Harvard Health Letter

The new generation of wearable medical alert systems

Cheap, mid-priced, and Cadillac. Which one is for you?

wearable medical alert system
Wearable medical alert systems summon emergency help with the touch of a button.
Image: paul6winch/Thinkstock

Times are changing for medical alert systems, those wearable devices that can summon emergency help if you've fallen and can't get up. Once the target of comedians (a stigma that kept some seniors away), the systems are now in big demand, per-haps because of an aging population, advances in technology, and the reality that one in three adults 65 or older will fall one day. Sales of the systems are rising steadily, expected to reach $21.6 billion by 2020, according to some marketing re-search estimates. "I think the baby boomers are embracing this more than the previous generation. They may be more comfortable with this technology," observes geriatrician Dr. Suzanne Salamon, a Harvard Medical School assistant professor.

The popularity of alert systems has resulted in a flood of choices. A quick Internet search reveals dozens of brands, with each company's website showing smiling seniors and streamlined equipment. You can even find the gadgets at drugstores and big-box stores. And each company offers several types of systems. Typically, there are three options available.

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