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J Rehabil Res Dev. 1995 Feb;32(1):43-54.

Waking effectiveness of visual alerting signals.

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Hearing Health Care Research Unit, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.


People who are unable to hear acoustic alarm signals because they have a complete or partial hearing loss must rely on visual or tactile signals to warn them in the event of an emergency. However, consumers report that personal smoke detector devices which provide a visual alarm do not wake people reliably. We examined the ability of visual alerting devices to wake people from the deepest stages of sleep: slow wave sleep (SWS) and rapid-eye-movement sleep (REM). These results were related to the physical (optical) characteristics of devices currently on the market. In Experiment 1, a range of strobe intensities and locations were investigated. Experiment 2 confirmed the results of this pilot study on an independent set of subjects. On each trial, the strobe was allowed to run at a constant intensity until the subject awoke, or a maximum of 5 min had elapsed. Even though a diffuse light remained directly over the subject's face for each trial, subjects did not wake consistently. Under the favorable optical (smoke-free) conditions of the present study, the most intense of the devices presently offered for sale in Canada cannot be relied on to wake a sleeping person in the event of a fire. It remains unclear whether any visual alerting device can be expected to safely wake a sleeper in an emergency situation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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