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Caring for elderly loved ones requires a lot of effort. Older adults may face different health issues, including dementia or balance and coordination problems, making them more likely to fall. Unfortunately, we are not always ready to track accidents or stay around.
Today AllsWell Blog discusses fall detection systems – one of the best preventive measures to protect seniors.
Falls are a major public problem that is often overlooked, especially compared to other health issues. The older we are, the more likely we are to fall. According to the World Health Organization, falls are the second cause of accidental injury deaths. Seniors aged 60 and older are the most likely to suffer from a fatal fall.
The defining factors of danger are gender, health, and age. For instance, older women and younger children are more likely to fall. Despite the same fall frequency, men die more often from this cause than women.
Falls do not always lead to lethal or severe damage. The most common consequences are bruises, hip fractures, broken bones, or head trauma.
Fortunately, there are many things we can do to prevent them.
Helping the elderly with lifting or moving heavy objects
Making sure the floor is dry
Making your house a safer environment
Implementing fall detection software in your elder's routine
Personal safety software is especially effective since many modern seniors willingly use technology. A fall detection system is a device or app that can detect if a person has fallen and request fast medical assistance.
The fall detection feature is available on many modern devices. Even recent Apple Watch models have it. Fall detection automatically triggers an SOS signal when the user has fallen. It is usually combined with an emergency call button to enable the person to send panic alerts with a click.
The modern market offers many options, so let's discuss how fall detection works and alternatives.
Every fall detection device has a built-in feature designed to track falls. Here's how it captures the user's movements:
It usually contains a gyroscope and an accelerometer. A gyroscope is a tracking device used for measuring velocity and orientation. An accelerometer measures the speed and acceleration of body movement.
Based on the data from these sensors, advanced software calculates your body's position and movement speed in space. If it reaches a specific parameter that the system considers a "fall," the device initiates the safety protocol.
Depending on the device, different scenarios may happen. Usually, the user gets a notification about a fall detection alert: If you press the "I'm fine" type of button, the scenario resets. If you press "I've fallen," the system will initiate an SOS signal. In case you don't press anything, another timer starts.
If you don't turn off the timer, the system notifies emergency contacts. You can set up the emergency contacts before using a fall detection device or app.
The emergency contacts may include relatives, friends, and 911 depending on your choice. Check out the guide on who to add to your emergency list here.
Fall detection is a complex mechanism that needs to calculate speed, position angle, and acceleration. The calibration must include triggers like small actions and rapid changes in position.
A simple garden routine or physical activity may not differ much from falls. That's why fall detection devices aren't 100% accurate. Actually, most fall monitoring system manufacturers recommend pressing the emergency button yourself.
For instance, according to the 2021 Journal of RESNA research from 300 fall trials captured, the Apple Watch Series 5 only managed to detect 14 cases. Twenty-five non-disabled participants performed three falls from a wheelchair in 4 different directions. The parameters that impact the result in the research include height, lower limb functioning, and fall direction.
The statistics were only gathered about falls from wheelchairs. Moreover, all of the falls performed were intentional. That's why collecting accurate data on how such devices work in real life is tricky.
Another research by BMC Public Health states that the average sensitivity of fall detection is over 86.4%. The effectiveness depends on the type of device and its placement.
Gathering real-life data is problematic as it requires many participants and long-term research. Still, the numbers show how far fall detection devices are from being 100% accurate. That's why a perfect personal safety device for seniors must combine fall detection capabilities with a panic button.
The companies usually market fall detection products as a solution for older generations. The reasons are apparent. The medical conditions that cause dizziness and imbalance, thus increasing fall damage risks, are stroke, anemia, panic disorders, depression, Parkinson's, high blood pressure, brain injury, and Alzheimer's disease.
Older people also have a higher risk of fall damage as they may often have:
Vision problems. This group includes presbyopia, glaucoma, dry eyes, and cataracts. Those are common age-related conditions that can lead to vision loss and make people more likely to trip over and fall.
Muscle weakness. People over 50 lose 3% of muscle mass every year. This process may affect even the easiest actions like walking up the stairs.
Dementia, heart disease, or hypotension. These common health conditions among older adults don't necessarily result in fall damage but often lead to coordination problems and injuries.
We would also recommend using a fall detection device for people who are into fitness and any training routines. Sport and physical activity may exhaust the body if done wrong, thus increasing the risk of fall damage. Most falls occur outside of home, so having a device to keep you safe on the run is a great option.
Fall detection devices come in different forms and have various uses. You may want something to wear to your wrist like a watch or opt for a more convenient option like a smartphone app. Just be sure that the chosen device is reliable and easy to use.
This category includes fall detection devices that look like wearable bracelets and watches. Besides fall monitoring, watches can show time and perform other features like pulse tracking. Besides, Apple Watch and its competitors offer different design options. They are stylish, and you can wear them anywhere.
It is a good choice for your elderly due to how light to carry around and ergonomic it is. Your elderly won't forget it somewhere, as it often happens with dementia patients. They can leave it on the arm as a regular watch or even take a shower with it.
These devices can work autonomously or require integration with a special mobile application. In most cases, smartphone apps are used along with watches for more advanced functionality and convenient settings.
Pendant devices are small and lightweight. This is an old-school choice that first comes to mind when speaking about fall detection devices. The design is usually not as versatile and bright, but they are still lightweight and easy to use.
Pendants usually have one button to press, and you can wear them around the neck. Pendants will be great if your elderly loved ones are used to necklaces. If not, check out other options and ask your loved ones about their preferences.
Pendants usually have long battery life. The battery isn't rechargeable but may last for several months/years.
An in-home monitoring system is the most complicated fall detection option. Companies provide several tracking sensors to install all around the house/flat. You can place them on different walls and connect them to bracelets.
They are more accurate than any other device but have a significant drawback. You can't use them outside. We recommend using home monitoring systems for patients with dementia or other severe disabilities that make their houses dangerous. In this case, home systems may be the most useful.
Most smartphones already have the sensors needed for fall detection. No wonder they may be used as fall detection devices as well. This is the most accessible and affordable choice. Smartphone apps are easy to install, offer various uses, and include different features besides fall detection. The smartphone is usually in its user's pocket, so it won't be a problem to carry it around.
The drawbacks largely depend on the smartphone model. Some apps can be glitchy, and before choosing this option, we recommend performing some testing.
Fall detection devices are versatile and relatively easy to use and set up. The one disadvantage of most of these devices is the price.
To fully use watches, bracelets, or pendants, you require an app or a medical service with a subscription and the device itself. The minimum price of a subscription starts from $9.99 per month. Some devices don't require a subscription, like Apple Watch, but they cost about 400$. Apple's alternatives are not cheap as well. For instance, MINI Guardian starts at 125$ with a 40$ monthly service fee.
Home fall detection systems are even more expensive. You need to buy a subscription and pay for each sensor, which may cost 100$ each. Therefore, setting up such a system may cost a fortune for a large house.
Apps are considerably cheaper, but you won't get a free trial in most cases. You'll have to surf the web and gather user reviews instead. That probably isn't what you would like to do when paying a monthly subscription. Fortunately, apps like AllsWell offer an alternative to fall detection apps and have a 30-day trial for profound testing.
As for the alternatives, we recommend using software with a different safety approach like inactivity monitoring available in AllsWell. It tracks the period of user inactivity and automatically sends alerts when the user doesn't interact with the phone for too long. Prolonged inactivity usually means that something bad has happened and the user cannot reach their mobile device. AllsWell also has a panic button to enable users to send GPS emergency alerts when they fall.
AllsWell Alert charges only $9.99 monthly and has a free 30-day trial. It has international coverage, convenient GPS tracking, and emergency call customization.