If you are making your elderly parents’ 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 in to 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 seniors is will they be able to hear the smoke detector and will they be able to see a smoke detector with a strobe light? Also, to keep your senior loved one as safe as possible I would also recommend to purchase a smoke detector with a built in carbon monoxide detector.
My recommendation is always to consider what your senior loved one 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 may get much worse in the next decade.
Since smoke detectors last approximately 10 years I would recommend to purchase one for hearing impaired individuals.
If they are currently showing signs of vision problems then I would recommend to purchase a smoke detector that is equipped with a bed shaker.
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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 home.
I recommend that before you make a purchase of any smoke alarm system that you contact your local fire department and request some help / information on what smoke detectors would work best for your particular home.
There are basically three types of alarms that can installed in your home.
- Battery powered units
- Hard wired units with a battery backup
- Smoke alarms combined with a monoxide detector (Recommended)
Your decision will depend of course on your senior loved one’s needs but also the type of home you have (if it’s pre-wired for a smoke alarm or not) and your 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 that can shake the bed (or pillow depending on where you put the sensor).
My personal recommendation is to purchase one that does it all like the HomeAware Fire/CO Alert. Sound, Light and Movement. 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 Homeaware product that I recommend here does all three and it also detects carbon monoxide. However, it is a battery powered unit (vs. hard wired) so attention will have to be paid to make sure that there are always spare batteries in the home to readily replace them as needed.
Another issue to consider is the maintenance of the smoke detectors. 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 change the 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 it’s 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 detectors so check online or contact your local fire department for information.
Some examples of where you can look for free smoke detectors are:
- The American Red Cross has a program offered in limited counties in the USA where you can request a free smoke detector for your home.
- The state of Tennessee in the USA has a program where you can request a free smoke alarm
- Some counties in the state of Georgia also offer free smoke alarms as well.
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 BRK Photoelectric Smoke 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 it also shakes the bed. I have more information about the HomeAware product I recommend just below.
Smoke Alarm For 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 for persons with low or poor vision like the HomeAware Fire/CO Alert. This type of smoke detector not only flashes a strobe light, it also has a loud alarm AND it shakes the bed or pillow.
This unit comes with a component that you can place under your pillow or anywhere else on the bed where you would feel it.
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
Smoke alarms should be placed as follows:
- one in each bedroom
- one outside the bedrooms (usually the adjoining hallway)
- one on each level of the home
- I would recommend 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 smart phone because the Alexa Guard skill only sends notification 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.
- Ask Alexa to call 911 – you need an external product (other than an Alexa device) called Echo Connect
- Instantly add light with routines and Echo Button – 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 Button that has already been set up to turn on the lights. A simple push of the button does the trick.
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.
- LifeFone – only $24.95 per month and no long term contract
- Freedom Guardian – starts at $44.95 per month + a one time equipment charge of $99.00 (only works through AT&T’s cellular service)
- Ripple 24/7 Personal Safety Monitoring – about $40.00 to buy which includes 3 months of monitoring. It’s a tiny device (can be worn on a charm bracelet) so it would only be recommended for seniors who have good manual dexterity in their hands.
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.
No matter what type of smoke alarm product or set of products you end up using, I urge you to use something!
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.