Hospitals and nursing homes have been using alarm systems to monitor patients who require fall management for years. Many homes are adopting warning systems as well to reduce the risks of fall injuries and to monitor patients or loved ones who are subject to bouts of disorientation.

The variety and flexibility of these new in-home medical alarm systems and hospital room systems can be confusing to caregivers. Currently, there are several options available to caregivers to safeguard those under their care explored below. There are five types of patient warning systems for use in the home or hospital. These patient alarm types are categorized by location. The first patient alarm type utilizes sensors on the bed mattress. These alarms use pressure or an adjustable cord. Pressure alarms use the weight of the patient to trigger the alarm device. Patient movement off of the pressure mat will trigger the alarm notifying the caregiver of the possible impending danger. Cord alarms are activated when the patient pulls the cord; thereby enabling the signal.

The second type of accident prevention warning systems is bedside related. Typically, bedside alarm systems involve pressure sensors and infrared sensors. Pressure mats placed on the floor beside the bed send a signal when the patient’s weight interacts with the mat. Padded mats provide additional safety should help the patient fall from their bed to the floor. Infrared sensors detect movement beside the bed to alert caregivers that the patient is up and active. The third type of home patient warning system is a door alarm system. These systems utilize a magnetic sensor, a pull cord or infrared device. Magnetic sensor alarms are activated when the magnetic field is broken; thereby sending a signal to the alarm unit to warn caregivers. Pull cord alarms activate when the cord attached from the alarm unit to the door is pulled to its “activate” position as the door moves from closed to open — infrared alarms used as a door alarm work very similar to bedside alarms. Infrared alarm systems are very versatile and are explained in more detail in the next alarm type.

The fourth type of hospital room or home patient warning system uses passive infrared sensors to detect motion within a specific zone. Movement by the patient within the region of the infrared beam triggers the alarm device, notifying the caregiver. The infrared ray is the same beam used in TV remotes and is harmless to the patient. These alarm devices are advantageous because they can be positioned wherever a patient may be exposed to potential danger. The fifth and last type involves patients sitting in a wheelchair or other seating device. A wheelchair alarm uses sensitive equipment such as a cushion, pad, belt or adjustable cord. When the patient exits the chair, the alarm sounds to warn caregivers of the patient’s change in mobility: batteries or AC household electricity commonly power patient warning systems. AC powered alarm systems provide the convenience of not having to replace batteries. However, alarms become inoperable during power outages thereby endangering patients. To reduce this risk, some passive alarm systems provide for both battery operation and AC power. These alarms provide caregivers more flexibility and safety. Wheelchair alarms all use batteries since it is impractical to run power cords to a mobile chair. Some other noteworthy features of modern patient warning systems are nurse station call interfaces; a suspend function, pre-recorded voice message and a variety of alarm tones. The nurse call interface allows the alarm system to be connected to a nurse call station, providing centralized monitoring of patients. Safety alarms equipped with a “suspend function” allows caregivers to administer bedside care without triggering a false alarm. Pre-recorded voice messages allow caregivers to program messages to individual patients such as, “Please sit back down, Mr. Jones, the nurse will be in to see you momentarily.” Various alarm tones provide for multiple notification options for caregivers and patients. With a multitude of patient alarm options currently available on the market, caregivers have more choices to match a safety alarm system to the needs of the individual patient.

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