As we get older, our risk of falling and getting hurt by falling drastically increases. It can go against our prideful nature to admit that we ourselves are now at risk of falling, but taking advantage of the technology available nowadays to keep ourselves safe can never be a bad thing. Detecting falls is undoubtedly critical but preventing them is the first step towards a safe home. There is a wide range of fall detection devices for seniors available to fit into every kind of lifestyle, so finding one that suits you is now easier than ever.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are 646,000 fatal falls worldwide every year, and falling is the leading cause of unintentional death (after road traffic accidents). Falls are highest in the over-65s, and this can be for several reasons. As we age, our cognitive and sensory abilities decline, as does our muscle strength and ability to stabilize ourselves.
With proper modifications of our environment, however, and by taking reasonable precautions, we can lower our risk of falling. In the USA, 20-30% of older people who do fall suffer moderate to severe injuries and for many of these, getting help as soon as possible is vital if we want to limit these injuries.
Fall detection devices
Fall detection devices have existed in some form for decades, but the rapid growth in technology since then has completely changed the landscape of types on offer. The primary function of fall detection devices is precisely what the name implies. They are designed to detect when a fall has occurred (i.e., when someone comes to rest on the ground or floor inadvertently).
The devices can then send an emergency signal to your local medical emergency services, a private fall monitoring company, or a family member. Many of them can also send your precise location so that you can be found as quickly as possible.
Things to consider when choosing a fall detection device
Monthly subscription fees
If you choose a fall detection device linked to a professional agency, you will need to pay a monthly subscription. If you would prefer only to pay once, you can choose an option that will connect you with your emergency response services instead.
If you don’t want to risk forgetting to put your device back on again after you’ve bathed, a waterproof option could be important to you.
The battery life of the different devices varies wildly. Remember that it’s always a trade-off between battery life and functionality. The more functions, the less time the battery will last.
Some companies offer devices that only work while you are at home, using a base station connected to your landline. If you are an avid gardener, then making sure that the range is big enough to be connected while you are outside is important. Some devices don’t need a base unit and include a SIM card to detect falls when you are out and about.
Accurate fall detection features
For complete peace of mind, the automatic fall detection technology must be reliable enough to avoid false alarms. All of these devices rely on both tri-axis gyroscopes and software components. Ensure that the algorithms are accurate enough to differentiate between real falls and just regular daily life movements.
Different types of fall detection devices
Medical alert systems
When you think of a fall detection device, the first image that enters your head could well be of a pendant that is worn around the neck as part of a medical alert system. The pendant usually includes a button that can be pressed, which will open up communication with the medical alert company. These types usually connect to a base station connected to a landline and require a monthly fee to the fall monitoring company.
With many of these systems, you are limited to the home because the pendant needs to stay in the base station range. However, some models use cellular service and GPS locating technology to use the device outside of the home.
Home Guardian by Medical Guardian
This model features a base station connected to a landline and a medical alert pendant with fall detection technology. When the button on the pendant is pressed, you can have a two-way conversation with the trained SeniorTech staff or a personal connection of your choice. It can be used within a 1300ft range of the base station.
From $34.95 per month, with a $39.95 cost for the equipment
GreatCall Lively Mobile Plus
With this model, the pendant doesn’t connect to a base station. Instead, it contacts GreatCall’s 5Star agents from the device itself. It uses its internal GPS to locate you and has up to 80 hours of battery life.
From $39.99 per month, with a $49.99 cost for the equipment
Smartwatch fall detection technology
While fall detection devices as part of a medical alert system have been around quite a while, a new breed of technology has entered the fall detection arena, and you might be wearing one on your wrist already.
Many older adults don’t like the idea of wearing a specialized medical alert device because they tend to be bulky. They are seen to carry with them a specific type of stigma about the wearer’s capabilities. However, the reality of it is that many of us would still benefit from using a fall detection device, even if we don’t need to dive straight in and use a full medical alert system.
For people like this, using an everyday smartwatch with many of the same medical alert functionalities you would find in a medical alert system is a dream come true. To date, the only mainstream smartwatch that has taken up the mantle of including fall detection technology is the Apple Watch (Series 4 and up). With that being said, some specialized medical alert devices are designed to be smartwatches as well (with some limited functionality).
This is a medical alert device first, and a smartwatch second, so it has limited uses outside of medical ones. It comes with a pre-installed SIM card, so it doesn’t need to be paired with a smartphone, and it can send and receive texts (with a voice-to-text option). It can also give you reminders and includes weather information. Your loved ones can download a companion app so they can stay informed about your wellbeing.
If you do have a fall, the Freedom Guardian connects you with their specialized call center.
From $44.95 per month
The Apple Watch contains an accelerometer and a gyroscope. These are normally used to detect your steps and activity level, but Apple has expanded its use to include fall detection. To do this, they created a custom algorithm based on real-world data from people wearing the watch to classify movements from a fall accurately.
If the Apple Watch does sense a fall, it displays an option on the screen for you to tell it that you’re ok or if you need it to contact your local emergency services. If it doesn’t receive a response within 60 seconds, it automatically sends the alert. It does this by speaking an automatic message to the call handler that includes your location, as determined by GPS. If you need help at any time, holding down the side button will connect you with emergency services.
As well as fall detection, the Apple Watch also includes a heart sensor that performs an ECG. It monitors your heart rate pattern for irregularities, and you can send the data to your healthcare provider. Of course, as well as all of the health functions, you can also access all of the other features and apps available for the Apple Watch.
Prices vary depending on the models
These include activity tracking, sleep tracking, texting, phone calls, music, Apple Pay, Siri, maps, and more. It is also water-resistant, so that you can use it while swimming or bathing.
The Apple Watch’s downside is that it is slightly less intuitive for less familiar people with technology. However, its display has become more accessible and its speaker louder in recent iterations. You also don’t get access to a private medical alert company, as you would with a regular medical alert device.
Instead, your alert is always sent to the emergency services. This is reflected, however, in the lack of a monthly subscription fee. So, while the Apple Watch is a more significant expense upfront, it can work out cheaper in the long run because you only have to pay once.
Fall detection devices have been around for a long time in one form or another, and several medical alert companies have dedicated teams on hand to deal with any alerts that come through. While this type of device was traditionally limited to being in the range of its base station (and this is still an option if it is right for you), there are now choices that you can take on your day-to-day travels.
A relatively new option, and one that is appealing to older people who don’t want or need a full medical alert device, is a standalone smartwatch. In particular, the Apple Watch (from Series 4 and up) offers cleverly designed fall detection technology and functions.