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Forbes Health - How Fall Alert Systems Work

SafeGuardian Fall Alert Systems + SOS Medical Alarms

Falls are a fearsome reality for older people—especially those who live alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 3 million adults ages 65 and older are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries every year. Equally alarming, one out of five falls causes a serious injury, which may permanently affect the person’s mobility and independence.

Although research shows that it’s possible to prevent or lessen many injuries caused by falls, the reality is that falls do and will continue to negatively affect older adults. Fortunately, fall detection devices can help prevent the worst outcomes from occurring. Harnessing this technology can provide caregivers and families an added layer of support that can help offer additional peace of mind when it comes to their loved one’s safety.

What Are Fall Alert Devices?

Before the introduction of fall alert technology, people who suffered a fall may have remained on the floor for hours before anyone learned that they needed help.

Today, fall alert 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 Alert Devices Work?

There are two types of fall alert 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 Alert 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.

Why Use a CareCaller Fall Alert Device?

While a higher percentage of older adults are at risk of falling, other conditions may make fall detection necessary at any life stage.

The following factors can increase a person’s fall risk, according to the CDC:

  • An Inner ear disorder or poor balance
  • A vitamin D deficiency
  • Medications linked to falls
  • Postural hypotension (a sudden drop in blood pressure upon standing from a seated position)
  • Vision impairment
  • A foot or ankle disorder
  • Home hazards, such as loose rugs or poor lighting
  • A history of falls
  • Muscle weakness
  • Gait and balance problems
  • Chronic conditions, such as arthritis, stroke, incontinence, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and dementia
  • Fear of falling

Fall Alert Technology Pros and Cons

A user’s personal preferences and living situation can help determine which type of fall alert technology is most appropriate for them. With that said, there are benefits and drawbacks to fall detection devices.

Pros Cons
  • Very cost effective
  • Can use them indoors, outdoors, at home and on-the-go
  • Can use GPS to locate the person who fell
  • Level of technology used is familiar to most consumers
  • Fall alert device may be part of a comprehensive emergency alert system
  • Not all fall alert devices provide sensitivity adjustment to help prevent false alarms
  • May not call/text all contacts to alert them of possible falls
  • Fall alert technology is less accurate on devices worn on the wrist

What to Consider When Shopping for a Fall Alert Device

Choosing a fall alert device requires research into the available devices and their many features and benefits. SafeGuardian suggests considering the following factors:

  • Will it be a standalone device or part of a personal emergency response system?
  • How accurate is the fall alert device? Is it prone to false alarms?
  • Does it REQUIRE professional monitoring? (Monitored systems have live operators assessing your needs while unmonitored devices send the alert directly to contacts and/or 911.
  • Is the device at least 4G LTE on a major US cellular network (AT&T/T-Mobile)?
  • What are the communication requirements (landline, cellular service, WiFi) of the device?
  • What is the monthly subscription fee, and what are the contract requirements and payment options?
  • What does the installation process look like?
  • How long does the device’s battery life tend to last?

You should be able to find answers to these and other questions on the company websites and in online consumer reviews. If a company can’t or won’t answer these questions, consider looking elsewhere for a fall alert device.

Fall Alert Ease of Use

Some companies ship devices and setup instructions directly to the user while others send a technician to install the system. Once installed, set up and tested, a fall detection device should be simple to use. When a fall happens, you should be able to push a button to self-report it easily or connect quickly to an agent who can facilitate an emergency response for you.

Fall Alert Device Cost

Medical emergency fall alert systems vary in terms of equipment costs, contract requirements and monthly monitoring fees. Subscription fees can range from less than $15 to more than $60 per month.

Some medical alert system prices include fall detection at no extra charge. Others require the user to add fall detection sensors to the system for an additional monthly fee. Typically, systems charge an extra $10 a month for automatic fall detection.

Are Fall Alert Devices Covered by Insurance?

Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) doesn’t cover medical alert systems or fall detection devices specifically. However, according to Medicare.org, some private Medicare Advantage plans might offer medical alert system benefits.

Meanwhile, AARP, the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC), the Government Employees Health Association (GEHA) and insurance provider USAA offer discounts on medical alert systems offered by specific companies, and you may be able to add a fall detection option to these systems.

Convincing a Loved One to Use a Fall Alert Device

Introducing the idea of fall alert to an at-risk loved one requires both sensitivity and planning.

One approach, especially for long-distance family members, is to use the device as a ‘peace of mind’ device. Long-distance caregivers often struggle with this worry, even more than an older family member may realize. This strategy reduces the stigma a person may feel from a mandatory change made strictly based on their health status.

Another approach addresses the importance of independence and control. The ability of an older family member to choose or participate in the selection of the device to meet their needs is a signal that the family hasn’t removed [the person’s] decision making from the equation.”

Expert Advice on Using Fall Alert Devices

Regardless of your loved one’s level of mobility or current health status, it’s wise to take every fall seriously. If you have fallen, even once, (and a trip counts as a fall), please consider a fall alert system. When we fall and don’t get hurt, we shrug it off until we fall next time and do get hurt.”

In our mission to help older adults age safely in place, we regularly see firsthand the harmful effects of undetected falls that go undetected. Getting help quickly—no matter how serious or inconsequential that you believe the fall to be—is crucial to remaining independent and aging safely.”

SafeGuardian, LLC - veteran owned/operated company