published Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Consumer Watch: How to pick a personal alarm device

Q. I hate admitting it, but a number of recent unsolicited calls have piqued my interest in buying a medical alert device. I am recently widowed and live alone. I’m leery of phone solicitors and don’t necessarily trust magazine ads. How can I learn more about these protective devices?

— Charlene Cautious

A. Dear Ms. Cautious: You’re a smart cookie! I always advocate not to purchase from an unsolicited caller, and I’m with you on many print ads, too. Further, your caution in regards to your personal protection at home is admirable. I can’t help but think back two years when I fell and broke my femur. Thank goodness my husband was home. I heard the bone break as I fell, thought it was my hip and was afraid to try to stand. I learned later that had I crawled or stood to reach a phone, these actions could have easily led to a tear and subsequent bleeding out from the femoral artery and, yours truly wouldn’t be here trying to help you stay safer.

It’s easy (and human) to want to listen to the anxious, grim voice on the other end who promises you a free device that will quickly bring help when you need it. As we all know, however, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” and if you Press 1, that free “lunch”/device becomes a scramble to talk you out of your credit card or bank account number for supposed monitoring fees or other associated expenses. BEWARE: Identity theft awaits! Do not Press 1 for any reason and, if you do so by mistake, hang up immediately. Along this same line, don’t listen to the spiels that threaten legal action, asserting you’ve already ordered the device and haven’t paid. Again, hang up the phone; never pay for anything you haven’t ordered. And as for “free,” remember that Medicare, Medicaid, and most insurance companies don’t pay for this type of equipment.

So what should you do to obtain a reputable personal alarm?

• Ask your family doctor for a recommendation.

• When calling companies, ask for written documentation about their monthly fees. They’ll be more than happy to email this info to you.

• See if you’re eligible for a subsidized program, offered by some hospitals and aging services agencies.

• Check if you can rent or buy the equipment.

• Be sure to find out how many yards away from the base you can move. After all, you don’t want to take Pookie out to tinkle and fall over the curb, only to realize your neck pendant isn’t working because you’re too far away.

• Decide whether you plan to use your land line or cellular phone. Today’s technology assures us we no longer must use our land line for the alert (or security) system or, in other words, a wireless communication path to the monitoring center.

• Check the Top 10 system ratings on consumersadvocate.org, along with all the specifics about each plan. (Hint: Numbers 1, 2, and 3 are Bay Alarm Medical, Medical Guardian, and ADT.)

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears each Sunday. You may contact her at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com

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