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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. Personal alarms when out and about
2. Personal alarms around the home
3. Choosing and buying a personal alarm

Personal alarms when out and about

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Basic personal alarms: the most basic personal alarms simply 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.

Alarms that send a signal for assistance: alternatively there are devices that can be carried when your relative is away from home that will link via the GPS system to a carer or to a 24-hour monitoring service. These systems can be a simple push button or a mobile phone with an emergency button incorporated into the case.

A number of the systems also have a falls detector incorporated. This means that if your relative 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 your relative to be found via the GPS system. Alternatively, if your relative has lost their direction and fails to return home, then you can locate them using the system to identify their whereabouts.

Personal alarms around the home

If a person is being cared for at home by a relative or careworker, there are a range of units to enable the person to call for assistance when they need support. This can be a simple call button that sends a signal to a carer’s pager, which can be clipped to a 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.

Read telecare systems to learn about  more sophisticated models that can connect to a number of sensors, such as door sensors or a bed /chair sensor. This will enable the carer to give assistance if the person leaves the property or gets out of their bed or chair.

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 or your relative 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? Your relative 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 relative’s 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.

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Page last reviewed: October 2017