If you have been looking at getting a Medical Alert System, you may have noticed that a lot of them have an add-on called a Fall Detection, and usually at some additional cost to the basic rate. I decided to get some information on what is a Fall detector, how it works, who needs one, how it would help and whether or not it was worth getting one for my mom.

So, What is a fall detector ? A Fall detector is a small system of sensors which is equipped with software which can automatically detect if the wearer falls, and then send an alert for help. The Fall Detectors usually come as an integrated part of a Medical Alert System – either for the home, or a mobile system for going out and about. They are either worn or carried.

How do Fall Detectors work ?

Fall Detectors contain many tiny sensors which have been designed to detect changes in motion, in speed of motion and direction, in height, of impact, of intensity of impact and speed of impact.

The sensors are the same type as those which detect when you have turned the screen of a phone or a tablet, and will adjust the image accordingly.

In short, these sensors – accelerometers and processors – will compare the data that they process with historical fall data.

The sensors are taking measurements up to one hundred times a second, to be able to calculate in which direction, and at what speed you are moving, and then comparing it to historical fall data.

Each system will have it’s own “algorithm” which is used to analyse the data from it’s sensors in real-time, and to decide if the you have experienced a fall.

This is actually called Automatic Fall Detection or Automated Fall Detection, as it will send a signal regardless of whether the wearer is conscious or not. 

Well all the fall detectors except for Walabart Home use sensors – the latest technical innovation in fall technology

Very recently a company called Vayyar Imaging has launched the most advanced form of  Automatic Fall Detection which is completely unique at present.

Their system is called Walabot Home and uses very low frequency radio waves to build up 3d imaging, and with artificial intelligence software they are able to tell if a person is standing, sitting or lying and if they are on the ground. 

As 80% of all falls occur in the bathroom, their system is a hub placed in the bathroom. It will detect any falls in a range of 10 feet in front of the device, and 6ft to either side – so 10 x 12 feet.

You don’t have to wear anything or do anything other than fall on the floor for it to work.

In emails they told me that they are going to be bringing out a system which can be used in multiple rooms.

Their system is 4 times more effective in fall detection than any other system – it doesn’t matter how hard you fall, once you are on the floor it knows that, and makes an alert.

So be on the look out for how that develops as it is by far the most effective system, and also  incredibly cheap compared with all other systems.

You can find it here https://walabot.com/walabot-home.

Back to fall detectors with sensors

The elephant in the room ……

False Alarms

You will get false alarms with Fall Detectors as they are designed to sense rapid movement, and if someone bends quickly this may cause the device to send an alert. It’s easily dealt with, as all systems which are monitored give you a short period of time to cancel the signal by simply pressing a button on your device. If you fall and you can press the help button on your device, it is recommended to do so as this is seen as a confirmation of a fall. If you fall and the device activates and no more motion at all is sensed, the device will send the alert. Some devices can take up to one minute to determine whether not you have fallen. You will find that systems with Fall Detection will let you know that a fall has been detected, and then that an alert has been sent – they will give you an audio alert or the system may light up with a message.

Fall Velocity

One other problem is that accelerometers and sensors are designed to detect sudden movements, so sudden falls.

So falls where an individual slumps or slides down slowly, it may not be detected.

40% of falls are not sudden high impact falls, but rather slower and may involve a person slowly sliding down a wall.

You just have to hope that in a slow fall the wearer is not so injured that they cannot press the Fall Detector alert button themselves.

All the manufacturers of Fall Detectors make it clear that their devices will not detect 100% of falls.

Even so, if these devices can send false alarms , or even miss softer falls, they certainly are worth it if they detect a fall which knocks your loved one unconscious, or injures them in such a way that they can’t speak or press the help button on their device.

What are the forms these Fall Detectors take ?

Fall detectors will most commonly come in the form of pendants, bracelets, wristbands, smartwatches and are generally to be worn.

There is the exception of the phone designs which have fall detectors in them, and one or two devices which can be carried.

Please take care when you are looking at medical alert systems to make sure they have Automatic Fall Detection, as some say they have Fall Detection meaning that they have a button which the wearer has to press.

So what are the benefits of Automatic Fall Detection ?

  • make sure that your Fall Detection system has Automatic Fall Detection 
  • the primary benefit of Automatic Fall detection systems is that they activate an alert to either a monitoring center, or to selected contacts, even when your loved one cannot do so themselves
  • with Automatic Fall Detection you neither have to be able to speak, or to push any buttons, the system will automatically launch an alert if it detects a fall
  • if the Fall Detector is accompanied by rapid assistance and elderly loved ones are not left for long periods after a fall alone on the floor, where they may suffer further problems from dehydration, hypothermia and anxieties from suffering alone, they can recover more quickly from the fall and not develop other complications
  • Fall Detection can help provide assurance to both elderly parents and their adult children, knowing that if there is a problem they can be alerted to it rapidly and that Emergency Services can be called immediately if they are needed
  • the added assurance that your loved one may feel can lead to them being more confident in themselves, and may lead to them becoming more active which can help improve their general health
  • Fall Detection can help Seniors stay where they want to be – in there own homes – and maintain some level of independence
  • if some form of monitoring is definitely required, Fall Detection can be felt as one of the less intrusive options, as opposed to devices such as cameras
  • knowing that your elderly parent has Fall Detection can also lead to you not appearing to be so intrusive, as you may be able to relax a little with checking up on your parents quite so much – stress levels on all sides can go down a little

How do I know if I need to get Automatic Fall Detection for my elderly parent ?

Here are some points that you need to consider if you are having a hard time deciding –

  • Does your parent live alone ?
  • Is your parent alone for long periods of time ?
  • Has your parent fallen ?
  • How is your parents vison ?
  • How is your parents hearing ?
  • Does your parent suffer from any medical conditions which can cause them to be faint and prone to falling ?
  • How old is your parent and how fragile are they ?
  • Does your parent take any medications which may affect their balance ?
  • Is your parent physically active ?
  • Does your parent do any exercises for stability and balance ?
  • Or is your parent very sedentary and losing confidence in their mobility ?
  • How well lit is your parent’s home at night ?
  • Is the bathroom floor slippery or rough ?
  • Is it easy for your parent to get in and out of the shower ?
  • Has your parent let you help them de-clutter and move any fall hazards such as uneven rugs ?
  • Is your parent living on one level or are their stairs and steps ?
  • How well is your parent handling the stairs if they have them ?
  • What is the condition of the floors and stairs in your parent’s home  – slippery ? rough edges ?
  • Does you parent go out alone alot in slippery conditions ?
  • Does your parent use the garden a lot ?
  • If so, is the garden very uneven with a lot of steps and obstacles ?

 

Where do I purchase a Fall Detector ?

Fall detectors are found as add-ons to Medical Alert Systems and devices. Only a few medical alert systems have them as part of the basic package, and these are mostly mobile medical alert systems.

The traditional medical alert system is an in-home base station coupled with one or several call buttons which are pressed to raise the alarm .

Automatic Fall Detection is purchased as an optional add-on for these systems.

You can also get mobile medical alert systems, which have become more prevalent due to cellular/mobile technologies, which work anywhere you have network coverage, and you can find Fall Detection as an add-on option for these also.

In both cases, if it is a monitored medical alert system, as an add-on the Fall Detection will add a few dollars to the subscription.

Monitored Medical Alert Systems are paid for on a subscription basis, as you are paying for the monitoring service as well as the devices.

If it is a non-monitored system, Fall detection will simply make the device more expensive when you purchase it. With unmonitored systems you have to pay for all the equipment.

What are some popular medical alert brands which offer Fall Detection ?

In the USA –

Medical Guardian, MobileHelp, Philips Lifeline, ResponseNow, GreatCall, Bay Medical, LifeStation, 321Alert and Assistive Technology Services and SureSafe are just some of the companies which offer Fall Detection with their in-home and mobile medical alert systems.

In the UK –

Telecare24 Careline, SureSafe, Lifeline24, Ravencourt, PPP Taking Care, Med Page,  Bosch Carephone 62, Age UK – Self Connect, Monitor Go, Techsilver, Tracker Guard are some of the medical alert systems offering Fall Detection with their in-home and mobile medical alert systems.

Should I get an unmonitored, or a monitored medical alert system with Fall Detection ?

So now if you have decided to get automatic fall protection, you need to decide if the medical alert system is monitored or unmonitored.

I am addressing this topic here as it follows on from the last point I made about the speed of the response to a fall.

Monitored medical alert systems have trained operators waiting to respond 24/7  to medical alert calls. In general the calls/alerts are answered in a very short time. If the operator is unable to communicate with the wearer of a device which has sent an alert they will automatically call the Emergency Response Services to assist.

You have to bear in mind that the operators are qualified to make decisions about the appropriate response to an alert, and the fact that it can all be taken care of very quickly.

Unmonitored medical alert systems, or personal alarms as they are sometimes called, do not have these professional monitoring centers.

So when the unmonitored systems are set up a list of contacts is entered into the device. These are the people that the device will send alerts to when the system detects a fall.

In general the devices will keep dialing through the list of contacts until one of team answers the phone.

The drawbacks here are obvious –

  • there is no guarantee anyone will immediately answer their phone. If it is at night all the contacts may be asleep. As a result you have no idea how long your loved one may be lying on the floor waiting for help.
  • are the people that have been selected capable of evaluating a medical emergency, and will they make those decisions quickly ?

What features should I look for in an automatic fall detection medical alert system ?

uThere are just a few things that I think you would want to check –

  • you want to be sure that the device is automatic and that the calls will be made if your parent is unconscious after a fall, or unable to speak or push the help button – this is vital
  • as it is going to be critical in the bathroom where such a high percentage of falls occur, you want it to be waterproof
  • is it comfortable for your loved one to put on or carry ?
  • I like the systems which have the automatic fall detection, the two way communication and a help button ?
  • do you have the required landline or cellular/mobile phone network for the system ?
  • is it automatic fall detection for an in-home, or a mobile medical alert system ?
  • if it is for an in-home system what is the maximum range of the fall detector from the base station i.e. how close do you have to be for the device to work ?
  • if you are using a cellular/mobile network, do you have coverage in your area – this is particularly important with the mobile devices
  • how long does the device work on one battery charge ?
  • is the device one of the ones which has a five year battery ?
  • do you get level indicators for any rechargeable device and for the signal strength ?
  • does the device have an app for caregivers and family so they can monitor you as well, and see what the levels of battery and signal are ?
  • does it have GPS so that you can be located by tracking technologies, and so that your family and caregivers can see where you are on the app ?
  • can you receive texts form caregivers and family if there is an app ?
  • can you receive reminders from caregivers and family if there’s an app ?
  • does it have geo-fencing so that people can see if you have left a designated area ?
  • if it is a mobile device can it work as a phone ? Some companies have a mobile device which is both a cell/mobile phone and a medical alert device, and which can have automatic fall detection added to them
  • don’t get anything which is overly complicated for your parent if they are not familiar with these technologies as it can be simply to hard to learn – some of the smartwatches for example are very difficult to use, and for an eledrly person who may be experiencing problems with their memory it’s way to hard
  •  don’t pick a system which tries to tie you into a contract if you are getting monitoring – most of the popular systems operate without contracts
  •  make sure you understand who is responsible for the equipment if it is broken or stolen

How do I use an automatic fall detection system ?

Automatic fall detection comes as a function of the medical alert system.

 

With an in-home medical alert system –

  • you will usually have a fall detection pendant or wristband, and also a “help button”, or the two combined
  • if you fall and you are physically able to press  the help button, even if an automatic signal has been sent, you are advised to press it
  • once the signal has been sent you will hear the in-home base station unit confirm that the device has detected a fall
  • you will have a method of cancelling if this is a false alert – there is usually a cancellation button which needs to be pressed within 30 seconds of the fall detection signal being sent –  unfortunately there can be false alarms when people move quickly and the sensors interpret this as a fall
  • if you have fallen, you then wait for an operator to pick up at a monitoring center, or if your system is un-monitored, for one of your contacts to answer
  • the in-home base stations have very loud speakers and sensitive microphones, so in theory you should be able to be heard and to hear the person talking to you from the base station, and they you
  • if you fall and are unable to speak for any reason, if it is a monitored medical alert system the operator will automatically send the emergency services to your home
  • if you fall and are unable to speak for any reason, if it is a un-monitored medical alert system the the base station should keep calling your contacts until one of them answers – if they can’t hear you they will have to decide how to best respond to the situation

With a mobile medical alert system –

  • the mobile devices work on mobile/cellular networks.
  • there are phones which are also work as mobile medical alert systems with automatic fall detection on which you press a help button if you have fallen, and you will speak with an operator if it is monitored, or if it is unmonitored the device will dial through each of your contacts until one answers. If you can’t press the alert button on the phone, it will use the automatic fall detection to call the monitoring center for you, and if you can’t speak the operator will send the emergency services. 
  • there are mobile devices which when charged work for up to five days, and are carried or worn. If you fall you can simply press the device and it will call a monitoring center. If you are not able to press the button or speak the automatic fall detector will call through to the monitoring center when it detects a fall, and the operator will send the Emergency Services.
  • there are also mobile alert devices which are coupled with your own smart phone. If you fall the device signals your mobile phone to call the monitoring center. If it is not a monitored medical alert system, your smartphone will be signaled to dial through your list of contacts, chosen for emergency situations, until one answers.
  • some systems also have both a base station and a help button with fall detection for when you are at home, and a mobile device with fall detection for when you go out. They work in the same manner as the other devices I have described.
  • all of these devices have GPS tracking as well so that if you are unable to talk you can be located if you aren’t at home.
  • All of the devices here have buttons for cancelling the signal if it is a false alert.

    Is a Fall detector really worth it ?

    If your loved one is prone to falls, or has an illness which causes dizziness or fainting, such as diabetes, low blood sugar, or any other condition which causes increased risk of falling, you may wish to consider getting a form of automatic Fall Detection.

    The age of your loved one may also be a consideration, as they may be more fragile if they are older and falls may have a far higher impact on their health.

    The real reason for using automatic fall protection is so that the wearer of the device is not left lying unconscious for hours and hours.

    Conclusion

    If you have a fragile elderly parent who is living alone, and wants to continue to do so without a great deal of fuss, I think a medical alert system with automatic Fall Detection and monitoring could well be worth it.

    If you don’t have a lot of extra money and you just want to pay for an un-monitored system, and you, other family members and caregivers can properly assume the role of responding in an emergency, then as long as you can respond quickly, this can work too.

    What is critical, is whether or not in a situation where your loved one has taken a fall, and is lying unconscious, or unable to for some other reason to press on the fall alarm, that there is a quick response and assistance.

    As I have stated, repeatedly, these devices do not work 100% of the time, and they are not designed to detect slow falls where someone may slump and slowly fall or slide down to the floor.

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    I’m Gareth and I’m the owner of Looking After Mom and Dad.com

    I have been a caregiver for over 10 yrs and share all my tips here.

    Gareth Williams

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    What is a fall detector ?
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    Fall detectors - how they work, do they work ?, the benefits ?, monitored or unmonitored ?, do I need it?, what are the must have features ?, and is it really worth it ?
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    Lookingaftermonanddad.com