If you are making your elderly parent’s home safer for them then one of the products that you will want to make sure they have installed is a smoke detector.
But because you are putting it into a home with seniors – there are some important factors to consider.
So, what to look for in smoke detectors for seniors? – The two main factors to consider when choosing a smoke detector for senior citizens are whether will they be able to hear the sound of the smoke alarm and whether will they be able to see a smoke detector with a strobe light. Also, to keep your senior family member as safe as possible, purchase smoke detectors with built-in carbon monoxide alarms.
My recommendation is always to consider what an elderly resident may be dealing with (physically) in the next 10 years.
In other words – if they currently have a little trouble hearing, then consider the possibility that their hearing issues may get much worse in the next decade.
Since smoke detectors last approximately 10 years I would recommend purchasing one designed for people with hearing loss, such as one with a strobe alarm.
If they are currently showing signs of vision problems, then a smoke detector that is equipped with voice alerts is a great option.
Best Type Of Smoke Detectors For Seniors
So, let’s consider the issues that your senior may be dealing with and make recommendations on the type of smoke detectors that would work best for their own home (or rental property, if they are in an apartment).
I recommend that before you make a purchase of any smoke alarm system you contact your local fire department personnel and request some help / additional information on what smoke detectors would work best for your particular home.
There are basically three types of alarms that can be installed in your home.
- Battery powered units
- Hard-wired smoke alarms with a battery backup
- Smoke alarms combined with CO detectors (recommended)
Your decision will depend of course on your senior loved one’s needs but also on the type of home they have (if it’s pre-wired for a smoke alarm or not) and their budget.
Your local fire department may be able to help you decide which type of unit works for you.
In addition to these 3 basic types of smoke detectors, you want to get an alarm that can be seen and/or heard by your elderly parent.
There are detectors (as you will read below) that come with strobe lights, that are extra loud, and even ones bed shaker (or pillow shaker, depending on where you put the sensor).
My personal recommendation is to purchase one that does it all like the First Alert Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector with a Strobe Light.
The reason is that as your parent gets older, they may lose their hearing and/or vision and since smoke detectors last a minimum of 10 years, you would want this particular investment to be useful for that length of time.
The product that I recommend here also detects carbon monoxide.
However, it is a battery-powered unit (vs. hard-wired into the home’s electrical system) so attention will have to be paid to make sure that there are always spare smoke alarm batteries in the home to readily replace them as needed.
Another issue to consider is the maintenance of a working smoke detector.
Personally, I recommend that senior households hire (or get someone) to come in and change the battery on their detectors once a year. This will help to reduce the chances of getting that low-battery chirping alarm.
It’s just much safer to have someone else do this work for you than for you to climb a ladder to put in a new battery.
But note, there is a tool called the SDi SOLO 200 which was created to remove battery-powered smoke detectors from the ceiling in order to change the battery. NOTE: This tool will not help you if your smoke detector is hard-wired.
Free Smoke Detectors For Seniors
Some fire departments and other organizations in some cities DO provide FREE smoke alarm installations or free detectors, so check online or contact your local fire department for information.
There are several programs across the United States that provide free smoke detectors to seniors. Here are a few examples:
- The American Red Cross: Through their Home Fire Campaign, the American Red Cross provides free smoke alarms for those who cannot afford to purchase smoke alarms or for those who are physically unable to install a smoke alarm.
- Local Fire Departments: Many local fire departments offer free smoke detectors and will even install them for seniors. It’s worth contacting your local fire department to see if they offer this service.
- Senior Centers and Organizations: Local senior centers and organizations often have information about programs that offer free smoke detectors for seniors.
- State and Local Health Departments: Some state and local health departments offer free smoke detectors to seniors, particularly those who are at a higher risk of home fires.
- Community Outreach Programs: Community outreach programs often have resources or connections to services that provide free smoke detectors.
- Insurance Companies: Some insurance companies may offer free smoke detectors to policyholders as a part of their preventative measures to reduce potential fire damage.
Remember, it’s important to regularly test smoke detectors to ensure they’re working properly. Also, smoke detectors should be replaced every 10 years.
If you’re unsure of how to test or replace your smoke detector, reach out to a local community resource for help.
How Do You Get a Free Carbon Monoxide Detector?
In addition to the sources mentioned above, you can also contact the following to find out if they offer free carbon monoxide detectors and if you qualify for one.
- Community Programs: Check with local community centers, senior centers, or public health departments. They may have programs in place to provide free carbon monoxide detectors to those in need.
- Non-Profit Organizations: Some non-profit organizations, like the American Red Cross, may offer free carbon monoxide detectors as part of their fire safety initiatives.
- Government Programs: Certain state or local governments may have programs to provide free carbon monoxide detectors to low-income households or seniors. Check with your local government offices to see if such a program exists in your area.
- Utility Companies: Some utility companies offer free carbon monoxide detectors, especially if they supply gas to homes. Check with your utility company to see if they offer this service.
Who is Eligible for Free Smoke Alarms?
Eligibility for free smoke alarms can vary depending on the program and location. However, here are some general groups that might be eligible:
- Low-Income Households: Many programs prioritize low-income households who may not be able to afford smoke alarms.
- Seniors: Older adults, particularly those living alone or with mobility issues, are often eligible for free smoke alarms.
- People with Disabilities: Individuals with disabilities, especially those that might impede their ability to respond quickly in an emergency, may also be eligible.
- Residents of High-Risk Areas: Some programs target areas with a high incidence of fires or areas that are particularly vulnerable due to factors like old housing stock or high poverty rates.
Smoke Alarm For Hearing Impaired (Sound And Light)
Amazon has a very good smoke detector with a built-in strobe light that works perfectly for homeowners who are hearing impaired.
It’s the First Alert Alarm With Integrated Strobe Light. It has a very loud alarm and a strobe light that will go off as well.
But – I do want to caution you that according to research from the NFPA’s Research Foundation (National Fire Protection Association) – older adults are unlikely to respond to alarms with strobe lights.
So, although these strobe light alarms may work well for most – as your parents grow older – it may not work for them.
So, what to do?
I would then recommend a smoke detector used for the visually impaired which works by not only emitting a loud alarm AND a strobe light, but also shakes the bed.
Smoke Alarm For The Visually Impaired (Sound, Light And Movement)
If you feel that a strobe light is not enough to alert your senior loved one then you may want to consider an alarm with voice alert for persons with low or poor vision, like the First Alert Smoke and CO detector with strobe light.
This type of smoke detector not only flashes a strobe light, but it also has a loud voice alarm that tells people to “Fire, fire”, among other notifications.
I admit – it’s a little bit of a shocking way to wake up but in the case of a fire – you absolutely want to wake up.
Where To Place Smoke Detectors In The Home
The proper location for smoke alarms is as follows:
- one in each sleeping room
- one outside the sleeping area (usually the adjoining hallway)
- one on each level of your home
- one in or near the kitchen as well but install it 10 feet or more from the stove and/or oven.
Ideally (and most often) they are placed on the ceiling but if you prefer to have them wall mounted remember that they should be placed on the wall but within 12 inches FROM the ceiling.
Fire Escape Plan For The Elderly
It’s true that not many households implement a fire escape plan but it’s something that should be part of your overall project when installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the house.
Creating such a plan and periodically rehearsing it can save your life and the lives of your loved ones.
You can read more details on how to create your very own fire escape plan here.
Additional Options And Safety Precautions
Alexa Devices And Skills
Put an Alexa device in your parent’s home (I would recommend one in each room) and activate the Alexa Guard skill.
This detects the sound of an alarm (and breaking glass as well). Once it detects either of these it then sends a notification to your phone.
This only alerts you on your phone – so please do not use this as a substitute for an actual smoke detector!
This option would work IF you are in possession of your parent’s smartphone because the Alexa Guard skill only sends notifications to the phone that the skill is set up on.
Other Alexa type options that could be used by your elderly parent are…
- Alert A Buddy skill – your mother or father would say “Alexa, ask my buddy to send help.” and this would alert up to 5 individuals that there is a problem.
- Instantly add light with Alexa routines and a lamp – many seniors have problems with their vision and if they are awoken to the sound or vibration due to a fire alarm the easiest way to “turn on” the lights would be to use an Echo device that has already been set up to turn on the lights. A simple, “Alexa, turn on the light,” is all that’s needed.
Medical Alert Devices
Just about everyone has seen the commercials for Life Alert’s medical alert device. In addition to this particular company, there are other companies as well that offer this type of service.
- 911 Help Now Location Plus – This one is a straight panic button that works wherever there is cellular reception. Press and hold the button to call 911 directly and speak to the operator (through the device). There is no activation fee and no subscription fee.
- Medical Guardian On-The-Go – This wearable, water resistant device has a monthly plan costing $34.95 (in 2023) and a zero activation fee. It features fall detection, 24/7 monitoring, and a panic button with two-way communication to their emergency monitoring system.
You can read more about Life Alert and these medical alert devices in our article How Much Is Life Alert Systems For Seniors?
This list of products includes:
- GPS enabled watch (this particular one also has an anti-fall alarm which is pretty cool!)
- Invisawear Smart Jewelry – these days, GPS and alert wearables don’t have to look clunky – this beautiful necklace is a piece of jewelry that is also a safety device!
One additional item that I can recommend for older adults is to add a magnetic clasp to the Invisawear necklace.
This makes it much easier to put on and take off for anyone who has problems managing small jewelry clasps.
I know that I do so this makes it quick and easy for me to wear my Invisawear necklace.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a carbon monoxide detector in all rooms?
Generally no, but if you have a very large home or if you have a gas-powered appliance in more than one room, you should consider installing carbon monoxide detectors in each of these areas to ensure the safety of everyone living in the home.
Which type of detector detects fires where there is no smoke?
Fires that produce little to no smoke are typically detected by heat detectors. Heat detectors detect the heat given off by a fire before any smoke is produced. These detectors are often used in areas like attics, garages, or other enclosed spaces where smoke may not be easily detected. Heat detectors can also be used to supplement existing smoke detectors in applications where very fast detection of fires is necessary. Heat detectors come in two types: fixed temperature and rate-of-rise. Fixed temperature heat detectors have a pre-set temperature at which they will detect a fire, while rate-of-rise heat detectors are triggered by a rapid increase in the ambient temperature. Heat detectors can provide an extra layer of protection in areas where smoke detection may not be feasible or reliable.
No matter what type of special smoke detectors or kinds of alarms you end up using, I urge you to do something to prevent home fire deaths!
Adults 65 and older are more than twice as likely to die in fires as the overall population.San Francisco Fire Department
Being smart about fire safety is important for you and your senior loved ones living in aging-in-place homes.