have its own call center? Beware of third-party call centers where your medic alert call may compete with reports of burglaries, fires, etc. How much training do the call center personnel receive? Do they speak the language the user speaks? Do they know how to understand and speak to the hard of hearing? Does 24/7 coverage mean there will always be a live person, or will you sometimes have to use chat, e-mail, or text? Is the system secure? Will privacy be protected?
If a home-based system
Does your device allow you to talk to the operator through the device rather than making you go to the base unit at the phone? Is it easy to set up a call-routing system that includes family, friends, fire department, police, etc.?
Don’t choose a system based on price alone. Avoid complicated pricing plans and extra fees. Avoid long-term contracts. Look for a guarantee, a cancellation policy, and a money-back trial period. Is there a return policy? Note: Medicare and private insurance will not cover medical alert devices/systems, but Medicaid may cover part or all of the cost.
Particular considerations in the instance of Alzheimer’s and dementia
Because of the higher risk of falling, use a device with automatic fall detection. Look for a device that takes into account changes in vision and hearing. Add the GPS feature so the wearer can be found if they wander off and get lost. Look for a device that is visible and easy to use so a “good Samaritan” who finds the person can use it to call for help.
The device may sometimes make a call even if you don’t want it to do so. Use a breakaway cord so the person can get loose if the cord becomes entangled in in a bed rail, doorknob, faucet, walker, wheelchair, pet’s paw, power drill, blender, mixer, etc. If your system is home-based through the phone, be sure it has a feature that allows it to interrupt if someone else is using the phone line.