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challenges with pendant alarms – points to consider

Image for challenges with pendant alarms – points to consider

Pendant alarms, sometimes known as panic alarms or personal alarms, have been around for over 30 years and still tend to be the go-to telecare device. If used appropriately, there are certainly benefits to using these devices.

However, everyone has unique needs and pendant alarms present certain challenges in terms of them being effective for some people. In some cases there are alternative – and sometimes more appropriate – assistive devices available. Therefore, when considering the use of a pendant alarm, it is important to to consider those challenges in helping individuals stay safe and live independently.

What is a pendant alarm?

Typically worn around the neck (or sometimes the wrist), pendant alarms feature a button which can be activated by the customer in the event of an accident or emergency at home. In an emergency, e.g. if the customer has fallen and cannot get up, they can press the button which sends a signal to a signal box plugged in at the customer’s property, which in turn alerts an Alarm Receiving Centre. The monitoring centre then attempts to communicate with the customer by speaking to them via an intercom inside the property. From there, the monitoring centre can call emergency services as needed.

The challenges of pendant alarms

For what remains a go-to assistive product, statistics show that up to 80% of owners of pendant alarms do not wear them all of the time. Worryingly, 24% of owners of pendant alarms say that they never wear them*. This is a concerning number, especially as this particular technology works on the principle of being worn at all times.

There are several reasons for these figures. The main reason seems to be the stigma attached to pendant alarms. It seems fair to say that nobody wants to feel ‘old’ or accept that they need extra help. And so a device worn at all times, especially as obviously as around the neck, is sometimes seen as a badge of vulnerability by the person wearing it. For this reason, many people will refuse to wear them. Likewise, those who wear them might not want to press when they need to because they do not want to be seen as a burden. Consequently, for housing officers, friends and relatives of those with pendant alarms, the alarm provides false reassurance.

Others may simply forget to wear their pendant alarms or be unsure of how to use them. Even those who are happy to wear these devices may forget to wear them or misplace them. Again, this renders them ineffective in the event of an emergency.

There are also variables that can prevent pendant alarms from helping those who are happy to wear them. If someone has a fall, remains conscious and is able to press the button, then a pendant alarm will certainly do its job well. Unfortunately, incidents do not always happen this way. If the person is unconscious or disorientated they may be unable to press. If the person is out of range of the signal box that connects the alarm to the monitoring centre then again an emergency call might not be successfully made.

Alternatives – the benefits of daily contact and human interaction

Pendant alarms serve a clear purpose in the event of an emergency. But it is important to note that all alarms still rely on the promise of “no news, is good news”. If nothing is heard from the individual with the alarm, then it is assumed that everything is okay. This is simply not always the case. It is for this reason that alternative technologies might better suit some people.

Daily contact services, like those provided by Alertacall, work on the principle of proactively establishing daily contact 365 days a year, and if there is no contact (and that is unusual), then there may be a legitimate reason for concern. No contact from an individual will result in a friendly call from a specially trained team to see if further assistance is required. What is more, contact does not have to be made solely in an emergency, but whenever it is needed or wanted by the individual. Importantly, in this way daily contact can feel a genuinely more positive service to the individual and furthermore, by ensuring human contact remains at the heart of the service, can also help to reduce social isolation and loneliness.

Perhaps the cleverest aspect of this approach is that quite frequently, as cognitive deterioration increases, or if customers become distressed, or unwell physically or mentally, they will often either inadvertently fail to press the OKEachDay button or consciously choose not to do so, in order to speak to someone more often. In doing so, this automatically results in more human contact at the precise time it is needed most.

A personalised service – valuing independence

Whilst it is important to safeguard vulnerable people, it is also important to value their independence when doing so, and a sense of independence is not always achieved by devices that are worn at all times.

Daily contact from Alertacall is controlled by individuals using specially designed devices, the most popular of which is the OKEachDay telephone. The customer presses an OKEachDay button on their device anytime before an agreed time (up to three times a day) or receive a call from the contact centre team. In this way, the service is unintrusive, gives those that require more assistance access to a highly-trained team on a daily basis but equally allows a person to get on with their day without being tied to wearing any kind of device or having to ‘wait in’ for a call or visitor. Therefore, daily contact which is controlled by the individual helps them to maintain and often increase their independence.

In conclusion

It should be remembered that there are positives of pendant alarms and that they can work well in conjunction with other services; a pendant will provide a highly valuable back-up to other systems in the event of an emergency. Daily contact services are not emergency services – instead, the focus here is on prevention and taking a proactive approach to help people stay independent. Importantly, pendant alarms do not suit everyone and not everyone will engage with them, and assistive technology must always be offered with the customer in mind. Assistive technology has progressed a lot since the invention of the pendant alarm over 30 years ago, and alternative services such as proactive contact are available these days which could better suit the individual.

To explore the many benefits of our daily contact services please contact Alertacall on 0808 208 1234 or email

*Satisfaction and use of personal emergency response systems (PERS) Eberhard-Karls-Universität, Tübingen, 2010. Z Gerontol Geriatr. 2010 Aug;43(4):219-23. doi: 10.1007/s00391-010-0127-4