Setting up a personal alarm for your elderly relative: Telecare alarms made simple

What happens if your elder parent or relative has a bad fall or accident and can’t access their phone?

It’s a question that has many of us worried at some point. Fortunately, personal alarms are built for this exact purpose and can succeed where phones and other communication devices fail.

The good news is, setting up a personal alarm for an elderly relative has become more straightforward.

Though it might seem overwhelming if you’ve never done it before, knowing where to start is half the battle.

This article will guide you through the essential steps, making the process of choosing and implementing telecare alarms for your loved ones simple and stress-free.

Deciding what kind of alarm your relative needs

Choosing the right personal alarm for an elderly relative is crucial to ensuring their safety and well-being. While not all elderly individuals require a personal alarm, they can provide peace of mind and assurance that even in the absence of a phone, help is never too far away.

The decision to choose a personal alarm must consider various factors, including individual needs, specific safety concerns, medical conditions, and the level of support required.

Here’s an overview of the aspects you should weigh before selecting the best alarm system:

Individual needs and challenges

Consider the daily activities and lifestyle of the elderly person.

A base station model might suffice if they spend most of their time at home or when most risks are faced at home (i.e., when they’re at home, they tend to be alone).

Conversely, a GPS model would provide 24/7 connectivity anywhere in the UK if they’re often out and about.

Here’s a brief summary:

  • Base station models: These models work within a specific range (typically between 100m and 600m) of the base station, fitted like a phone in the home. They usually come in the form of a watch or pendant and are generally more affordable.
  • GPS models: GPS alarms don’t have a base station and work anywhere in the UK. They’re wireless, portable, and ideal for active older adults. They tend to be more expensive but provide comprehensive coverage.

Features to consider

Here are the main features you’ll encounter when choosing a personal alarm:

  • Call centre subscription: Call centre connections enable people to contact a 24/7 hotline that can connect them to appropriate emergency services and selected contacts, but this typically comes at a subscription fee. A call centre subscription might be unnecessary, as some alarms can contact friends and family directly without additional costs.
  • Microphones and speakers: You’ll need to choose between devices that allow communication through the base unit only or those that enable direct speech through the alarm device itself.
  • Fall detection: This feature automatically contacts emergency services if a hard fall is detected by the wearable pendant or watch.
  • Phone line requirements: Some alarms require a phone line, while others operate independently. Increasingly, personal alarms are entirely digital and work through mobile phone networks or WiFi. These are sometimes called ‘no phone line personal alarms’ and will work post-digital switchover (planned for 2025). More on that shortly.
  • Format: Portable alarms can be worn around the wrist or neck, depending on personal preference.
  • Apps: Providers like SureSafe offer apps for monitoring activities, useful for those with dementia.

Cost considerations

Cost varies widely, with basic fall detectors costing a one-off fee of £50 to £100 and comprehensive GPS alarms costing £50 to £100 initially, with monthly fees of £20 to £30. More on this shortly.

Consult with a professional

If possible, speak with the individual’s carer, GP or healthcare provider to understand their specific needs.

They can provide insights into suitable options, such as whether fall detection is essential or if a simpler system would suffice.

Impact of Digital Switchover by 2025

The UK is on the path to phase out traditional analogue landlines by 2025.

For many, the switch has already happened, for example, if a home has full-fibre broadband and the phone is connected to the broadband port or router.

The government estimates that the switchover could affect some 2 million people with personal alarms in the UK. This is an inconvenience, as many elderly individuals remain unaware of the switchover and may own outdated telecare devices that will eventually cease to work.

It’s therefore vital to ensure all personal alarm systems operate either through mobile phone networks or WiFi. Mobile phone network-enabled systems are ideal for when an individual doesn’t have WiFi. Examples include Age UK’s Age Co Digital Personal Alarm.

Here’s a more in-depth look at what this means for personal alarms:

  • Compatibility concerns – If your relative’s chosen alarm system relies on traditional landlines, it could become obsolete with the digital switchover. Therefore, it’s essential to ensure that the alarm system is compatible with the upcoming digital infrastructure or has the capacity to be upgraded.
  • Alternative communication methods – Many modern alarm providers already offer models that don’t require a landline, such as those using broadband or mobile networks. These alarms can provide continuous coverage without being affected by the switchover.
  • Transition plans – Speak with your relative’s alarm provider about their plans for the digital switchover. Reputable companies should have strategies in place to support customers through the transition, including offering upgrades or alternative solutions. Check for any potential costs associated with these changes.

Choosing a provider

Selecting the right provider for a personal alarm system is no small task, especially with many providers available.

Below are some of the main considerations.

Researching and comparing providers

Utilise comparison websites

Websites like Which? and other consumer guides provide invaluable comparisons and reviews.

Take advantage of these resources to understand the key features, pros, and cons of different alarm systems.

Consider different factors

Evaluate factors such as cost, features, customer service, and flexibility to your relative’s changing needs. Here’s a glance at some leading providers:

  • SureSafe: Offering various safety devices like GPS trackers, fall detectors, and pendants, with subscription plans starting at £11.99/month and one-time fees up to £150. Extras like their app may incur additional charges.
  • Age UK through Taking Care: Providing three models all connected to 24-hour monitoring, with subscriptions of around £17/month and upfront fees of £60.
  • LifeConnect24: Focusing on pendant alarms with 24-hour monitoring and fall detection. Subscriptions start at £12.99/month, with a £35 setup fee.
  • Careline: Offering a wide variety of alarms, including GPS trackers, fall detectors, and pendants, with subscriptions of around £15.99/month and set-up fees of £40.

Keep an eye on the varying setup fees and any extras that may increase costs. The average price is around £15 to £20 per month, with one-time setup fees of £50 to £150.

Contacting local authorities

Seek recommendations and support

Local authorities may have recommendations or even offer financial support in some cases. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them to explore your available options.

Some local councils may partner with specific providers, offering discounted services or specialised support. Inquire about any such arrangements that might benefit your situation.

Age UK has a guide on reaching out to your local council here.

Communicating and negotiating with the provider

Once you’ve settled on the type of alarm system and selected a provider, you’ll often need to contact them and discuss your relative’s needs and requirements.

Providing accurate information

Giving the provider as much relevant information as possible enables them to make appropriate recommendations and tailor the service to your relative’s situation.

Don’t hesitate to ask plenty of questions about the service, clarify terms and conditions, and inquire about any additional features that might be beneficial.

Be aware of any unneeded upsells.

Negotiating service costs

Some providers may be willing to negotiate service costs or offer discounts.

Set up and installation

The next step in setting up a personal alarm for an elderly relative is installing the device.

This process will vary depending on the type of alarm chosen.

Understanding different set-up processes

Different types of alarms have various set-up processes. Some may require professional installation, while others can be self-installed.

Self-installation has become more common in recent years.

Importance of testing the alarm

Once installed, it’s crucial to test the alarm to ensure it functions correctly.

The alarm should also be tested periodically. Check to see if the provider or manufacturer has recommendations on how often.

Additionally, it’s sensible to test the distance on the alarm to ensure it works in the garden.

Ensuring correct and safe installation

Installing an alarm includes choosing an optimal location, ensuring all wires and components are secure, and following the provider’s guidelines carefully.

Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and test the alarm thoroughly.

Teaching and encouraging your relative to use the alarm

Once the alarm is installed, it’s time to get to grips with how to use it.

While most modern alarms are designed to be thoroughly user-friendly, there still may be some technical nuances to run through with your relative.

Explaining the alarm system clearly:

  • Break down the process – Understanding how to operate the alarm system may be overwhelming for some. Break down the process into simple, manageable steps and take the time to demonstrate each one.
  • Simulate scenarios – If they have specific concerns, such as triggering a false alarm, simulate the scenario to demonstrate how it would be handled. This can alleviate fears through practical experience.

In summary

Setting up a personal alarm system for an elderly relative requires careful consideration of individual needs, the right selection of system and provider, and robust installation and testing of the system.

The Digital Switchover is a key consideration, and many providers already offer compatible products that use WiFi or mobile phone networks. It’s essential to be aware of this, as these newer devices are often more expensive than traditional line-connected systems.

Moreover, be aware that if you opt for a WiFi system, you’ll need to plug it into a router.

With thoughtful planning and regular testing, a personal alarm system offers invaluable peace of mind and safety.

Common questions

  • How do personal alarms for the elderly work?

Personal alarms for the elderly work by directly linking to a response centre or designated contact.

A signal is sent with the push of a button, meaning help is available when the phone is not.

  • Do you still need a landline to have a personal alarm set up?

While many personal alarms were traditionally connected via a landline, modern systems often use mobile or digital connections.

Always check with the provider for specific requirements, especially with the upcoming digital switchover planned for 2025.

  • What exactly happens when someone presses the alarm?

Depending on the system, the alarm button sends a signal to a monitoring centre, family member, or friend.

Trained operators or designated contacts can then speak with the user and send appropriate help if necessary.

  • How do I know if a personal alarm is right for my parent/elderly relative?

Consider factors like their health conditions, mobility challenges, and comfort with technology.

Most personal alarms today are highly user-friendly.

  • How do I know if the telecare provider is reputable and reliable?

Look for online reviews, testimonials and certifications. There are only a handful of providers in the UK, including charities such as Age UK, simplifying the selection process.

  • How long does it take to install a personal alarm system?

Installation time varies depending on the system. The user can install some within minutes, while others may require professional installation, but this is uncommon today.

  • Can I try out a personal alarm system before committing to a long-term contract?

Many providers offer money-back guarantees, trial periods or short-term contracts to allow users to test the system. For instance, Age Co (from Age UK) typically offers a 30-day money back guarantee. Ask the provider directly about these options.

  • What happens if I want to cancel a telecare service?

Cancellation policies vary by provider. Before committing to a contract, it’s essential to understand the terms and conditions of cancellation, including any potential fees or notice periods.

Terminology toolkit

  • Base Station: A device in the home that connects with the personal alarm, usually within a specific range.
  • Pendant Alarm: A wearable device, often around the neck, that can be pressed to send an alert.
  • Fall Detection: A feature that automatically detects if the wearer has fallen and sends an alert.
  • 24-Hour Monitoring: Continuous support and monitoring, where a call centre is available to respond at any time.
  • Digital Switchover: The transition from analogue to digital technology may impact alarms relying on traditional landlines.
  • Wandering Symptoms of Dementia: In some individuals with dementia, there is a tendency to wander or become lost; some alarm systems can track movement to assist in these cases.

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