Mother's voice more effective than smoke alarm for children: Study

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Movies that often depict a teenager missing their alarm despite it blaring and only waking up to their mother's voice telling them they are about to be late for school might be onto something, according to a study.

The study conducted by the Nationwide Children's hospital in Ohio involved 176 children aged between 5 and 12 years old, none of whom had hearing difficulties or were taking sleep medication. The children were fitted with electrodes, which monitored their REM sleep so that researchers could trigger one of four different smoke alarms once children were at the same sleep stage. Each child was asked to sleep in a laboratory room that was made to resemble a real domestic bedroom and were shown an escape route from the room before they went to sleep. All children experienced all four smoke alarms -- two on two different occasions.

Results showed that vocal alarms (those using a human-like voice instead of a sound) appeared more effective than high-pitched beeps, typical of modern digital alarm clocks. About 90 per cent of children woke for the voice alarm, compared to 53 per cent for the traditional alarm, and 85 per cent of children left the room within 5 minutes when the alarm featured the voice of their mother. In comparison, only 50 per cent of children left the room in 5 minutes when beeping alarm sounds were used.

"Alarms don't wake up children well at all under about 12 years of age," said coauthor of the study Dr. Gary Smith. "If we can get something that can be generically developed and just taken straight out of the packet and is effective for children in this age range, then that is our goal."

A member of The National Fire Chiefs Council (NCC) in the United Kingdom Rick Hylton said he welcomed the study, but raised concerns over the effectiveness of fire alarms. "We know smoke alarms save lives," he said.

Previous research of a similar vein was conducted by director of the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Dundee, Professor Niamh Nic Daeid, which also showed findings that a human voice was far more effective than a traditional high-pitched alarm in waking children.

"[Smoke alarms] will alert occupants early, if working, fitted and installed in the correct location. This gives adults, parents or guardians the opportunity to wake children and leave the house," Hylton said.