Find out how personal alarms work, the different types available and what to consider before buying one.
Personal alarms allow people to call for assistance if they have an accident or a fall at home. They can help older and less abled people to feel safer at home, and to remain independent for longer. They can also offer peace of mind to family and friends.
On this page we explain about:
1. Basic personal alarms
2. Alarms that send a signal for assistance
3. Choosing and buying a personal alarm
Basic personal alarms
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The most basic personal alarms make a loud noise when activated, alerting people nearby that there is a problem. They are very cheap to buy but rely on someone being close by to help.
There are also call buttons that send a signal to a carer’s pager, which can be clipped to their belt or clothing. These have a limited range, so still rely on someone being in the vicinity to help.
At night, the pager sits in a charging unit next to the carer’s bed and if the carer is a heavy sleeper, a vibrating pillow alert can also be attached to some units to help wake the carer.
Alarms that send a signal for assistance
These are devices that are linked via a standalone unit to a 24-hour monitoring service or to a carer, either in your home or elsewhere.
These systems feature a simple push button that is worn around your neck or wrist, or clipped to a belt or clothing. They can also be attached to a mobile phone as an emergency button incorporated into the case.
A number of the systems also have a fall detector incorporated. This means that if you were to fall over, the unit will automatically send an alert to the carer or centre that is responding. Once a call for assistance is sent, the unit also allows you to be found via the GPS system.
If you are caring for someone who has dementia and can lose their direction and fails to return home, you can locate them using the GPS system.
Read about telecare systems to learn about more sophisticated models that connect to a number of sensors, such as door sensors or a bed /chair sensor, which are especially valuable if you are caring for a relative or friend who has more complex needs, such as dementia. These systems enable you to give assistance if your loved one leaves their home or gets out of their bed in the middle of the night and becomes disoriented.
Choosing and buying a personal alarm
- Personal alarms are available from a large number of organisations, including local authorities, charities such as Age UK and commercial companies.
- Think about what type of equipment and level of service you require, as there’s no point paying for more than you need.
- Take time to compare brands and prices to find the best one to suit your needs.
- Check the range if you plan to wear it in the garden.
- Ask how long the batteries will last for; how will you know if they’re running low, and whose responsibility it is to replace them?
- If you choose a wearable device, is it waterproof? You will probably want to wear it in the bathroom.
- You might need a key safe (a lockable box outside your home with a spare door key inside) so that authorised people can get into your home if the alarm is sounded. You can buy these separately or from the company providing the personal alarm. We strongly recommend that you buy a police-approved key safe. It may be more expensive, but it's likely to be more reliable.
- Check that the company you’re buying from is a member of the Telecare Services Association. They offer advice and information as well as a directory of providers.
Read more about memory aids for dementia in Which? Home and Garden, which includes recommendations for the best gadgets to help people living with dementia.
- Getting assistance from your local authority: if a person is assessed as being eligible for care, the care plan following a needs assessment might include paying for a personal alarm.
- Dementia and other memory problems: read about the possible causes and signs of memory loss, and the best way to support someone with dementia.
- Home security: find out about different ways to feel safe in your own home.
More from Which?
- Accessible mobile phones and digital apps: information from Which? reviews about choosing the right simple mobile phone.
- How to buy the best wireless security camera: Which? smart home and gadgets explains how a wireless security camera works and what features might be useful to you.
Page last reviewed: October 2017