Choosing the right medical alert system for your senior parent in the Ottawa area

March 1, 2021

You’re considering getting your aging parent – who lives in the Ottawa area – a medical alert system, also known as a personal emergency response system. They live alone and you’re worried that if they have a serious fall or health incident, they may not be able to call for help. You’ve heard horrors stories about seniors incapacitated for hours or even days before being discovered. You don’t want that to happen to your mom or dad.

The trouble is you’re not sure where to start.

When you do an online search, you come across a whole list of companies offering personal emergency response systems. How do you figure out which system will work best for your parent without it costing an arm and a leg?

Basic systems

Most basic systems are simple to install. They include a base unit that doubles as a speakerphone and a push button that can be worn around the neck or wrist. In the event of an emergency, your parent can push the button, initiating a call to an emergency response centre. Via the speakerphone, a live agent at the response centre will ask your parent if they’re all right. If your parent is unable to respond, the agent will call people on the contact list (which may include you) before calling 911.

Mobile systems

These basic systems are designed for use at home. If your parent is active, mobile systems incorporate the speakerphone into the pendant or “wristwatch” along with the push button. That way your mom or dad can summon help if they get into distress when they’re out and about.

Fall detection

Of course, both these systems rely on your parent pushing a button to call for help. That won’t work if they’re unconscious. That’s why some systems automatically initiate a call when they detect a fall. Fall detection technology isn’t perfect – you may get a false alarm if your parent stumbles but catches themselves or if they drop the device on the ground – but it can still provide added peace of mind.  

Other options

Some systems come with a variety of other options including medication reminders, health vitals monitoring, GPS tracking / location detection, activity monitoring, daily check-in services, fitness tracking, or home security monitoring. Expect to pay more for most of these. That said, if any of them are important in your parent’s situation, they may be well worth the additional cost.

Hand with a string tied around index finger
A simple reminder

Will your parent use the system?

The biggest question when considering a personal emergency response system is whether your parent will use it. In other words, will they wear their pendant (or wrist-worn device) at all times? After all, if they fall in the shower – a high-risk area – their pendant isn’t going to do much good when it’s sitting on their dresser. (By the way, many worn devices are waterproof, but you’ll want to confirm this for whatever systems you’re considering.)

That’s why it’s important to have your parent completely on board. A personal emergency response system isn’t something you should foist upon them or even give them as a gift. If you do, the chances of them using it properly are likely fairly low.


Some companies will offer no-contract monthly fees, others will require a multi-year commitment. Because you may not know whether a system will work for your parent until they try it, look for a money-back guarantee or at least a trial period where you can cancel without penalties. Also, beware of scams that may offer free service or donated / used equipment.

As with any purchase, check with friends or family who’ve used these types of systems and learn from their experiences.

Consider a lock box

Here’s something a lot of people don’t consider. If emergency responders are called to your parent’s home and can’t get in, they may be forced to break down the door. That will leave the home unsecure if your parent is taken to hospital.

To avoid this from happening, consider putting a spare key in a lock box by the front door. If the medical alert response centre ends up calling 911, they can give the combination to emergency responders.

Local companies

Want to know what companies offer personal emergency response systems in the Ottawa area? Here’s a list put together by

Companies offering personal emergency response systems in the Ottawa area

If you discover that the safety issues your parent is facing at home are greater than a personal emergency response system can solve, it may be time to start considering a move to a retirement community. We can help. Give us a call.

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Did you know that we discuss alert systems in our new online course!

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