Motion Sensors

If the person you care for has started to leave home alone or is trying to negotiate the stairs unassisted when it’s no longer safe to do so, or if they should be getting help getting out of bed or a chair, a motion sensor may be helpful for monitoring their activity.

How Do Motion Sensors Work?

The motion sensors, as the name implies, senses motion wherever it’s placed and then sends a signal to a local or, more often, a remote receiver unit, letting you know the person is approaching an outside door, is leaving the bedroom, etc. They come in 2 parts- motion sensor and remote caregiver receiver (or local voice alert unit). You can find huge selection of them here.

Motion sensor should be placed in an area you want to monitor. You can try several spots to find optimal location for your situation. For example near a doorway or in a hallway to send an alert if the person is leaving the room or under the bed to alert you when a person gets out of bed.

Sensors often work best placed at a right angle to the path the person is moving in – when someone is walking across the sensor beam rather than toward it.

Please note that motion detectors generally need about 30 to 60 seconds to warm up after turning on or after changing the settings (we thought ours was broken).

4 Main Differences Among Motion Sensors

1.Volume control and type of alert

  • Chime
  • Alarm
  • Vibration
  • Caregiver voice

2. Transmission range from the sensor to your receiver (75 to 150 feet)
3. How the alert is turned off (automatically or manually)
4. Plug-in or portable (battery-operated) caregiver receiver

PROS

  • May allow you to get to person’s side to offer assistance.
  • No wires to trip over or uncomfortable pads to sit or lay on.
  • You can monitor a wide area (whole room) or narrow area (bedside only), depending on sensor placement (horizontal or vertical) and choice of sensor (each product we tested/reviewed had a different coverage area).

CONS

  • Every time someone walks by the sensor, an alert will go off. For example, if you’re monitoring a person getting up from bed, the alert will also sound when the person gets back into bed.
  • You’ll need to experiment with the right placement of the sensor so the sensor is picking up the person’s movements when you want it to, and this can be tricky. For example, if you DO NOT want the person to get up from the bed unassisted, you need to make sure the sensor is picking up the person’s movements as they sit up, not when they stand up. You also need to make sure the sensor is picking up the person’s movements as they go towards the door, not when they’re just passing by the door going to another room (like the kitchen) or there will be too many false alerts.
  • Depending on your situation and/or the type of sensor you buy, you may need to turn the motion sensor on or off several times a day and it’s easy to forget to reset it. You can limit the detection area with black electrical tape covering part of the sensor, but this will only work in limited situations.
  • Pets can set off the sensors, but you can try placing the sensor higher to change the area covered by the motion detector and to see if it picks up the movements of the person you care for rather than your pets.
  • Changing the settings can be difficult because the setting and control knobs are very small – could be problematic for persons with arthritis or low vision. (You may need to get out a magnifier!)
  • Batteries do not last long, depending on use.

General Cautions

  • These systems are not fail-proof and may not always work, so use multiple strategies when trying to prevent falls or wandering. See our section on Wandering and on Falls for more ideas.
  • Although the alert sound may seem loud enough to wake you from sleep – test to make sure that it can wake you from a deep slumber (if that’s what you want).
  • Maximum motion sensor detection areas vary, depending on room layouts, obstructions (e.g., columns, walls), the position of the sensor, and other environmental influences, so you need to test before use.
  • Persons with dementia may learn to duck under the sensor, detach it from where it is mounted, or disable the device. If the person notices and resists having a motion sensor mounted in their home, some caregivers tactfully say that the unit is a smoke alarm. Each caregiver has to decide for themselves whether this is justifiable or not.

Cross Point Voice Alert System-6 Wireless Annunciator Receiver (VA-6000R)

Some individuals may respond to a verbal safety warning to prevent falls or wandering. This product has a wireless sensor and a separate plug in speaker unit which uses a recorded message, in your voice, to play a reminder when a person is detected within the range of the unit. This product can be used at the stairs or by a bed, a chair, or a door.

Typical voice reminders might be, “Dad, it’s Rick – wait for me, don’t go out the door! (or, dont get up from the chair!). I’ll be right there!”.

If used in a large home, multiple sensors and speakers would be needed. For example, a speaker unit in a bedroom would announce, “Dad’s at the front door!” (or, the back door, depending on the sensor(s) location(s).

Originally designed as a home alarm system, this product is now being promoted as a voice monitoring system for people with dementia. When recording, be sure to enunciate so your words will be clearly heard on the speaker.

The Manufacturer Claims

  • 40 x 40 foot range for detection of motion when sensor is mounted at 7 feet-6inches above the floor
  • Downward detecting angle of 45 degrees
  • Can send a signal to the caregiver receiver up to 300 feet, through walls

PROS

  • Messages are recorded by the caregiver, ensuring that the voice is familiar to the person with dementia.
  • Wide range of detection; sensor rotates and pivots and has multiple beam spread patterns
  • Excellent audio quality
  • Excellent volume adjustment on speaker unit, from low to very loud
  • Auto reset after each motion detection
  • Each message plays twice before stopping. Movement in the detection range will trigger the message to be played again.
  • The sensors (not the speaker units) are weather resistant and can be used outside. For example, you can be notified if the person enters a given area in the backyard.
  • One caregiver speaker unit can monitor up to six motion sensors.

CONS

  • If you aren’t nearby, you may not hear the local speaker unit, so you’ll need to get another speaker unit to use for a remote alarm. Or combine this product with another, like a door monitor with a remote alert.
  • Speaker unit is large and may not be accepted by the person. You may want to disguise it by placing it in a decorative box though which sound can be heard (as we did).
  • Only six seconds for each message (though we were able to say: “Dad, wait for me, I’ll be right there, don’t go out the door!”)
  • The person may become agitated by the message telling them what to do, especially if the voice alert plays over and over again.
    If they perceive the voice as disembodied you should identify yourself in the recording so as not to startle the person (e.g. “Hi Victor, it’s your wife, Tracey!”)