Senior safety devices: A comprehensive guide

Last updated

Learn about the wide variety of safety devices that can help you stay safe and get quick help in emergencies, yet still retain your independence and privacy.

Senior using safety device on lanyard

Table of Contents

Challenges for seniors in emergencies

We’ve all heard the stories about seniors who experienced emergencies while they were alone.  The more time that passed by without receiving help, the more their situations deteriorated.  If only friends, family members, or emergency responders had been alerted to their situations promptly, then these incidents would have had much more positive outcomes.

As seniors age, they are likely to experience more emergencies. These can stem from health challenges such as:

  • Chronic conditions that create a higher risk of sudden medical emergencies
  • Slower response times, reduced mobility or strength, or extended recovery from illness or surgery – causing them to need more time to deal with emergencies
  • Fading eyesight or hearing, making it harder to be fully aware of their surroundings
  • Forgetfulness or the beginnings of cognitive decline, such that they may forget to turn things off or take other standard precautions

Seniors also can be perceived as more attractive targets by criminals looking for easier or more rewarding “scores.”

As a result, it’s critical that seniors prepare in advance so they can protect themselves when faced with unexpected emergencies.

Benefits of senior safety devices

Today’s senior safety devices are no longer the bulky, expensive, and less-than-reliable alert systems of years ago.  With rapid improvements in technology, safety devices now provide seniors with a great deal of freedom, independence, and privacy, all while fitting more seamlessly into their existing lives.

Safety with independence and privacy

Some safety devices help to prevent problems from occurring in the first place.  Many others actively monitor for problems and raise alerts when something is not right, so that action can be taken more quickly.  Some devices also contact a professional service that is available 24×7 to ensure that the appropriate type of help is sent to the correct location right away.

With these features, seniors can protect their health, safety, and security, yet still maintain their independence and privacy.  In addition, they – and their family and friends – gain valuable peace of mind.

Convenient and unobtrusive

Many senior safety devices are now also convenient and inconspicuous to use.  They integrate with current technology platforms so you can conveniently configure and control them using a mobile app, receive alerts on your phone or smartwatch, and watch video recordings in an Internet browser.  Another result of technology advancement is that these safety devices have become more compact, lightweight, and discreet, while wearable technology has become increasingly popular with the broader public – thereby reducing any stigma that may be associated with seniors wearing safety devices.

Fall management devices

As one of the biggest health risks for seniors, falling can cause serious injury or even death.  In addition to making home modifications to manage fall risk, also use the following fall safety devices. They can lead to better outcomes by preventing falls, protecting the body in the event of falls, detecting falls promptly to enable faster action, and contacting emergency responders directly with the relevant information for them to take action.

Fall prevention devices

  • Bed and chair sensors and exit alarms:  Some seniors are highly prone to falls and need assistance whenever transferring out of a bed or chair.  If they try to get out of a bed or chair on their own, these devices can sense that and alert nearby caregivers.  By coming to help as soon as the alarm is activated, caregivers can potentially prevent a fall.
  • Mobility aids:  There are numerous manual and powered assistive devices that seniors can use to prevent falling as they move from one place to another.  These mobility aids run the gamut from walking sticks and canes, to walkers and rollators, to wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

Mobility aids

  • Transfer aids:  Similarly, there are many assistive devices that people can rely on to change positions safely from standing to sitting to lying down in bed (and the reverse).  These include grab bars, toilet frames, bathtub benches, bed rails, and more.
  • Nonslip footwear:  While they are not really devices per se, nonslip or grippy socks, slippers, and shoes can help seniors avoid falling when walking on smooth floors.

Fall protection devices

  • Fall safety mats:  One common place where seniors fall is by the bed.  Accordingly, people sometimes place a padded fall mat on the floor by the bed to help cushion the impact of falls, and therefore reduce injuries.  Some mats may have pressure sensors as well to alert caregivers promptly when someone falls onto the mat.
  • Smart clothing:  Some companies are working on developing smart clothing that can detect when someone is in the process of falling.  Then the clothing will stiffen, deploy mini-airbags, or trigger other actions to reduce the impact of the fall.

Fall detection devices

  • Medical alert systems:  When people think of personal safety devices for seniors, medical alert systems are among the top devices that come to mind.  Richly featured, some offer pendants, bracelets, or watches with fall detection capabilities, and can contact emergency services with your exact location. 
  • Smartwatches:  Several smartwatches now offer fall detection capabilities as well.  Some people may prefer this format over dedicated medical alert watches, given the convenience of having other functionality included.
  • Wall-mounted fall sensors or cameras:  If you don’t want to wear a pendant, bracelet, or watch, another option is to install a fall sensor or camera on the walls of your home.  Some may be limited to monitoring for falls in that room, while others can detect falls even through walls using radio or laser technology. 
  • Hearing aids:  There is now even a hearing aid that has built-in fall detection and alerts.  While the integration is very convenient, it does depend on someone wearing the aids regularly, which they may not do when getting in and out of the shower, bathtub, or bed, all high-risk areas for falls.

Health monitors

A change in someone’s vital signs can indicate an issue that needs prompt attention.  Here are health safety devices that can keep you informed of potential problems so that you can get treatment quickly or make lifestyle changes to stay safe and healthy.  Some come in the form of wearable technology that you keep on your body around the clock, such as smartwatches, wristbands, rings, and patches applied to your skin.  Others are specialized devices that you pull out when you want to take a measurement.

  • Continuous heart rate monitor:  By tracking your pulse continuously, these devices can make you aware of unusually high or low heart rates, or significant changes in your heart rate.  These could indicate tachycardia or bradycardia, an elevated risk of heart disease or stroke, or even a fever.  (For example, my own heart rate goes up by about 15 beats per minute when I am under the weather with a low-grade fever.)
  • Consumer ECG or EKG (echocardiogram) monitor:  These devices measure not only your heart rate, but also your heart rhythm, so you can be aware of potential arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation, which is associated with higher risk of strokes.
  • Automatic blood pressure monitor:  With a home-use blood pressure monitor, you can check your blood pressure as desired multiple times throughout the day.  This information can help you identify and manage an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
  • Pulse oximeter:  Tracking your blood oxygen levels can alert you to serious lung or heart problems, including COVID.  This can be especially valuable when there are no other noticeable symptoms.
Pulse oximeter

Pulse oximeter

  • Continuous body temperature monitor:  These devices can detect an oncoming fever and illness before you notice any symptoms, such as with COVID.  As a result, you may be able to prevent spreading a contagious virus to others.
  • Sleep trackers:  Monitoring your sleep patterns, breathing, and movement can help you understand if you may have sleep apnea, which can lead to heart problems if untreated.  Sleep trackers also can help you understand how your sleep quality may be linked to your activities earlier that day.  (This may seem trite, but I saw very clearly that my sleep quality was distinctly poorer whenever I drank coffee that day, even though I slept through the night for the same amount of time!)
  • Health monitor or fitness tracker:  There are now many devices positioned as health monitors or fitness trackers that combine the functionality listed above and can measure multiple aspects of your health.

Medication management devices

One aspect of keeping seniors safe is to ensure they are taking the correct dosages of their medications at the appropriate times, which becomes challenging as the number of medications grow.  Accidentally skipping or doubling up on a dose can result in side effects, poor control of their health condition, dizziness and falls, and even hospitalization or death.  Here are senior safety devices that can help people stay on track with their medication:

  • Pill organizers:  These are simple cases with multiple compartments where you can organize and store your pills for each day (or even multiple times of each day).  As long as you refill them each week or month, they make it clear when you’ve already taken your dose for the day, or if you’ve inadvertently skipped a dose.
7-day pill organizer

7-day pill organizer

  • Medication reminders:  Products ranging from talking alarm clocks to mobile apps provide alerts to remind people when to take their medications.
  • Automatic pill dispensers:  Some devices take this process a step further by releasing the right dose of medication at the right time.

Activity monitors

If a senior’s activity level or patterns change significantly or suddenly, that could indicate illness, injury, or cognitive decline.  There are now many senior safety devices that can passively monitor someone’s activity inside their home in a way that can identify potential issues, yet still preserve their independence and privacy.  These devices then notify family and friends that their loved one is showing unusual activity, and may need help.

  • Bed or chair occupancy pressure sensor:  These devices identify when someone is or is not in their bed or chair.  They can be configured to raise alerts if someone has not gone to bed by a certain time, or if they leave their bed or chair but don’t return within a reasonable amount of time, which could indicate a fall or wandering situation.
  • Refrigerator, medicine cabinet, and pantry door sensors:  These sensors can identify if certain commonly used things at home have not been opened or used in a while, which may indicate a problem.
  • Toilet sensor or toilet flush sensor:  If the toilet is no longer being used, that can indicate a problem, such as a fall.  Or if the toilet is being used much more often than before, that can indicate a health issue.
  • Door sensor:  If someone doesn’t leave home at their usual time, or leaves at an unusual time, or doesn’t return for a long time, that may signify an issue as well.
  • Floor mat sensors:  Some people use these devices as another way to identify if someone is walking to a different part of the home, or leaving or entering the home.  Just make sure they are securely anchored to the floor in a way that does not pose a tripping hazard.
  • Motion sensors:  There are also general motion sensors that can identify how much someone is using different rooms at home, and send notifications for anything that seems atypical.
  • Smart plugs:  Another approach is to measure how much someone is using different kitchen appliances, which can be achieved with smart plugs that track total time used or energy consumed.  If someone stops using their microwave, toaster, or electric kettle, they could be ill or injured.
Smart plugs

Smart plugs

  • Medical alert systems:  Some of these systems offer activity monitoring services as part of their broad packages.

You’ll notice that the devices above protect privacy by not using video cameras or microphones.  Instead, they use pressure sensors, thermal sensors, radio waves, laser beams, and other types of technology to identify movement.  Many devices now also use artificial intelligence (AI) to determine if what they’re observing is regular behavior or potentially something of concern.

Another solution that protects privacy even further is a check-in service.  This requires that someone actively check in by a certain time each day to indicate that they are doing well.  If they miss their check-in deadline, then the service alerts their loved ones to a potential issue, and possibly their last known location, if it gathers that information.  (Apple and Google, please build this feature natively into your smartphones!  If I don’t use my phone for over X hours during my usual waking hours, then please ask me to confirm I’m OK.  If I don’t respond within a certain amount of time, alert my loved ones.)

If privacy is not a concern for all parties involved, then another straightforward option would be to use home security cameras or baby monitors to monitor both video and audio.

This article, Senior Safety Devices To Use At Home And Outside Your Home, has been written and published by Senior Wing.

Location trackers

Seniors who are starting to experience cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, may get lost when out and about.  In subsequent stages, they may inadvertently wander outside the home.  To ensure their safety and to give family and friends some peace of mind, one solution is to use location tracking devices:

  • Bluetooth trackers:  These small devices can indicate someone’s location as long as they are within range of a smartphone that has Bluetooth turned on and is part of the tracker’s proprietary network.  Unlike GPS trackers, these Bluetooth trackers do not need an additional ongoing subscription on top of the cost of the devices, so they provide a more affordable solution.  The devices can be attached to clothing or other personal belongings.
Bluetooth trackers

Bluetooth trackers

  • Google Maps or Apple’s Find My Friend:  These mobile apps allow people to share their location continuously with family and friends at no additional cost.  As long as people keep their mobile phones with them, charged up, and turned on, then this solution works well.
  • Medical alert systems:  Some medical alert systems include GPS location tracking in their wearable devices, which makes it easy for them to send emergency responders to the appropriate location.

Driving safety devices

For seniors who still drive, it may be helpful not only to place a location tracking device in their car, but also to set up their phone with an automatic car crash detection mobile app.  In the event of a severe car crash, these apps can alert emergency responders, family, and friends, share your location, and summon help for you.

For seniors who are starting to have difficulty driving, the safest approach is to check out your local senior transportation options and have others drive you.

Personal alarms

In an emergency, whether you’re dealing with a medical issue or a criminal, you’ll want a way to call for help.  The personal alarms below can provide assistance and peace of mind to both you and your loved ones.  Some can be worn conveniently around your wrist or neck, while others are accessories you can attach to a keychain or belt, while yet others are simply mobile apps that you download onto your phone.

  • Safety whistles:  A simple device that requires no battery, this whistle can make a piercing noise that may attract help from passersby or spur an attacker to flee.  It does, however, require that you continue blowing into it for as long as you want to make noise.  
  • Safety alarms or panic buttons:  With the press of a button, this battery-powered device sounds a loud alarm.  Some personal alarm devices have extra functionality and can alert your designated contacts and provide your location for faster assistance.   Medical alert systems often provide this as one of their core features.
  • Silent alarms:  Sometimes you want to reach out for help without alerting people around you, such as when there is a criminal who is in your home but hasn’t seen you.  In these situations, a silent alarm that contacts emergency responders, family, or friends with your location directly may be the best choice.
  • Mobile apps:  There are also many mobile apps that now perform as alarms as described above, with no separate device required.

Communication devices

Sometimes in an emergency, you may prefer to talk to someone rather than just to sound an alarm or to summon a responder.  In this case, consider using the following communication devices:

  • Mobile phones and smartwatches:  Try to keep your mobile phone with you at all times, even while you’re walking around at home. That way, you can call others for help, wherever you may be.  If this feels inconvenient, consider wearing a smartwatch that pairs with your mobile phone.
  • Smart home voice assistants:  These devices allow you to call friends and family with your voice, without having to be within arm’s reach of a device.  This can be especially helpful if you are having trouble moving around or are injured.  Some devices also have a drop-in feature that lets you talk instantly with designated contacts, without having to wait for them to pick up and answer the call.

Home safety devices

In addition to the personal safety devices described above, there are also home safety devices that specifically help to protect people where they live.  Use the following devices to monitor different aspects of your home and ensure everything is functioning as expected.

Home security devices

  • Home security cameras and door and window sensors:  To protect against intruders, install these devices so you can be alerted to potential problems around your home or break-ins.  Some security systems also offer a professional monitoring service that will alert police and send them to your home in the event of an emergency.
Home security cameras

Smart home security cameras

  • Smart lighting:  Set up motion-activated outdoor lighting to make it harder for potential intruders to approach your home unnoticed.  Set your indoor lights on an automated, random schedule to make your home look occupied at all times.
  • Smart doorbells:  Don’t open the door for strangers.  Instead, look at them and talk to them (if appropriate) through a smart video doorbell.
  • Smart locks:  Smart locks can be configured to unlock with the correct numeric codes or even fingerprints.  With these, you can always have a way to get into your house even if you forgot your key.  Additionally, if you need someone to come into your home to help you in an emergency, but you cannot reach the door to unlock it, you can give them the numeric code.

Electrical safety devices

  • Stove knob locks and stove monitors:  Prevent kitchen fires by setting up devices that can prevent you from unintentionally turning on the stovetop burner, or can alert you to a stovetop burner that you forgot to turn off.
  • Auto-shutoff appliances:  Having an auto-shutoff feature on space heaters, heat lamps, electric kettles, toaster ovens, coffee makers, pressure cookers, and other heat-based appliances also can help prevent fires if you forget to turn these off.
  • Smart plugs:  For products that don’t have an auto-shutoff feature, consider putting them on smart plugs so you have a backup approach for turning them off, such as by setting up schedules and timers.

Water safety devices

  • Water leak detectors and auto-shutoff faucets:  Install these devices to prevent yourself from slipping and falling on wet, flooded floors.
  • Anti-scald devices:  Protect yourself from hot water burns or scalding by installing these temperature-activated water flow reducers on the faucets in your shower, bathtub, and kitchen and bathroom sinks.  They automatically reduce the hot water flow if the temperature becomes too high, which can happen when someone else at home flushes a toilet or turns on the cold water.

Air safety devices

  • Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors:  Install these throughout your home in the kitchen, bedrooms, hallway, and garage to protect from fire, smoke inhalation, and carbon monoxide poisoning.  Check twice a year that the batteries are working.  Double-check that you can hear the alarms from every room of your home, especially the bedroom and kitchen.  If not, use smart devices that can flash your lights on and off, send alerts to your phone or smartwatch, or shake your bed.
Smoke alarm

Smoke detector

Carbon monoxide alarm

Carbon monoxide alarm

  • Air quality monitors, air filter monitors, and air purifiers:  Breathing clean air helps you stay healthy.  Use these devices to:
    • Identify when the air quality in your home needs to be addressed
    • Find out if your HVAC air filter is no longer working at peak efficiency and needs to be replaced
    • Further eliminate certain allergens, pollutants, and viruses from the air
  • Smart thermostats:  It’s especially important for seniors that the air temperature be kept within a safe, healthy range.  Use these devices to identify if the temperature drops too low or climbs too high, and then automatically heat or cool the home, as needed.

Environmental monitors

Another aspect of staying safe is being aware of your local environment and surroundings.  Consider downloading environmental safety mobile apps that can alert you to the following situations in your local area, so you can avoid certain areas or take other appropriate actions:

  • Severe weather forecasts (e.g. blizzards, hurricanes)
  • Real-time weather radar maps
  • Earthquake warnings
  • Real-time 911 alerts of accidents and crimes (e.g. Citizen or PulsePoint mobile apps)
  • City, county, and state agency announcements
  • Neighborhood news and updates (e.g. Nextdoor mobile app)

Information security products

In addition to staying safe physically, seniors also need to stay safe from scammers.  Use the following applications and products to protect your information and data:

  • Antivirus software:  If you use computers or mobile devices, antivirus software is a must.  It will help protect you from malware and viruses, which can corrupt or expose your data, damage your devices, and propagate to your contacts.
  • Virtual private network (VPN):  If you ever access the Internet from a shared wifi network, which often are available at senior living communities, libraries, and cafes, use a VPN.  This becomes even more important if you are accessing financial accounts or purchasing goods online.  A VPN will protect your online activity so that others cannot obtain your passwords and financial details.
  • Password protection:  As tempting as it may be to simplify account access, do not reuse the same set of passwords across multiple accounts.  Use unique, strong passwords so that if one account is breached, hackers cannot use that same password to access your other accounts.  To manage all of these different logins, use password manager software.  Then set up two-factor authentication (2FA) as an extra layer of security; if someone manages to get your password, they still won’t be able to access your account if they don’t have the 2FA code.
  • Identity theft:  Seniors often are targets of identity theft.  Make sure you destroy all papers that have personal or sensitive information by sending them through a good paper shredder.  If your credit cards and passports use RFID technology, consider using RFID blocking wallets or sleeves to prevent nearby thieves from accessing your data and taking money from your accounts.
Paper shredder

Paper shredder

RFID blocking sleeve

RFID blocking sleeve (passport not included!)

  • Anti-theft bags and accessories:  Finally, the classic way in which criminals steal information is to pickpocket your wallet, purse, or backpack.  Consider using anti-theft products, which are designed with material that is difficult to slash open and with compartments that are challenging to open while the product is being worn on your body.
Anti-theft bag

Anti-theft backpack with security hook and zipper, anti-slash straps

Learn More

Senior with mobility issues using kitchen

Home modifications for seniors to live safely with health challenges

Are you experiencing declining balance, strength, dexterity, or other health issues? Make these home modifications so you can continue to live safely at home.
Seniors using different types of mobility aids: cane, walker, wheelchair

Types of mobility aids: Choose what’s right for you

Discover the range of mobility aids that can help you get from place to place more safely and independently. Learn which ones are best suited for you.