An extensive study into the use of personal alarms suggests that as well as giving older people confidence to live independently for longer, the systems can also highlight gaps in healthcare and indicate where proactive intervention is needed.
The report published in the Australian Journal on Ageing, looked at 42,180 older people enrolled in Victoria’s Personal Alarm program between 2014-17.
The program involved the MePACS personal alarm system, which uses wearable devices like a watch or pendant and links back to a base system that connects the user to a triage operator who decides whether to provide reassurance, alert a designated support person or call an ambulance.
Lead researcher Nadine Andrew from Monash University says the study – one of only a few to look at personal alarm systems in detail – provides valuable insights into how they are used by older people.
The study identified three groups of users – those who didn’t activate their alarms, those who activated their alarms because of a fall, and those who activated them because something was making them feel unwell such as chest pains or shortness of breath.
Analysis of the data showed that people who activated the alarms for a fall or a medical event did so repeatedly, Associate Professor Andrew said.
“We found you had this sort of cascading repeating of an event,” she told Community Care Review.
“We identified a gap where the care people were receiving after an alarm event obviously wasn’t addressing the root cause.
“We think there are opportunities to be a little more proactive in this space, especially if we can start to use the data to identify people who may be in need of certain programs or evidence-based interventions to prevent falls or better manage chronic health conditions.”
Co-designing integrated systems
Associate Professor Andrew says personal alarm systems can also empower older people by increasing their security and confidence at home, and separate research has indicated they have the potential to save money by reducing ambulance callouts.
The research team is continuing to work with MePACS and users to co-design models of care that better address underlying issues, such as fall prevention programs, and to improve the integration of health care services and alarm system technology.
“One of the challenges with the technology space is it’s not so much about the technology per say, it’s about how the technology is implemented and integrated into existing systems,” Associate Professor Andrew said.
“It’s not just about the alarm, it’s about integrating it with the hospital and other health care systems.”