Personal alarms for the elderly and disabled people are designed to give peace of mind to those at risk and their families and carers through their functions. Variety in types of alarms, the way they’re marketed online and geo-location of the call centres can make it difficult for carers to decide which system works best for their loved ones. Based on our experience and talks with carers we’re highlighting 3 equally important points that are crucial when purchasing an alarm for an elderly or disabled relative:
1) The personal alarm unit: The unit is one of the most important aspects of the service and they’re expected to function reasonably well when required. The best way to find out about the function of these devices is to ask providers the right questions. The following questions can help:
- Is two way communication possible on the system? This is an important question to ask as some alarms will send a signal to a call centre and an operator will call the person back on their telephone or mobile. The call back will only add to the agony of the person in need of help if they can’t walk to their telephone for various reasons.
- Is the microphone on the pendant or on the unit? It is ideal to have the microphone on the pendant. However, current versions have shortcomings. They may not be water-resistant. This prevents the resident to use the device in one of the most hazardous places in the house – bathroom. Also having the microphone on the pendant can substantially shorten their battery life and make them heavier. So it is crucial to ensure the pendant is water-resistant, has a relatively long battery life and is as light as possible.
- How far is the range of the pendant from the device? Most pendants have a typical range of 50 to 70 metres depending on the buildings. However, the range can be extended. Some devices work using 3G or mobile phone signals. Theoretically there is no limitation on their range as they perform on their own rather than a personal alarm unit. However, there are problems with them, for example, they may need to be charged regularly and there can be problems with signals in some areas.
- Does the personal alarm unit have capacity for additional sensors as the need of a client changes with aging? For example, a smoke detector, a medication dispenser or a motion detection sensor. Some providers may provide a unit with the right capacity but do not provide additional sensors. It is advisable to find out how much they may approximately cost.
2) Call centre: theoretically it doesn’t matter whether a call centre is based in the UK or abroad. However, there can be substantial differences in the way a call centre is run in the UK with one run in other parts of the world. It is absolutely crucial to ensure the call centre is designed to deal with elderly people and have great understanding of their problems. Relevant questions to ask are:
- What are your protocols for falls management? What will you do if the operators couldn’t hear the resident? Will you stay on line until help arrives? What will you do if none of the key contacts are accessible?
- Does the call centre pick up low battery warnings? If yes, how do you manage warnings?
- What is the call centre’s response rate? This means how long will it take for an alarm to be answered by an operator. This is usually measured within 60 seconds, 90 seconds or 180 seconds depending on the number of alarms raised within a certain time. The response rate may change depending on the weather condition. Though it is important, how a call is handled when connected is more important. The operators should be extremely reassuring and welcoming to ensure clients use their pendants again when needs be.
3) Data: How the data is collected, checked, monitored, kept and used to arrange help is extremely important. Given the nature of this service they should be registered with Information Commissioner’s Office as a data controller, have privacy and data protection policies in place. If they are asking you to fill an online form that specific page that is used to collect data should be appropriately secured. The page should display a security certificate. One way to find out is to look for https:// in the address bar.
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