We’ve all been there. A family member has unexpectedly become immobilized due to an injury and needs your help recuperating. During the day this works out, because they can call out to you for assistance and you respond with help. Now it is bedtime and you’re a sound sleeper. How will your patient get your attention during the night? The solution I came up with is a wireless door chime kit. I needed something that I could buy and set up immediately, was available locally and was inexpensive. You can buy different models of a wireless bell at Home Depot and other hardware chains for as little as $15-20.
Here are the features to look for in a wireless doorbell:
Long range - Most claim 100-150 feet operating distance, but the stated distance is always in open air tests, performed outside. Accounting for walls and metal objects, figure on 1/3 to 1/4th the range that they claim. This is true of all things wireless such as cordless phones, wireless speakers, wi-fi routers and wireless doorbells.
Plug-in Chime - All the models have small batteries in the doorbell button but the continuous power draw is in the chime unit. Being a radio receiver, it is always drawing power while waiting to sense a button signal and will drain batteries every few months. Therefore, you want to get an AC powered plug-in chime. The battery in the button unit will last for years and years since it only needs power when someone presses it.
Different chime choices - Some models only have two choices but you’ll want to get one with 6-8 chime tones, including a Westminster sound. You want to use a chime that plays for 10 seconds, if you expect it to wake you up.
Volume Control - A few designs have this feature. As it turned out, I needed the loudest setting, to assure it would wake me up. However, if you’re using it for daytime use, then adjustable volume might be desirable.
Second Button operation - Some models have this and assign a different second chime tone. The intended use is for front and rear doorbells with unique chimes. You would only want this feature if you are caring for multiple patients. If you already have a wireless doorbell for your front door, though, you may only need to invest in a second button for your patient and listen for the second button chime tone if they need something.
The model that I ended up buying from Home Depot is the IQ America model WD-2041A for $19.97. I can attest that it works solidly at 25 feet through one bedroom wall. Amazon also has many choices, if you are planning to buy a wireless bell in advance or don’t live near a large hardware store. Other models are available from Honeywell, GE and Heath/Zenith.
Here are some other wireless calling methods that I considered useful in a pinch:
Cell phone to cell phone - This would work for many people but not as well as a single button calling solution. If the patient is very ill or elderly, a cell phone on their end may not work out well.
Large dinner bell or cow bell - This is low tech and could wake up all the wrong people at night, but not necessarily a heavy sleeper. Where do you buy a cowbell? Musicians use them, so look in music supply stores. Amazon has some cowbells starting at $7.
An outlet strip and a long extension cord to a powered radio and light in the bedroom - Don’t laugh. This is what I used the first night, when I was in this situation. When the patient flicks the power switch on the outlet it turns on a lamp and a radio in the bedroom. Besides being unsightly, a cord strung down the hall is a safety hazard, even with throw rugs over it. Depending on construction, you may not get the bedroom door to close over the cord. Just try and find an old fashioned radio that comes on playing when first plugged in. Most of the modern designs don’t work that way. I used a little emergency radio, that I had, with an analog dial and an AC power unit.
I’m sure there are wireless intercom systems designed just for this problem and for longterm care, something more elegant than a doorbell is in order. For a 1-2 week situation, however, it’s hard to beat a cheap $15-20 solution.