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Moms Wake Kids Better Than Smoke Alarms

Study Finds Kids Respond Better to Mom's Voice

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Updated January 23, 2014

Sleeping kids may be more likely to wake to mom's voice than to a smoke alarm tone, says a study published in the journal Pediatrics October 4, 2006. 24 kids were roused from a deep sleep cycle with either a conventional smoke alarm tone or a recording of their mothers' voices. The results were astounding.

All but one of the kids woke to his or her mother's voice. 9 kids slept through the conventional tone. Older kids (participants were all between six and twelve years old) were more likely to wake with a conventional tone than were younger kids, but all age groups did well to mom's voice.

Extra Loud

The researchers used unusually loud smoke alarms in this study. Dr. Gary Smith, Director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy, explained. "We knew in advance, although the data from previous studies were limited, that children did not appear to respond to conventional residential tone alarms during deep sleep." He said the researchers did not want an unfair comparison. "Therefore," Dr. Smith said, "we used the louder intensity to give the tone alarm a better chance of succeeding."

Practice Makes Perfect

Even more impressive was the ability of the kids to escape. All the participants were taught an escape drill and had to perform that drill once they were awakened. The kids that woke with mom's voice managed to escape with a median time of 38 seconds. The kids that woke with the tone managed a median time of the study's 5 minute time limit.

An important note, these kids were able to escape so quickly because they had been instructed in what to do. It's vitally important to plan your escape in case of a fire - and practice it.

Unanswered Questions

Just like every new study, this one creates new questions even as it answers old ones.
  1. Is voice the difference, or does it have to be a parent's voice?
  2. Does this affect adolescents and adults the same way?

Where Do I Get One?

Smoke alarms that use a parent's voice are not currently on the market, but this study may change that. In the mean time, there are several options for both smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors available on the market. Some combination models use voice to identify smoke or carbon monoxide. We may find it is simply a voice that makes a difference, not mom.

This study demonstrates how smoke alarms can be targeted to certain populations. Said Dr. Smith, "We believe that smoke alarms for children need to take into consideration the special developmental needs of children." Your preschooler may need a different smoke alarm than your teenager.

This study reminds us that just because we do things a certain way, that doesn't mean it's the best way. As the authors point out, this study suggests a new direction in the research and development of smoke alarms. This study was small, but Smith maintains the sample size was large enough to be statistically significant. Regardless, there's no denying the amazing results.

Reference:

Smith, Gary A., Splaingard, Mark, Hayes, John R., Xiang, Huiyun Comparison of a Personalized Parent Voice Smoke Alarm With a Conventional Residential Tone Smoke Alarm for Awakening Children Pediatrics 2006 118: 1623-1632 (doi:10.1542/peds.2006-0125)

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