Basic personal alarms for the elderly
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.
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 do rely on someone being close by to help.
There are also call buttons that send a signal to a pager, which can be worn by a professional or family carer, 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 them.
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 can be worn around the neck as a pendant, attached to the wrist like a watch strap, or clipped to a belt or clothing. They can also be attached to a mobile phone as an emergency button incorporated into the case. Some services include an extra unit to keep on a bedside table for easy access when in bed.
A number of systems also incorporate a falls detector. This means that if you were to fall over, the unit will automatically send an alert to the carer or centre that is responding. You can read more about fall alarms below.
Once a call for assistance is sent, some units also allow you to be found via a GPS system. If you’re caring for someone who has dementia, and can lose their direction and fail to return home, you can locate them using this.
Personal alarms and telecare
If you’re shopping around for a personal alarm you’ll probably come across the phrase ‘telecare’. Essentially, this means technology that can remotely monitor someone’s activity (usually in their home) and send an alert to a call centre or carer when needed.
Our guide to telecare, below, explains the more sophisticated systems that can combine a personal alarm with various sensors, such as door sensors, bed or chair sensors and heat sensors. This can alert a carer about a range of situations, such as if you leave the property, slip out of your bed or chair, or appear to be inactive for too long.
Fall detectors and alarms
As we age, the chances of suffering a fall are increased. A fall alarm gives you reassurance that if you do have a fall, help will be available as quickly as possible.
A fall alarm is very similar to a personal alarm. The key difference being that it doesn’t need to be operated by the person wearing it. Instead, it uses an in-built motion sensor to detect any unexpected fall or downward motion and raises an alert to a call centre or a loved one. Some models allow you to talk directly to the call centre in an emergency via a built-in two-way speaker.
Most are lightweight and can be worn on the wrist, as a pendant around the neck or clipped on to clothing. Most can be worn in bed, in the bathroom or out and about. Many providers offer models that combine a fall alarm and personal alarm in a single device.
Read our advice about how to spot the common causes of a fall and how to prevent them.
How much does a personal alarm cost?
Whether you choose a personal alarm, fall alarm or both, if you want to be connected to a 24/7 monitoring service, there will be an ongoing weekly or monthly charge.
The service charge for a combined fall alarm/personal alarm with monitoring could be around £180 to £230 per year, on average. The cost would be lower if you opt for just a personal alarm without the falls detector. You’ll also be likely to pay an initial, one-off fee for equipment and setup, ranging anywhere from about £40 to £150.
It’s worth checking whether your local authority offers a lifeline alarm service (see below), as this may be less expensive than going through a private provider.
Lifeline alarm services
Some local authorities operate community alarm systems for older or disabled residents, sometimes called a lifeline alarm service. There is likely to be a charge for using the service, but this may be subsidised or even free for those assessed as having eligible care needs. Contact your local authority’s social services team to find out what they offer.
Choosing and buying a personal alarm
- Personal alarms are available from a large number of organisations, including local authorities and 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.
- If you opt for an alarm that’s linked to a monitoring service, you’ll usually need to pay an ongoing subscription fee, in addition to any initial setup charge. This fee may be charged on a yearly or monthly basis and there may be an additional cost if you want extra services, such as a fall detector.
- Check the distance 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 is it to replace them?
- If you choose a wearable device, is it waterproof? You’ll probably want to wear it in the bathroom.
- You might need a keysafe (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 keysafe. It may be more expensive, but it’s likely to be more reliable.
Read more about technology that can help you live independently at home for longer, including memory aids and simple mobile phones.
Telecare systems make use of the latest technology to help people in later life continue to live independently at home.
Telehealth devices support people with health conditions, such as chronic asthma, hypertension and diabetes.
Memory gadgets can help people with dementia, Alzheimer’s or memory loss to stay safer and more independent at home.