March 29

Ask the Expert: Fall Detection


Q: My mother is 76 years old, lives alone in her home, and is still very independent. I have attempted to get her to wear an emergency alert pendant, in the event she has a fall and is not able to reach her phone to call for help. She is very resistant to the idea and has stated she will not wear it. I want to respect her decision but at the same time, I worry about her. Do you have any ideas for an alternative?

Emergency alert pendants are indeed a great idea, especially when someone lives alone. Many offer GPS technology that allows them to be used from any location.  This is key for someone who is still independent and on the go.  Like many things, we often do not see the need for this type of safety net until a fall or other crisis occurs that prompts us to realize the value of receiving help with the push of a button.

This is one area where technological advances are on your mother’s side. Many adults are finding exactly what they need through smartwatches, smartphones, and other fitness type wrist bands that can be worn all the time. They often serve multiple purposes and are fashionable or customizable. The key is making sure they offer fall detection capabilities.

A great place to start is by determining if your mom is already using some type of smartphone or watch that may have fall detection or emergency alert technology.  There is a lot of information available online if you do a quick search for “fall detection devices” or “fall detection wearables.”  I will use myself as an example.  I’m a runner and typically run alone. I am a single mom with children at home. Who would find me if I fell and couldn’t call for help? How long would it take? As a care manager, my clients use this technology, but it recently occurred to me that I may need it myself. I already have an Apple phone and an Apple watch. This made the process easy. I simply upgraded to a Series 4 watch and enabled the fall detection option. Now if I am out running and experience a hard fall, my watch will automatically alert my emergency contact and call for medical assistance if needed. Just last month I had a client report falling while at home. Her adult children had set up her Apple watch to notify them if a fall occurred. When she experienced a fall, it not only notified her children but also her husband who was in another part of the house, and emergency services were able to communicate with her through the watch to determine if she was conscious and if 911 needed to be called. It worked.

A: Many companies are offering similar options.  Apple is just one example; however, Fitbit, FitTech, Garman, Samsung, Phillips Lifeline, Lively by Great call, and many more are offering fall detection technology. Some are synchronized with a smartphone and others are stand-alone devices. Do your homework and look at pictures of the wrist band available for each. Some are functional watches with lots of uses and others will have the appearance of an alert pendant. One thing to keep in mind is that the device will need to be charged and may require some degree of setup or input of information. Create a plan for daily charging. For example, a time she would be seated to eat a meal or watch TV and does not plan to be up and at risk of a fall.  Some people charge them during sleeping hours, but if your mom is up and down to the bathroom, you would want her to be wearing it during that time. Together you and your mom can create a plan and choose the device that is the right fit for her.

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