Being a caregiver for your elderly loved one can be demanding, and even if you put in all the effort, you cannot always minimize the risks – the risk of them falling, or wandering off on their own and getting losing their way.
One of your options is installing bed guardrails on their bed, but most patients find them inconvenient, and some outright reject the idea, because they’ll be giving up their freedom. But more importantly, side rails pose a serious safety risk. The elderly may try to exit the bed and get stuck inside them – something which can choke them. If not that, they might try to climb over the rails and if they fall, they’ll sustain injuries, or worst, fractures. It is not unheard of for patients to die or gravely injure then when trying to exit a bed with guard rails.
Fortunately, there’s a better solution. A solution which notifies you every time your loved one is in the need of assistance — a tool which can shoulder part of your responsibility.
This tool is called a bed alarm and it’s meant to prevent injuries from falling, safeguard your loved against wandering, and alert you when they need your assistance with using the bathroom. But it doesn’t just care for the well-being of your patient, it also gives you peace of mind. The fact that the alarm is monitoring them for you and until it goes off, they’re safe, and you don’t have to check on them every few minutes or constantly hover over them.
If your elderly loved needs to be cared for, but they’re living at home, a bed alarm is a must-have, especially if they suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia of any kind. It can be equally helpful even if they’re residing at a nursing home.
But since you’re making this investment for your loved one and their safety is your first priority, it’s crucial that you do your research, and find a product that is not only reliable and cost-effective but also serves the unique needs of your loved one.
For instance, you might need to install a certain number of alarms on windows and doors if they wander. Or if they’re at the risk of falling and hurting themselves, it’s important that you shortlist their unique needs and precautions – because you know those particular risks better than anyone, and then make the decision accordingly.
Admittedly, it can be a bit confusing, and even daunting to some, because there are quite a few options available, and almost all of them have their perks and downsides. This guide aims to aid you in your decision-making process. It’ll go at length to explain everything you need to know about bed alarms, and then list a few best picks available in the market today.
What is a bed alarm?
As the name suggests, a bed alarm responds to a patient’s motion when they try to get out of their bed. This response, however, can be triggered by different levels of movements and by one of several different mechanisms. As mentioned above, you’ll have to take these variations into account before you can decide on a product.
Some of them are so sensitive that they’re triggered if the person moves to a certain degree, others can alert you as soon as the door or the windows in your loved one’s room are opened – which usually means they’re trying to wander off.
If they don’t wander, they might be at the risk of falling from their bed or even when they’re sitting in their chair, or on a toilet seat. An alarm can help in this case too since they can be installed on their bed or chair.
If your loved one finds the noise from the alarm too harsh or unpleasant, there are a few alarms which let you program them to play a recording of your voice, so they’re not startled.
How do they work?
These alarms can be triggered by a variety of mechanisms: infrared or wireless, or pressure-sensitive pads, or cords which can be attached to a patient’s clothing.
As for infrared alarms, they detect a break in an infrared beam they emit and then sound the alarm. A wireless system will follow the same principle, but they operate over a smaller area – say, a bedroom.
Pressure-sensitive pads and mats
Pressure-sensitive pads sense shifts in weight and activate the alarm. You can place them on the bed or a wheelchair, and every time your patient tries to get up or the pad detects activity, you’ll be alerted. Some of them can even detect if the patient has moved significantly, and notify you so you can prevent them from falling.
Aside from pads, they also come in mats, which should give you a heads up in case they do manage to get off the bed. Unlike the pads which detect the shift in weight, these mats work by sensing when the pressure is applied.
Pull cord alarms
Lastly, there are alarms which operate with a tether. The wire is clipped onto the patient’s clothes, and the other end of the wire goes into the alarm itself. The alarm can be fixed in place with either tape or screws.
Whenever the patient tries to rise from the bed or their chair, the wire tugs on a pin inside the alarm, setting it off and the caregiver is warned. If your room is farther away and you might miss the sound in the event that it goes off, you can have the sound transmitted directly to your room.
Alternatively, if the sound is too loud, you also have the option of toning it down. One of these mechanisms might work better for your patient, others might not – more on that shortly.
Who is it for?
Patients with dementia have trouble remembering that their mobility is hampered, and they might try and get out of the bed on their own, and you might not be there. Letting an alarm be your eyes and ears when you’re not in their room, can be invaluable in providing the assistance they need when they need it.
Patients with dementia tend to wander. And when they do, they often forget their way back and become lost, a bed alarm will alert you as soon as they exit the bed, or open the door or window, so you can act in time and prevent an accident.
They’re just as important for patients who are at the risk of falling when they try and stand up. If your loved one has fallen in the past, there’s a good chance it’ll happen again. That includes, but is not limited to patients with neurological diseases or the ones who have trouble with depth perception or are on medications which hamper or affect their nervous system.
Do they prevent falls?
Their efficacy is directly linked to the mechanism the alarm systems employ. Every mechanism affords its own warning time and depending on the warning time, you can intervene and prevent the fall. For instance, an alarm which works with a pull cord system will give you more time than a bed pad, since it’s more sensitive to the patient’s movements being directly tethered to their body. More warning time means more time to intervene, straightforward enough.
The same goes for infrared motion detecting alarms, and they provide almost the same extent of sensitivity and the time window as pressure-sensitive pads for you to rush for their assistance.
Now to answer the original question: Do they prevent falls? Well, to a certain degree, yes. They can minimize the risk to some level, but they’re far more effective when used in combination with other precautions.
Because in truth, a bed alarm is supposed to be an augmentation – a secondary fail-safe, and it’s meant to give you some peace of mind, so you don’t have to be present in your loved one’s room at all times. But it can certainly go a long way in preventing falls, especially if you’re taking the necessary precautions like using the correct lights, keeping the floors dry and clear of all trip hazards, and using rugs which don’t slip under your feet.
Which kind of bed alarm would be the right fit?
Although they’re the most sensitive, not all patients are receptive to attaching a tether to themselves and pulling on the alarm with every movement. And keep in mind that if they’re not inclined, they’ll probably find a way to outsmart the alarm. But if they are not reluctant, pull cord alarms can provide the best prevention against falls.
The pressure pads are slipped under the sheets, and they’re not that easily outsmarted or deactivated, so whether your patient is receptive or reluctant, these alarm pads should work all the same.
If your patient doesn’t want a clip attached to their person, or if they keep deactivating the alarm, an infrared motion detecting alarm would be a good bet, since they’re wireless and ring as soon as they detect motion. They can’t be deactivated unless the unattended patient manages to step outside the invisible curtain which these sensors cast.
- The system features a wireless alarm and a cordless pressure pad
- The pad has dimensions of 10”x30” and is made out of soft vinyl material
- The pad will need replacement on an annual basis
- The alarm’s volume can be set anywhere between a soothing chime to a loud beeping sound
- It is powered by a set of 3 ‘C-sized’ batteries
- The monitor comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty
- Doesn’t generate noise and instead pages the caregiver
- Comes with a pager and a monitor (both battery-operated)
- Can be placed on the bedside and detects whenever the patient tries to exit the bed
- The pager can be carried inside a pocket or it can be clipped to wearer’s belt
- Has dimensions of 6×5.5 inches
- The pad is hooked up to an alarm monitor with a wired connection
- It alerts the caregiver as soon as the patient leaves the pad
- If the patient returns to the position in three seconds, the alarm resets
- Makes use of a metal connector instead of a plastic one
- Has dimensions of 12X30 inches
- Comes with a 45-day warranty
- Alarm transmits the sound to a pager (sold separately)
- Ideal for nursing homes, as it can be linked with up to ten different monitor alarms
- The pad is easily set up and is reset as soon as the pressure returns
- It is waterproof and has dimensions of 29.5×10 inches
- The pad connects to an alarm monitor with a wire
- Resets itself automatically as pressure returns, and can also be manually reset with push buttons
- Is tamper-resistant, so the patient cannot disarm it easily
- Thin bed sensor pad with 12×30 inches dimensions
- The product comes with a 45-day warranty
- Can be clipped to a patient’s clothing with an alligator clip
- Triggers the alarm when the tether is pulled from any direction
- Has dimensions of 4X3 inches
- Can be as loud as 103 decibels
- Can be mounted on either a chair or a bed
- Can be easily deactivated by the caregiver with an on/off switch
7. Secure MAG-3
- Can be mounted on a bed, chair, or a wheelchair
- Ships with two alert tones, and three sound settings
- Features an on/off switch paired with a battery indicator
- Alligator clip is securely attached to the patient’s clothing
- The monitor is durable and break-resistant
- The compact sensor can be attached to clothing
- Alerts the caregiver as soon as the patient rises from the bed
- It sends out alerts to a smartphone, which allows you to monitor them even when you’re away
- Powered by a coin battery which can last up to six months
- Budget alarm which alerts as soon as the cord is pulled on
- Features a 17-30 inches long cord
- Comes with an alligator clip
- Two different volume settings: 70 and 90 decibels
- Runs on a 9V battery
10. Secure MAT-3
- Durable mat which notifies the caregiver as soon the patient steps on it
- Comes with an 8-feet long unbreakable cord and is slip-resistant
- Tamper-resistant and features adjustable volume
- Has the dimensions of 24X36 inches
Caregivers whose loved ones suffer from Alzheimer/dementia or similar problems which hamper their mobility, often spend a good chunk of their time worrying about their loved one’s safety. A bed alarm can help alleviate some of those concerns and can put your mind at ease.