Damning results for personal alarms

Thursday, 02 November, 2023

Damning results for personal alarms

CHOICE has discovered a multitude of problems with personal alarms, leading the consumer advocacy group to bestow a ‘Shonky Award’ on the emergency device for being unreliable and hard to use.

Worn around the neck or wrist or attached to a belt, a personal alarm is designed to call or message the wearer’s carer in case of an emergency. It should be noted that CHOICE did not test the type that contacts a dedicated call centre.

In a humorous yet damning article, CHOICE said it could not recommend any of the 40 personal alarms it has tested since it began reviewing these devices in 2017. When put to the test in real-world situations, the devices were often found to be incapable of performing the key functions carers or wearers are depending on.

Failures in reception and geofencing were a particular issue, with the organisation finding that if a loved one were to wander onto a train or another form of public transport, the reception was sometimes so poor that the personal alarm wouldn’t work when the user tried to activate it. In the case of geofencing — a GPS-based feature that is supposed to activate the alarm when the wearer goes outside of a predetermined virtual ‘fence’, such as an aged care facility or a home — many of the devices tested failed to trigger an alarm, or were slow in notifying the carer.

CHOICE also found that the devices were notably hard to set up and use, presenting difficulties even for the tech experts who test these products regularly. Additionally, personal alarms have a battery that needs to be charged on a regular basis, which can be an issue if the user has a cognitive impairment. The chargers themselves are also fraught with issues; some have delicate docks that make it difficult to tell whether the device is actually properly connected and charging — a fault that should have been designed out years ago, CHOICE said.

Privacy was another concern, with many companies having ambiguous policies in relation to retention of users’ personal data, which can include ID in the form of a driver’s licence and/or Medicare card. CHOICE reported that while some companies claim they won’t store this information, others don’t specify for how long they’ll keep a user’s information, or how they’ll use it.

Overall, serious improvements are needed. “We’d like to see irresponsible suppliers change their behaviour so that these products meet consumer needs and expectations about performance and ease of use,” said CHOICE director of reviews and testing Matthew Steen.

“As it stands, we see carers seeking peace of mind from a product that’s often just a waste of money.”

Image credit: iStock.com/AndreyPopov

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