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Unmonitored vs. Monitored Medical Alert System: Pros and Cons

One of the most important decisions to make when purchasing a medical alert system is whether you will get one that is monitored or unmonitored. This decision will determine the type of assistance you will receive during an emergency.

Before you make your decision, you or your caretakers will need to consider the advantages and disadvantages of both options directly relating to your health and any limitations you have. 

Monitored medical alert systems

When it comes to monitored medical alert systems, the emergency call will go to a monitoring center that has medically trained staff available 24/7. If necessary, the monitoring center will send emergency personnel to your location.

The most popular monitored systems are in-home base consoles that have a two-way voice feature. The medical alert system is equipped with a microphone and speaker that is sensitive to sound so you can speak with a dispatcher. These products usually include an option to have a built-in cellular phone network connection as well, which means they will work for homes with no phone lines.

The newer mobile medical alert systems and pendants all come with a speaker and microphone built into the portable help button. This allows senior users to bring the help pendant with them wherever they go. These devices include a cellular network connection and most are equipped with a GPS feature that can find the location of the user.

Non-monitored medical alert systems

Non-monitored medical alert systems are base consoles that will dial 911 and/or the user’s emergency contacts when the help button is pressed.

When you press your help button, the emergency call will go out, but not to a monitoring center. The call will go out to a list that you made of people such as family members, friends, and neighbors. If the people on your list do not answer, then it will call 911. However, some devices only give you the option to call 911 when you press your help button.

When the emergency call recipient picks up your emergency call, some of the systems available will play a pre-recorded message. This message will let you know that they have to come to your aid. Other systems will allow the senior or person in need to speak with their emergency contact.

The goal of both types of medical alert systems is to help seniors who want to remain independent but also need the extra insurance and safety that a medical alert system provides.

Monitored help

When you buy a monitored medical alert system, there is a trained staff at the medical alert company’s control center. They are on duty for alerts from customers 24/7. An alert occurs when you press the emergency button on a pendant or wristband you wear or the sensors in the system are triggered.

An agent will respond through the medical alert base or your wearable device that is equipped with voice communication technology. The agent will speak to you in order to determine what level of help to send. The agent may send a close friend or relative whose contact information you provided when you signed up for the medical alert service, paramedics, or even the police.

Some companies have a personalized profile for each user. This feature allows the professionally trained agent to convey critical information to first responders or those who are listed on your contact list. With monitored home medical alert systems, the address of the senior or system user is kept on file, so there is no need to further trace the address of the person in need.

A monitored medical alert system can be a lifeline even for seniors who do not live alone. If a person falls or has a medical emergency like a heart attack, the agent can get in touch with other household members via cell phone or the base unit when they are in another part of the home or out in the yard. If the system includes a feature called area-of-activity monitoring and/or fall detection, the call center staff can also react to an alert without pushing the wearable.

The biggest difference with a monitored system is that when you press your emergency button, the call is sent to a monitoring center, where a live person will answer.

Unmonitored help

Unmonitored medical alert systems do not call a monitoring center when you press your emergency button. When the user presses the emergency button on the wearable or device, these systems either automatically dial a predetermined number, or a list of numbers for friends and family members that you have previously programmed. Regardless of the level of assistance the person requires, these pre-programmed responses happen every time an alert is activated. If 911 is the automatic call number, a paramedic will respond.


There are no monthly costs with an unmonitored system. The only expenses are the initial cost of setting up the device. Monitored systems require the user to pay a subscription fee to the monitoring center. In some cases, there are also initial setup costs and a monthly fee for leasing the medical alert system.

Making the choice between a monitored and unmonitored medical alert system is about personal preference. You should base your decision on your living situation, health, and lifestyle. If you like the comfort of having a 24/7 monitoring center just a button push away in an emergency situation, and you can afford a monthly fee, the monitored system may be the best option for you. However, if you feel comfortable having a predetermined contact list of numbers be the option if you happen to need help in an emergency, picking an unmonitored medical alert system may be the right decision for you.

Hannah Verret
Hannah Verret is a Content Developer at Med-Alert Pros in Memphis, TN. Hannah has been working in content creation throughout her entire adult career. When Hannah isn't writing or organizing social media posts, she's spending her time reading and loving on her many pets.

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