Personal alarm buying guide: How to find the best alarm to keep your loved one safe

The right personal alarm, medical alert or panic button could help save a life.

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Senior woman looking at laptop that her grandchildren using in living room. She is relaxed and confident while she has  panic button health alarm device around her neck

Quick facts personal alarms:

  • A personal alarm can give you the peace of mind that your loved one will be cared for in the event of an emergency or accident.
  • Alarms generally cost from $150 to $500 per device, with an optional monthly fee for 24/7 monitoring by trained staff.

What is a personal alarm?

Personal alarms or medical alarms are small devices used to notify a nominated contact in case of an accident or emergency. They need to be worn at all times and can quickly and easily help someone call for help if they are lost, injured or have fallen and cannot get back up on their own.

Personal alarms or panic alarms can be particularly useful for seniors or if you have elderly parents or grandparents who do not require assisted living help, but may be at risk of falling, getting lost or having a medical emergency. Personal alarms can also be used to monitor children, those with mobility issues or those recovering from illness or surgery. The right personal alarm can give both you and your loved one more freedom and security.

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Increased safety for you or your loved ones.
  • Get instant alerts in case of emergencies.
  • Gain peace of mind that your loved ones are safe.
  • Have more freedom to leave your loved one home alone.
  • Choose between several wearable options.
  • Affordable, especially when compared to assisted living.
  • Monitored plans come with 24/7 support.
  • The NDIS, health insurance or other government programs may subsidise the cost.

Cons

  • Some people don't want to admit they need more help as they get older and will be reluctant to wear a personal alarm.
  • Must be worn at all times to be effective.
  • May include an ongoing subscription fee.
  • You may receive false alerts.
  • Personal alarms cannot prevent accidents or guarantee 100% safety.
  • Installation of in-home units can take time and cost extra.
  • Some devices require the wearer to be capable of and willing to activate the alarm. If your loved one is not able to do so, look into devices with automatic fall detection and automatic sensors.

What types are available?

You can choose between two types of personal alarm systems: monitored devices and non-monitored devices.

  • Monitored

Monitored devices are two-way speakers that connect to a landline. When these alarms are activated, the staff at a monitoring centre are alerted. These respondents will determine if there is a false alert or an emergency and follow a predetermined emergency response plan that may include alerting emergency services or calling a family member. Monitoring centres are staffed 24/7 and are able to respond to alarms at any time of the day, but you will have to pay an ongoing fee for this service.

  • Non-monitored

Non-monitored alarms are similar to monitored alarms except they require designated individuals to be nearby and able to be contacted in case of an emergency. When the alarm is activated, the device calls a list of pre-programmed numbers until someone answers the call. If the call is not answered by anyone on the list, some devices will automatically alert emergency services. These devices often require the user or wearer to be able to activate the alarm.

Who will be alerted in case of an emergency?Best for:Ongoing fees?
MonitoredStaff at a monitoring centre who can contact emergency services if necessary.
  • Those who do not have family or friends nearby
  • Those who require 24/7 monitoring
  • Those who cannot activate the alarm themselves
Yes, ongoing fees are required to cover the cost of staff at 24/7 monitoring centres.
Non-monitoredA pre-programmed list of nominated individuals who live nearby.
  • Those who have family or friends nearby who can respond in case of emergency or accident
  • Users who are able to activate the alarm when necessary
No, non-monitored systems do not typically have ongoing fees.

Cost

The cost of a personal alarm device ranges from around $150 to $500 or more. This price typically covers the cost of the device and storage.

Monitored personal alarm systems are subscription based. To get access to 24-hour support, you'll likely have to pay between $20 and $50 per month. Monitored systems typically need to be connected directly to a landline. Keep in mind, you may have to pay an additional one-time installation fee.

Some companies offer discounts for pensioners and veterans. You may also be able to receive subsidised pricing through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), health insurance providers, community services and even your local council.

There are several smartphone apps that offer similar services to a personal alarm, some of which are free. However, these apps can be difficult to use, especially for older people who aren't familiar with smart devices. Free apps don't offer the 24/7 wearability of a personal alarm and might not be within reach if the user falls and cannot get back up.

How to compare personal alarms

Once you've determined which type of personal alarm would be best suited to your needs and you've assessed your budget, consider the following additional factors:

Transmitter

Transmitters are battery-operated devices that come in two basic options: pendant or watch. Pendants are worn around the neck, while watch transmitters are worn on the wrist. Both types offer the same features and functions, but watches may be more difficult for a person living alone to take on and off. If your loved one takes their watch off, will they be able to put it back on without assistance? If not, a pendant would be a safer choice.

Some brands also have transmitters in the form of brooches or key rings, but these versions are more difficult to keep on your person at all times.

Range of activation

Some devices work in and around a home with a range of around 30 to 80 metres. Other systems have extended ranges of 300 metres or more. If the wearer lives on a large property, or wanders often, look for a device with a wide range of activation and consider the following additional tracking methods:

  • GPS tracker. A built-in GPS tracker can help you track the wearer, even if they are not at home. If you have a loved one who is prone to wandering, look for a personal alarm with GPS tracking so you never have to worry about where they are.
  • Geofencing. Geofencing allows you to create a virtual "fence". If the transmitter goes outside of this area, you will be notified.

Automatic sensors

Many alarm systems have additional sensors to complement the wearable transmitter. These sensors are typically installed around a home at an additional cost. Automatic sensors can recognise the following situations:

  • Falls. If the wear falls, the fall detection feature automatically alerts the necessary individuals. If you have a loved one who is at risk of falling and not being able to get back up, look for an alarm with automatic fall detection.
  • Inactivity. You can be alerted if the wearer does not move for an extended period of time. Keep in mind, you may receive false alerts if your loved one dozes off.
  • Increased speed. Some devices can contact you if the wearer gets into a car, train, boat or otherwise speeds up beyond a normal walking pace.

More specialised sensors are also capable of detecting urine on a bed or chair as well as smoke, gas and water throughout the home.

Battery life

Battery life can vary from a few days to a month or more. There are several different methods of charging, so make sure you choose one that the device wearer is able to use. Keep in mind, you may have to stop by and help the wearer charge the device periodically.

Most alarms will alert the wearer when the battery is running low and some offer a back-up battery feature in case of emergency or power failure.

Two-way communication

Voice-to-voice units allow the wearer to communicate with the person who receives their distress call. All monitored alarms have this function, but only some non-monitored alarms do.

Check-ins

With a monitored personal alarm system, you can schedule regular check-ins or welfare checks. During these checks, the wearer will either receive a message and be asked to press a button on their transmitter, or they can speak directly to staff using two-way communication.

Medication reminders

A scheduled alert can remind the wearer to take medication one or more times per day. This can be helpful if the personal alarm wearer loses track of time or forgets to take their medication regularly.

Durability and waterproofing

Look for an alarm that is water resistant or waterproof, dustproof and relatively durable. The shower and bath are common spots for slips and falls, so it's important to get a device that can be worn while bathing.

If you're interested in buying a personal alarm, start comparing your options today.

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