Smoke and heat alarms

Smoke detectors should be fitted in all households and some local fire brigades may fit them free of charge for older people. Ideally, smoke alarms should be mains powered so that their effectiveness does not depend on battery life. For people with a hearing impairment who may have difficulty hearing an alarm, smoke alarms are available that flash a strobe or light. At night some systems can trigger a vibrating alarm designed to be placed underneath a pillow.

Telecare smoke alarm

These will automatically sound an alarm in your home and send an alarm call to your monitoring centre if it detects smoke. The monitoring centre can then alert the fire brigade. These alarms may be appropriate if you would find it difficult to get out of your home promptly, or might not remember what the smoke alarm was for.

If a telecare smoke alarm is not installed as part of your telecare system, you should still have at least one working standard smoke alarm in your home which will sound an alarm if it detects smoke but these will not automatically alert your help centre.

Carbon monoxide alarms

Carbon monoxide alarms will sound an alarm if they detect carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a gas which has no smell, taste or colour. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels including gas, oil, coal and wood used in boilers, gas fires, water heaters, solid fuel appliances and open fires. Exposure to above-recommended concentrations of carbon monoxide can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, convulsions and death. Gas appliances that are old or have not been regularly serviced can present an increased risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. A servicing contract would ensure that appliances are checked annually and are in good working order. Servicing companies generally take on the responsibility of contacting their clients when a service is due, making it one less thing to remember.

As with smoke and heat alarms, carbon monoxide alarms are readily available on the high street. The ones we list have non-standard features such as integration with strobe or vibration systems for individuals who are deaf or have hearing loss.

Cooking and gas alarms

Many individuals prefer to use gas ovens, and especially gas hobs to electric hobs. However, problems include:

  • turning on the gas and forgetting to ignite it;
  • leaving pans on that boil over, extinguishing the flame;
  • forgetting that foods have been put on to cook;
  • old appliances that may be a safety risk.

Leaking gas is dangerous. Ultimately, leaking gas can build up to dangerous levels which can result in explosions. Many newer cookers will automatically cut the gas off if the flames are not ignited, but older models may not have this safety feature. One option to manage the danger of un-ignited gas is to fit a natural gas alarm (not to be confused with carbon monoxide alarms) that will sound when the sensor detects gas. Some only sound an alarm, so someone must recognise what the alarm is for and act on it. Others actually turn off the gas supply.

Motion sensors - systems to sound an alert if an individual leaves or enters a certain area 

This range of equipment is designed to raise an alert if an individual leaves or enters a specific room or area of the home. Perhaps this would be because the individual needs supervision on the stairs or in the kitchen.

The sensor may consist of a pressure mat for use on the floor or a sensor beam/detector. Pressure mats can become a trip hazard if inappropriately positioned. The sensors may use passive infrared movement detectors which detect body heat or use two sensors with a beam between them. If the beam is broken by someone walking past, then the alarm sounds.

Some sensors sound an alarm, or tone, on the sensor itself, others can trigger a pager that can be 100-300 metres away.

Personal locators for use outside the home

Personal locators are portable products designed to be carried by you when you go out. They enable authorised individuals, such as relatives or carers, to find out your location by logging onto the internet from a computer or smartphone. Most work via GPS (a satellite based global positioning system) and will allow individuals you have authorised to find your location (if you are carrying the device) to approximately 10 metres. They may not be able to find you if you are indoors unless they also contain GSM mobile phone technology.

If you become lost and have the personal locator with you, the people you have trusted to give authorisation to will be able to find you.

Will you remember to take your personal locator with you when you go out? Who will be responsible for recharging its battery? Will it work indoors?

Several personal locators offer the option of Geo-Fences. This is the possibility of entering a predefined area into the unit. If you leave this area with the unit then an alarm/alert is raised. Depending on the model this may involve designated contacts such as a friend or relative being informed by a text message. These devices will require an ongoing subscription for the service.

Pendant alarms

The anxiety caused by not being able to get help if something goes wrong, can limit activity and have an impact on independence. An intercom, pendant and pager or alarm provides a way of calling for help.

Short range pendant alarm buttons that signal to a portable pager receiver can give a carer more freedom to move around the home and garden. If the button on the pendant is pressed, the receiver may sound an alarm or vibrate to alert the carer. These are designed so that the user of the button can signal to the person with the receiver that they would like assistance. Some systems have a fixed transmitter, like the nurse call buttons by hospital beds that are fixed to the wall. Some have a non portable receiver such as a box that plugs into the mains with an alarm and/or flashing light. However the majority of systems now have a portable transmitter and a portable receiver like a pager that beeps and/or vibrates when the pendant alarm button is pressed.

The maximum range between the pendant and the pager varies between models and will depend on how your home is constructed (for example, how solid and thick the walls are) but most systems have a range of between 100 and 400 metres. The pendant can usually be worn around the neck or on the wrist. The pager signal is usually a buzzer, vibration or tune.

Check that you are able to operate the alarm button easily, that the signal reaches as far as the likely locations of the receiver (for example, the garden or an upstairs room) and that your carer can hear the alarm signal.

Taking medicines

It is essential to get medication doses and times right because getting them wrong can affect health and wellbeing. Problems include:

  • managing childproof containers;
  • reading the labelling;
  • remembering what medication to take;
  • remembering when it should be taken;
  • remembering whether it has been taken;
  • taking a repeat dose/s.

Keeping medication where it can be seen easily can in itself act as a prompt to taking it.

Pill or dosette boxes

Tablets can be transferred into a pill or dosette box, a compartmentalised box marked with dosage times. Boxes have a flip lid or a sliding lid that should be easier to open than a pill bottle. The empty compartment provides a reminder that the dose has been taken.

The boxes come in a range of complexity. Some just provide for a single day’s medication, others take a full week’s supply of tablets with days of the week clearly labelled. Some allow for multiple doses each day throughout a week.

The user or a family member will need to be able to transfer the medicines into the dosette box when needed, ensuring that the right medicines are inserted for the right times. If a person finds it difficult to load the pill box, some pharmacists can dispense prescribed medicines into dosette boxes or blister packs (or dosage cups for liquid medication). They may charge for this service. Some require your GP to request this service. Blister packs can be difficult to open for those who find fine movement or grip difficult.

Some medication needs to be kept airtight. Check with your pharmacist whether your medication could be stored in pill boxes or other dispensers.

Pill dispensers with prompts

Pill boxes are available with flashing lights, alarms or vibration to prompt you to take your medication at preset times. Some people may find setting up these devices complex and fiddly so help from a family member or carer may be needed.

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