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Listing: Emergency Call Systems

Media Type

Online Resource

Reviewed Date

Jan 2, 2023


Being elderly or having a disability can put a person at risk in an emergency, especially in the case of someone who has difficulty physically reaching or using a telephone. Emergency call systems can be very helpful, allowing a person at home to summon caregiver assistance inside the home or to call outside the home to a neighbor or 911.

A traditional phone or cell phone can be used in an emergency, but if a person has difficulty manipulating a phone when conditions are normal, doing so during an emergency may be impossible. Call systems are typically easier to access because they are activated by a switch or button that is always with the person. A phone may be out of reach, but an emergency call system can be activated from any location.

Many options, including alternatives to the costly hospital-based call systems, are available. The Shirley Ryan Abilitylab does not endorse any one system; we encourage patients and their families to investigate the system that best meets individual needs.

Inside the home options

In-home systems are used to reach someone who is in another part of the house. An individual may have a caregiver 24/7, but at some point the caregiver will be in the laundry room, another bedroom or otherwise occupied. These methods can be used for calling attention to a medical problem or just summoning assistance.

Some low cost and easy to install options:

  • Baby monitor - low cost way to summon assistance. Sources: drug or discount stores
  • Intercom - one or two way voice communication system with hands-free or pushbutton activation. When it is in hands-free mode, it acts like a baby monitor.
  • Chime alarm - Powered buzzer that can be plugged into any room and operated remotely via an X10 handheld transmitter. Sources:
  • Personal pager - Help is summoned by pushing transmitter button; receiver unit beeps or vibrates to notify others that help is needed. The unit from Adaptivation is modified to accept an alternative switch if the standard button cannot be pressed. Some versions also flash a light, if needed. Sources: LS & S, Radio Shack, Adaptivation.
  • Wireless doorbell - inexpensive way to call for assistance. A transmitter button is pressed and the receiver rings. The receiver can be carried in a pocket or placed in a central location. Sources: home repair stores or online

External call systems
External call systems are used when there is no other person in the house. These systems, either monitored or non-monitored, alert someone outside the house in case of an emergency. Typically this person is a family member or neighbor who can easily respond.

Non-monitored emergency call systems
These are stand-alone systems that are available for purchase. Pressing the button on a pendant initiates the unit to dial pre-stored telephone numbers of a neighbor or relative. When the call is answered, a pre-recorded message provides information about the caller. (For example "This is Joe Smith. I live at 123 Main St. I have a heart condition. Please send assistance.") Some units allow a person receiving the call to communicate with the caller. Other systems just send the alert. These systems cost about $90-$150 to purchase. There are no additional monthly fees.
See below for resources.

Monitored emergency call systems
These systems are designed for people who are home alone. In the event of an emergency, the user activates a speaker phone which automatically dials a 24 hour answering service. The phone call is initiated by pushing a button on a pendant that is worn on a wrist or a necklace. Adaptive switches are available for people with limited hand function. The answering service has information on the caller’s medical conditions, medications and emergency contacts. The service calls 911, a neighbor, or takes other actions while staying on the line. In the event that the caller cannot speak, there is a pre-arranged plan to have someone physically check in at the caller’s home. Monitored call systems charge a monthly fee, typically between $40-$70/month. See below for resources.

Resources for non – monitored systems
• Home Technology Systems MainStreet messenger
• Life Alert Cellular 911- only dials 911 services
• Skylink AD-105 Dial-Alert Emergency

Resources for monitored systems:

ADT Medical Alert Systems
(800) 248-1246

American Medical Alarms, Inc.
No equipment or activation fees

Bay Alarm Medical
No long term contact| No up front fees
Can be coordinated with landline or cell phone
Provides bracelets or pendents that are 100% waterproof
Also has option to include a button for the bathtub.

Life Alert
Help, I've fallen and I can't get up.

Lifeline Medical Alert Systems 
many options for your mobile safety. Philips co.

LifeStation, Inc.
(866) 323-1443

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This content is for informational purposes only and may not be comprehensive. Information contained does not imply an endorsement from Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, and does not replace the advice of a qualified healthcare professional.  See here  for further details.

© Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (formerly Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago)
Henry B. Betts LIFE Center – (312) 238-5433




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