Parent Voice Alarm Superior to Residential Tone Smoke Alarm at Awakening Children

October 2, 2006

Approximately half of residential fire deaths occur at night, when victims are asleep. Even in daytime fires, many deaths occur as a result of the victim being asleep at the time of the emergency. Conventional residential tone smoke alarms fail to awaken the majority of children 6- to 12-years-old during stage 4 sleep. A study published in the October issue of Pediatrics and conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) in the Columbus Childrens Research Institute at Columbus Childrens Hospital and the Sleep Disorder Center at Columbus Childrens Hospital, is the first to compare the ability of different types of alarms to awaken children while monitoring sleep stage.

According to the study, a personalized parent-voice alarm at 100-dB successfully awakened 96 percent of the children 6- to 12-years-old from stage 4 sleep (the deepest stage of sleep) with 83 percent of them successfully performing a simulated self-rescue escape procedure. This significantly outperformed a residential tone alarm which only awakened 58 percent of the same children with only 38% percent successfully performing the escape procedure. One child in the study did not awaken to either smoke alarm.

These findings suggest a clear direction for future research, as well as important fundamental changes in smoke alarm design, that address the unique developmental needs of children, said the studys co-author Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, director of CIRP in Columbus Childrens Research Institute and a faculty member of The Ohio State University College of Medicine. The development of a more effective smoke alarm for use in homes and other locations where children sleep provides an opportunity to reduce fire-related morbidity and mortality among children.

Using a randomized, nonblinded, clinical research design, a volunteer sample of 24 healthy children 6- to 12-years-old was enrolled in the study. Children were trained how to perform a simulated self-rescue escape procedure when they heard an alarm. The smoke alarms used specifically for this study were much louder than commercially available alarms. Each childs mother recorded a voice alarm message, First name! First name! Wake up! Get out of bed! Leave the room! For each child, either the voice or tone alarm was randomly selected and triggered during the first cycle of stage 4 sleep, and then the other alarm was triggered during the second cycle of stage 4 sleep.

Various factors may have been important to the success of the parent voice alarm, including the stimulus intensity, the characteristics of the sound system used, the use of the childs first name in the alarm message and the childs recognition of his/her mothers voice, said the studys co-author Mark Splaingard, MD, director of the Sleep Disorder Center at Childrens Hospital and a faculty member of The Ohio State University College of Medicine. However, the relative contribution of each factor is currently unknown.

Pam Barber / Mary Ellen Fiorino
Columbus Children's Hospital
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