Personal alarms for the elderly: Costs and tips for finding affordable options

Are you worrying about your elderly relatives’ safety but not sure if a personal alarms are affordable or worth it?

Personal alarms are handy portable devices that can save lives. In simple terms, personal alarms allow people to call for help in the event of an accident, even when a phone isn’t to hand.

Despite the peace of mind they provide, the costs of purchasing and operating personal alarms put many people off. For example, the cost of a subscription to the provider’s 24/7 emergency call centre is significant enough to dent anyone’s monthly budget, especially amidst the cost of living crisis.

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In this article, we’ll explore the costs of personal alarms for the elderly, helping you make an informed decision without breaking the bank.

Are personal alarms worth it?

Personal alarms provide a lifeline in the event of a fall, accident or other emergency.

According to the NHS, around 1 in 3 adults aged between 65 and 80 have at least one fall a year. Falls can have devastating consequences – they are the number one triggering event for older people losing independence and going into a nursing home. 

Personal alarms are designed to be kept on the person at all times and connect directly to 24-hour call centres via a simple button. It’s much quicker and more reliable than picking up the phone.

While personal alarms are generally used to protect people at home, some devices, such as GPS tracker alarms, work outside, too. They use GPS satellite tracking to pinpoint someone’s location and provide this to the 24/7 support team.

Understanding the costs of personal alarms for the elderly

The costs of a personal alarm are broken down into two components:

  • The cost of the device and setting it up (sometimes called the setup fee).
  • The ongoing monthly or annual cost of subscribing to the call centre service.

While set-up fees are far from negligible, it’s undoubtedly the ongoing subscription fee that worries most people. Monthly costs of over £20 aren’t uncommon, which adds up to a hefty £240 over a year, or £1,000 in five years of use.

That’s a significant cost for something used infrequently – or hopefully never used at all.

Let’s focus on the main providers of personal alarms and how much they cost.

The main options

There are four leading providers of personal alarms in the UK.

SureSafe offers a selection of safety devices, including GPS trackers, basic fall detectors, and pendant alarms. They offer 24-hour monitoring and support or non-subscription devices that connect to family contacts. Subscription plans begin at £11.99 per month, and one-time fees cost up to £150 for some models.

UK charity Age UK provides its alarm systems through Taking Care, which currently offers three models, all connected to 24-hour monitoring and support services. Personal alarm subscriptions start at approximately £17 per month, and upfront fees of around £60 apply.

LifeConnect24 offers pendant alarms equipped with 24-hour monitoring and fall detection. Subscription packages start at £12.99 per month for basic devices and services, with £35 one-time setup fees.

Careline supplies an array of safety alarms, including GPS trackers, fall detectors and pendant alarms, with 24-hour emergency contact centre support. Subscription costs start at around £15.99 per month with set-up fees of £40.

Setup fees do vary. For example, the SureSafeGO 24/7 costs £149.95 upfront with a £21.99 monthly fee. Their basic non-GPS fall detector is £175 and £15.99/m.

There are various extras that bump up costs, however. For example, SureSafe charges £3 extra for the use of their app, which is something to watch out for.

All things considered, the average cost of personal alarms is around £15 to £20 per month, with one-time set-up fees of £50 to £150.

Tips for finding affordable elderly personal alarms

1.    Explore different types of personal alarms

Personal alarms can either work via a base station, fitted in the home like a phone, or wirelessly, through GPS.

Base station models only work if the alarm is within range of the base station. This typically varies between 100m and 600m. These usually take the form of a watch or pendant.

In contrast, GPS models don’t have a base station and work anywhere in the UK. They’re wireless and portable, ideal for active older adults who want the peace of mind of 24/7 connectivity when not near their homes.

Portable GPS alarms are nearly always the most expensive option, but perhaps the most comprehensive as there’s no risk of being out of range.

For example, Age UK’s Taking Care Anywhere GPS pendant costs £32.39/mo, whereas their static Classic Personal Alarm costs a lesser £21.24/mo. Both have setup fees of around £60.

2.   Decide which features of personal alarms are needed

All personal alarms are fundamentally similar – they’re designed to connect users to emergency contacts or a call centre in the event of an accident.

However, there are several different features to be aware of, and many influence the cost of the alarm and service.

  • Call centre subscription: Call centre subscription is optional. You may not need a call centre subscription if friends, neighbours and family members can receive emergency calls. For instance, the SureSafe Personal Alarm costs £99.95 with no ongoing subscription costs. When triggered, up to three family and friends are contacted.
  • Microphones and speakers: Some devices only allow users to speak to contacts through the base unit. Users will still be able to alert the call centre if they fall but won’t be able to speak to them unless they’re near the base unit. On the other hand, options like Age UK’s Taking Care Anywhere GPS pendant and Careline SOS allow users to speak directly through the alarm device itself.
  • Fall detection: Most, but not all, personal alarms feature fall detection. Fall detection features automatically contact the emergency call centre if they detect a “hard fall”.
  • Phone line required: Some alarm providers require the unit to be plugged into a phone line. Others don’t require a phone line – perfect if the user doesn’t use their landline.
  • Format: Alarms are typically worn on the wrist or around the neck. This doesn’t generally affect the cost.
  • Apps: Some alarm providers, like SureSafe, offer apps that help family and friends monitor someone’s activities and movement, which may be helpful for those with the wandering symptoms of Dementia.

As we can see, elderly personal alarms can come with a wide range of features, some of which may not be necessary. They vary from simple fall detectors without 24/7 call centre support (cheapest with around a £50 to £100 one-off fee) to portable GPS alarms that work anywhere (most expensive with a £50 to £100 one-off fee and £20 to £30 monthly).

A basic personal alarm with a base unit and fall detection might be sufficient for those who spend most of their time at home. Conversely, if someone spends a significant proportion of their time out of the house away from the base unit, a GPS alarm could be favourable.

Optional features, like GPS, can be skipped to save on costs if they’re not necessary.

3.   Seek advice and recommendations

Consult healthcare professionals for recommendations and reach out to friends and family members for their insights and opinions.

Local charity support lines might be able to connect you to carers who have experience with different alarms.

4.   Consider alternatives to personal alarms

While personal alarms remain popular, other options provide similar benefits at a lower cost.

Smart home technology, such as voice-activated assistants or smart cameras, can be integrated into homes for added security.

For example, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant can call contacts or emergency services and perform a vast range of other functions that can greatly assist older adults.

Studies of voice assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant have found they reduce loneliness among older adults. They can also be programmed with handy alarms and reminders.

Smartwatches have similar features, and some come equipped with sophisticated fall detectors.

However, these technologies require some setting up and familiarisation, which can be off-putting. Plus, in the event of an emergency, it might be easier to simply press a button than shout out to Alexa.

5.   Negotiate prices and subscription fees

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, don’t hesitate to negotiate with providers to find the most affordable solution.

Ask about discounts for long-term contracts, bundle deals, or other promotions that may be available. Be sure to compare the initial device cost and any ongoing subscription fees. Add everything up and calculate the total cost over different time periods, e.g. a year, 5 years and 10 years.

6.   Explore subsidies and financial aid

Some seniors and disabled individuals may be eligible for financial assistance to help cover the cost of personal alarms. Many of these services have been cut in recent years, so financial assistance is limited.

Government subsidies, such as the Disabled Facilities Grant, can help cover the upfront costs of personal alarms.

Furthermore, local councils also typically offer financial aid for personal alarms or other resources. Most work in partnership with care and telecare providers, such as Safe and Well, who may provide means-tested discounts. Be aware that they’re still private companies.

Final thoughts

Personal alarms are a lifeline for those at risk of falls or other accidents.

Not only do they provide security and peace of mind, but they also help older individuals stay independent for longer.

The upfront and ongoing costs of personal alarms and 24/7 call centre subscription must be weighed against the costs of increased care visits, loss of independence, or even having to move out into residential care.

Investing in a personal alarm is not only cost-effective but also ensures the safety and well-being of loved ones, providing invaluable comfort and peace of mind.

We all know it’s hard to put a price-tag on such things. But it’s also necessary to carefully consider the costs of personal alarms, as they can certainly add up in the long-term.

Common questions

How much does a monitored alarm cost in the UK?

Monitored alarms in the UK typically have an upfront cost ranging from £35 to £200, with ongoing monthly fees between £15 and £40, depending on the device, level of service and features offered.

What is the best personal alarm for the elderly?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. The best personal alarm depends on the individual’s needs, preferences, and budget. Research different options, read reviews, and consult care and healthcare professionals to find the most suitable alarm.

What should I look for when choosing an elderly personal alarm provider?

Consider factors such as device features, ease of use, reliability, cost, customer support, monitoring services, and contract terms when evaluating a provider.

Are personal alarms available on the NHS?

The NHS does not directly provide personal alarms, but some local authorities offer telecare services that may include personal alarms. Check with your local authority to see what support is available.

Will my local authority cover the cost of an elderly personal alarm?

Depending on eligibility criteria, local authorities may offer financial assistance for telecare services, including personal alarms. Contact your local authority to inquire about available support.

Are there any hidden fees associated with using an elderly personal alarm service?

Always read the contract terms and ask the provider about potential hidden fees, such as activation fees, cancellation fees, or additional charges for specific features or services.

Terminology toolkit

Telecare: A system that enables remote monitoring of an individual’s well-being and safety, often using technology like personal alarms and sensors.

Monitored alarm: A personal alarm system connected to a monitoring centre, providing 24/7 assistance and support in emergencies.

Pendant alarm: A wearable device, typically worn around the neck, that allows the user to quickly and easily call for help in case of an emergency.

Fall detector: A device that automatically detects when the wearer falls and sends an alert to a monitoring centre or a designated contact.

GPS tracking: A feature in some personal alarms that allow the user’s location to be tracked, which can be helpful in case of emergencies or wandering incidents.

Unmonitored alarm: A personal alarm system that is not connected to a monitoring centre but instead alerts designated contacts, like family members or neighbours, in an emergency.

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Are you caring or have you ever been a carer for your parent or elder relative?

Are you caring or have you ever been a carer for your parent or elder relative?

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