What is a Personal Emergency Response System?

For older adults living alone, a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS), also called Medical Alert System and Medical Emergency Response System can be a lifeline, ensuring they get help right away in the event of a fall or another medical emergency. While these systems are not new (remember the Life Alert, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” commercial?), they have become much more advanced over the years.

PERS typically comes in the form of a lightweight pendant or wristband so that it can easily be worn all the time, unlike your cell phone, which you may leave on a table or nightstand. With some PERS, one must press a button to contact emergency services, while other systems automatically activate when a fall is detected. 

Once an incident is detected, the system calls a designated number, usually an emergency response center, and sometimes a designated caregiver. An operator at an emergency response center will respond, determine the situation’s seriousness, and decide whether to call an ambulance or a designated caregiver to check on the older adult. There are usually upfront and ongoing costs. 

Tips on What to Look for in a Personal Emergency Response System

Fortunately, because there are so many options of these systems available, you’ll be able to find the right one to fit your needs. Precisely because there are so many out PERS available it can be overwhelming and confusing. Here are some questions to ask to help guide you in finding the right one:

  • Is it a home-based or mobile system?
  • Does it have fall detection features?
  • Is the monitoring center open 24/7? 
  • What kind of training does the staff receive?
  • What’s the average response time?
  • Will I be able to use the same system with other response centers if I move to another city or state?
  • What’s the repair policy? 
  • What are the initial costs and the ongoing costs?

Visit Consumer Reports for comparisons of top-rated PERS. 

Health Monitors: What Can They Track?

Photo of wearable health monitoring device.

Health Monitors, also called Remote Patient Monitoring or RPM, are wearable devices—often stuck directly to the skin—that can track a variety of older adult’s vitals.  RPM technologies provide essential support for the coordination of care that complements Telehealth services.

The types of information RPMs typically track include:

  • Weight
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar
  • Blood oxygen levels
  • Heart rate
  • Electrocardiograms
  • Temperature
  • Sleep patterns
  • Hydration

Health monitors are more than fitness trackers, although some monitors include fitness tracking as well. These monitors send data directly to healthcare providers for assessment and recommendations. They also enable caregivers and family members to keep tabs on loved ones remotely.