Comparison of Personal Alarm Systems for Seniors

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As your loved ones get older, you may worry more about their ability to live alone. If they get injured and are not able to reach a telephone to call for help, they could lose their lives. Personal alarm systems for seniors allow them to summon assistance if they are sick or hurt.

These alarms can be in the form of a bracelet or necklace that the senior citizen wears, with a button he presses when help is needed.

Alert Center Assistance

When a senior presses the emergency button on her alarm bracelet, the company's call centre is notified via her home phone line. Call centre workers can call police, fire or emergency medical personnel for the customer. They can also call the customer's friends or family members to assist her. If the customer is near the system's base unit, she can talk with the call centre worker; if not, the worker will call someone to help the client.

At least one company offers a translation service that will help staff communicate with customers who do not speak English. It also boasts of employees certified in emergency medical dispatching, which can help them recognise medical emergencies and provide instructions while the customer waits for emergency personnel to arrive.

Another company says its pendant can detect that you have fallen and will call for help even if you don't press the alert button.

Unit Range and Battery Life

The alarm bracelets and necklaces must be within a certain distance of the base alarm unit to work. For some alarms, this distance is 400 to 600 feet; other systems claim to work within 1,000 feet of the unit.

Personal alarm systems can work even when the power goes out, thanks to their rechargeable batteries. One company says its system has 32 hours of battery life during a power failure. Another company boasts of a 90-hour battery life.

Some systems are programmed to notify the alarm company if the battery if running low or the power has gone out.

Optional Accessories

Companies allow you to purchase extra monitoring bracelets that can be helpful if two or more elderly people are living in the same home. There are also wall-mounted alarm units that can be placed in bathrooms and hallways and offer a backup for those who might take off their bracelet or pendant.

Customers can purchase a "lock box" where they can store a key that will allow caregivers or emergency personnel to easily access their home in an emergency.

One company offers monitored smoke detectors that can be linked to its alarm system.

Optional Services

Customers can subscribe to a reminder service that results in a worker calling them one or more times a day and reminding them to take their medication or check their blood sugar. The calls can also be set up to just make sure the senior citizen is mobile and doing well each day.

One-Time and Ongoing Costs

There are two primary costs for those who subscribe to a personal alarm system service: equipment and call centre support. Equipment can be purchased outright or leased monthly. Monitoring services can also be purchased up front for a lifetime of coverage, or they can be billed monthly, quarterly or annually.

One company charges £129 to purchase its equipment and £10 per month for the monitoring service. Another company offers an equipment lease with monitoring services for £195 a year.

Reminder or welfare calls can cost £5 a month plus 20 cents per call. Prices cited here were accurate as of May 2010.