How to Choose the Best Patient Safety Alarm

If you care for a loved one who presents any risk of injury, be it from wandering, falling, or other factors, a patient safety alarm is a device that can give you peace of mind. A safety alarm can function much like a child safety monitor, alerting you to any circumstance that presents a possible danger to your loved one.

How do patient safety alarms work?

Selecting the alarm that works best for your situation is a matter of analyzing your needs along with the needs of your loved one. Only you know the true extent of your need for precautions to keep your loved one safe.

Safety alarms come in a range of options, and vary according to how they are activated, where they are placed, and how much movement is needed in order to trigger an alert.

Some alarms will warn you if a person has changed position in bed and may be about to try and get up when they shouldn’t. Others will warn you if your loved one has opened a door or window, indicating that they are wandering and in a potentially unsafe situation.

Features to consider when purchasing a patient safety alarm

Medical risks of injury: falling, wandering, or both?

If your loved one does not wander from their bed or chair, but you are concerned for their safety in the event of tripping and falling, or falling from the bed or toilet, the right alarm can set your mind at ease.

For a person with dementia, there may be concerns beyond falling. If your loved one tends to wander, you’ll need a safety alarm that will alert you immediately if they leave their bed or chair, or open a door or window. Some alarms will alert you as soon as their feet touch the floor.

In addition, persons with dementia are sometimes easily startled by alarm tones. You can purchase alarms that allow your loved one to hear a recording of your voice, soothing them and asking them to return to bed, rather than the usual jarring tones.

Type of placement/activation of alarm

A range of alarm systems is available. They vary in terms of how and where they are placed, how they are activated, and what kind of signal they emit.

Depending upon your particular needs, you will want to select from among the following categories of patient alarm system.

Designs of patient saftey alarms

Wireless/infrared

This wireless/infrared alarm uses an infrared beam of light to detect motion and trigger the alarm. It can be used above a door, beside a stairway or bed, or in other areas of the home. It will secure a large area and make it exit-proof and safe.

An infrared alarm system is not a good choice for high-traffic areas, as it would be activated unnecessarily throughout the day. Also, it’s important to note that this type of alarm is not specifically designed to detect falls--it simply alerts you to movement by your loved one.

Some patient alarm systems do not use infrared technology, but are wireless nonetheless. Wireless alarms are a good choice if you wish to secure an area where your loved one lives, such as their bedroom. The alarm will emit an invisible curtain of protection while eliminating the need to attach a device to clothing, chair, or bed.

Pressure-sensitive

Pressure-sensitive alarms are set off when someone rises from a chair or bed where the alarm is placed. They normally come in the form of pressure-sensitive pads that are placed over a chair/wheelchair seat or under a mattress. 

Some of these alarms are sensitive enough to let you know when someone has simply changed position, allowing you to intervene and prevent a fall if your loved one is trying to get up.

Pressure-sensitive mats can be placed beside a bed, in the spot where someone would normally stand up. This would alert you the moment your loved one is trying to get out of bed, and allow you to help or stop them.

Seat belt alarms

In this case, the seat belt of a wheelchair does double duty as a patient safety alarm. The alarm is activated when the seat belt is unbuckled, and ceases when the belt is fastened again. 

Breakaway lap cushions operate in a similar way. They combine a comfortable foam lap cushion designed to aid in wheelchair positioning with a patient alarm system. A magnetic switch activates the alarm when a person releases the Velcro closure, either by hand or by rising from their wheelchair. When the Velcro is re-fastened, the alarm automatically resets.

Patient-worn alarms

Patient-worn alarms are usually small devices that attach to a person’s wheelchair or bed frame. The alarm wire is then attached to a person’s clothing, perhaps the back of a sweater or shirt, with a small clip. The other end of the wire is attached to the alarm with a pull pin.

When the person rises from their chair or bed, the pin is pulled (much like the action of a hand grenade!), setting off the alarm.

This type of alarm may not be the best choice if your loved one is very sensitive to tactile stimuli and cannot tolerate having even a small clip placed on their clothing.

Alarms for doors and windows

These are alarm systems that attach directly to door and window frames, and alert you when either is opened. Having this type of alarm in place can help ease fears of a person with dementia wandering out of the home and placing themselves in danger.

These alarms are also useful for alerting you when a loved one is opening a cabinet, closet door, or entering other areas within the home that present hazards.

Standout brands of patient safety alarms

Two manufacturers of patient safety alarms stand out for their range of offerings and dependability.

Posey distinguishes itself as a manufacturer that offers the full range of alarm types. Its products include infrared alarms, seat belt alarms that can be transferred to different chairs as needed, door alarms, seat cushions and mats, and even an alarm specifically for use on the toilet.

Their alarm units come in a unique green-and-white color scheme. While this may seem a minor detail, it adds both a bit of cheer and the ability to locate the unit easily in a room.

Drive Medical is a trusted name in medical devices. Their offerings in the patient safety alarm department include pull cord alarms, wireless alarms, and floor mats.

Who would benefit from using a patient safety alarm?

When caring for a loved one in your home, safety is always your top priority. There are a number of reasons to consider using a patient safety alarm in your home.

If you care for a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s, a safety alarm is almost a must! It will do more than keep your loved one safe: it will act as another set of eyes and ears, relieving you of the sole responsibility for monitoring their whereabouts and safety. 

If there is any question of a loved one wandering from home, or even into spaces within your home that pose risks to their safety (for example, the kitchen or basement), door alarms are invaluable. 

And, if you care for a person who is physically infirm but fiercely independent, a safety alarm can allow you to avoid constant arguments while serving to remind your loved one to stay out of harm’s way. 

Does Medicare/private insurance typically cover the cost of patient safety alarms?

For the most part, although they add to quality of life both for you and your loved one, Medicare and insurance will not cover the cost of patient safety alarms. That said, it’s always worth contacting your insurance company to be sure.

Other things to consider before buying a patient safety alarm

Particularly since you will most likely bear the cost of the purchase yourself, it’s a good idea to plan carefully in terms of your needs before buying one or more patient safety alarms.

Talk to others in your family and ask for their input. What are the true needs and risks of your loved one? Perhaps they do not wander, but are at high risk for falling even when attempting to sit up themselves. Maybe they wander at night. Do you need door or window alarms? How many?

Also, consider long-term needs. Maybe your loved one is not much of a fall risk now, but will that change as their condition changes? Think about the future as well as the present.

Finally, always be aware that even the best patient alarm system is never a substitute for personal attention. Only you can truly keep your loved one safe. An alarm system is an assistant, rather than a replacement, in this endeavor.

 

To see a full range of brands and alarm types, visit RehabMart's patient alarms page. There you will find information to help you make the best choice possible for yourself and your loved one.

 

Author:

Co-Founder of Rehabmart and an Occupational Therapist since 1993. Mike has spent his professional career working in multiple areas of Occupational Therapy, including pediatrics, geriatrics, hand therapy, ergonomics and inpatient / outpatient rehabilitation. Mike enjoys writing articles that help people solve complex therapeutic problems and make better product choices.

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