Before the introduction of fall detection technology, people who suffered a fall may have remained on the floor for hours before anyone learned that they needed help.
Today, fall detection devices help reduce the risk of long-term injury by detecting a person’s abrupt change in position. The device calls for help even if the person is unable to do so themselves, signaling prompt emergency response to address the situation.
How Do Fall Detection Devices Work?
There are two types of fall detection devices: wearable sensor devices and ambient sensor devices.
Wearable Sensor Devices
When a fall occurs, an accelerometer sensor embedded in a watch, pendant, belt or clip-on device detects the speed at which a person moves toward the ground. An algorithm determines if the person fell. If so, the device sends a signal to the manufacturer’s monitoring team. An agent then contacts the person through a speaker in the device.
If the person confirms that they fell, the agent sends a notification to the person’s emergency contact listed in the system. If the person who potentially fell doesn’t respond, their emergency contact is notified automatically.
Many wearable sensor devices also feature a manual button so the person can self-report a fall when able to do so.
Ambient Sensor Devices
With ambient sensor devices, video cameras are placed strategically in a person’s home to track their movement. When the ambient sensors detect a fall, the monitoring service contacts the person through a speaker in the home.
If the person confirms that they fell, the monitoring service agent sends a notification to the person’s emergency contact. When there is no response or feedback from the person who has fallen, their emergency contact is notified automatically.
Fall Detection Device Accuracy and Limitations
Manufacturers are quick to point out that none of these devices can guarantee 100% fall detection accuracy, according to Fritzi Gros-Daillon, director of education and advocacy at Age Safe America, an organization promoting the safety, security and longevity of older adults who choose to age at home. However, most of these devices detect at least 85% of falls, says Gros-Daillon.
Studies indicate that while a smartwatch can detect a fall, devices worn closer to a person’s center of gravity (such as a necklace or pendant) do so more accurately.
A device worn near the shoulder gives the sensor maximum distance measurement from the floor, which improves its accuracy, says Gros-Daillon. Some devices also use changes in barometric pressure to determine whether a fall occurs.
As with hearing aids and other assistive devices, the person at risk of falling must be willing to use the fall detection device to experience its benefits.