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how to use fall alarms

by Rein Tideiksaar, PhD

Fall alarms can be important tools in a fall prevention program. Learn how to choose one and use it properly.

Purpose of a fall alarm:


  • Monitoring system to alert caregivers when patient / resident gets out of bed or chair and/or up from toilet.

  • Serve as an "early warning system"; they alert nursing staff when "at-risk" residents are engaging in activities that are likely to result in falls.

How to use a fall alarm:

  • Warn staff that the patient/resident has changed position and is about to leave their bed, chair, wheelchair or toilet. This may give staff enough time to assist the patient/resident.

  • Warn staff that the patient/resident has shortly left the bed, chair, wheelchair or toilet. This may give staff enough time to intercept the patient/resident before a fall.

  • Promote speedy assistance to patients/residents who have already fallen in order to promptly provide care. This can help reduce fall complications, such as the amount of time that a patient/resident lies unaided.

  • Alarm, in some cases, can warn patient/residents themselves.When a patient/resident attempts to leave their bed, the alarm can activate a verbal reminder through speakers/intercoms reminding the patient/resident to wait for staff. In some cases the sound of the alarm may prompt the patient/resident to sit back in bed, chair, wheelchair or toilet (i.e., the alarm warns the patient/resident that they are "doing something that they shouldn't be doing") and/or remind the patient/resident to call for assistance.

  • Serve as an alternative to nurse call bells in patients/residents who are noncompliant or unable to use their call bell because of cognitive and/or physical impairments. Alarms, which do not require active participation by patients/residents to trigger, may be preferable to nurse call systems, which demand active participation by individuals to activate.

  • Serve as an assessment or planning tool by monitoring the frequency of attempts to leave the bed, chair or wheelchair, which can help identify emerging trends and interventions. Coupled with initial and ongoing risk assessments, fall alarms can inform staff about a patient's/resident's habits. For example, a patient/resident may consistently attempt to arise at a certain hour to go to the bathroom, while another resident may get up at nonspecific times, driven by an urge to wander. As a result of such a "history," nurses can adjust their attention and care to each patient's/resident's habits and needs.

  • Allow staff more freedom of time (avoiding constant supervision of patients/residents at risk). This provides nurses more opportunity to work with residents as opposed to spending time on surveillance or being frequently interrupted to observe patients.

SeekWellness Little Sun See also: Fall Alarms - Alarm Features Comparison

Posted May 2010


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