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Why Life Alert Doesn’t Work – 80% of Older Adults Who Fall and Have a Call Alarm Do Not Activate It

“My mom refuses to wear Life Alert,” is a phrase I’ve heard dozens of times interviewing people on how they care for their elderly loved ones. Call alarms like Life Alert are emergency buttons that contact first responders when pushed. They can be put on the walls of rooms and bathrooms or worn as pendants or bracelets. Call alarms are great for emergencies and should be encouraged, but the problem is, senior citizens just don’t wear them, and if they do, they don’t activate them.

Studies show that call alarms aren’t effective due to compliance

A study conducted in 2008 followed 110 senior citizens aged 95 years old and older and their use of call alarms. They found that 95% of the falls that occurred when the individual was alone, the person had some form of a call alarm system. However, in 80% of those falls, the person who fell did not use their call alarm system to summon help. According to the study, “Of these 141 falls, 38 resulted in lying on the floor for over an hour, despite an installed alarm system, and in 97% of these “long lies” the person who fell alone did not use their alarm to summon help.” (The BMJ)

The findings of this study are astounding. It’s already a difficult task to encourage an elderly loved one to wear a call alarm, but this study shows that it almost doesn’t matter, because a large percentage of fallers didn’t even activate the alarm.

Four reasons why call alarms are ineffective

Call alarms are only effective if the senior citizen agrees to wear it, is wearing it when they fall, and activates it by pushing the button. The main reasons why call alarms are ineffective are

  • Senior citizens don’t believe they need it – They believe that they are perfectly capable of living independently and they won’t fall. 
  • There’s a stigma attached to wearing them – When older adults realize that they do need a call alarm, they hide it under their clothes because of a stigma revealing that they’re not as capable as they used to be. 
  • They don’t wear them all the time – Call alarms are only effective if the senior citizen wears it at all times. There are often times when an older adult is just walking from one end of the room to the other and don’t think they need to wear it. 
  • They don’t activate the call alarm – Even if a senior citizen agrees to wear a call alarm, and wears it at all times, they still need to activate it for it to be effective. Senior citizens don’t activate their call alarms because they want to get up themselves, don’t want to bother anyone, or they could be unconscious and unable to activate it. 

“I have a call alarm but I don’t have to wear it yet”

The researchers from the study mentioned above asked the participants about their call alarm use and here were some of their answers: 

Having one but not wearing it
  • “I have one but I don’t have to wear it yet.”
  • “I wasn’t wearing my pendant. I don’t usually wear it…It was quite a struggle to get up.”
  • “I’d already taken it off ready for bed and put it on the bedside table so then I couldn’t reach it.”
Wearing but choosing not to use it
  • “I wanted to be able to get up myself. It took me a long time to get up but I did it in the end. It makes me annoyed if I have to have help.”
  • “I didn’t want to use the call alarm, although I was wearing one, for fear of being taken to the hospital.”
  • “I was wearing my alarm, but I didn’t think it would work out there in the street, so I didn’t even try it.” (The BMJ)

When used properly, call alarms are great for emergencies, but there are multiple barriers that prevent them from being effective mainly due to compliance of the senior citizen. CarePenguin offers a comprehensive solution that doesn’t require the senior citizen to do or change anything and is non-invasive of their privacy. If you think you and your family could benefit from CarePenguin, it is now available to purchase here.