Some of today’s medical alert systems now feature technology that can detect when a person falls and will automatically contact a monitoring center for help. This is an important advancement for personal emergency response systems (PERS) which are used primarily by seniors living independently. Without fall detection, PERS require the senior to push a button on a device in order to summon help. They are ineffective if the senior becomes unconscious, unable or unwilling to press the button. The Risks of Falling
About Fall Detection Systems
Choosing a Fall Detection System
How Fall Detection Systems Work
About Monitoring Centers
The new fall detection systems bring greater peace of mind to seniors and their families because there is no need to push a button to get help at a critical time — after a fall.
The Risks Of Falling.
One out of every three older Americans fall each year. Falls are the leading cause of injury death among people 65 years and older and are the most common cause of hospital admissions for traumatic injuries and loss of independence. ((U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: http://www.hhs.gov/asl/testify/t020611.html National Institutes of Health (http://nihseniorhealth.gov/falls/aboutfalls/02.html))
The chances of falling and of being seriously injured in a fall increase with age. In 2009, the rate of fall injuries for adults 85 and older was almost four times that for adults 65 to 74. Many people who fall, even if they are not injured, develop a fear of falling. This fear may cause them to limit their activities leading to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness, which in turn increases their actual risk of falling. ((Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html))
If an older person is unable to get up off the floor after a fall, it can have devastating results. Studies have shown that the longer an elderly person remains on the floor, the longer their stay in a hospital or rehabilitation facility, and the higher the incidence of death.
Many seniors use ‘manual’ medical alert services to get help in an emergency such as falling. These personal emergency response systems require pressing a button on a device usually worn like a necklace. But many times the person who has fallen becomes unconscious or otherwise unable to press the button for help. Not getting immediate help after falling can have devastating results and may even be a matter of life and death.
Fall detection systems also include a waterproof wearable devise. Depending on the system you choose, you may wear it around your neck like a pendant or around your chest under your clothing or clipped to your belt. Unlike panic buttons, a fall detection device has a built-in sensor that can detect the sudden, abnormal change in acceleration, movement and height of the person wearing it.
When a fall is detected, the system automatically initiates a call to its call center which determines what kind of help is needed. With most systems, the call center associate will try to communicate with the senior who called for help often using a two-way speakerphone. If he or she does not respond, the center will contact someone from the person’s emergency response list (family members, neighbors or friends), or will call for an ambulance.
Some companies keep health data on the person in order to help them determine the kind of help needed. Some systems are able to detect if the person has been inactive for a long time and can check up on you or notify family members. the myHalo system records the person’s vital signs and other information which is possible for loved ones to monitor in real time. Some devices may include safety detection such as fire and carbon monoxide as well as intrusion monitoring. Some feature medication reminders.
One system, Buddy Guard, works with your smart phone to transmit your location to people who can help you if you fall. This system is unlike the others and does not have a call center that monitors activities. It seems more suitable for people who work on ladders or are in situations where they need to detect and make a record of work-related accidents such as falls.
Be aware that there are companies who claim to offer fall detection systems, but in fact, they are referring to the manual method of pressing a button for help. The true fall detection systems have technology that can detect a fall without pressing a button and will automatically summon help. The systems we reviewed typically work with an existing phone line (or Internet connection) and/or provide equipment such as a two-way speakerphone, wearable detector(s), and service with a monitoring center. Companies usually charge a monthly fee and sometimes charge a refundable deposit for hardware.
Fall detection systems can be a valuable tool for seniors who want to maintain their independence but remain as safe and secure as possible when living alone. For many people, it is a better option than a standard medical alert devise which requires pushing a button. Not only is it sometimes impossible to press the button when help is needed, but many seniors are reluctant to press the button, even when they really need the help.
Medicare, Medicaid and most insurance companies typically don’t pay for the system, and the few that pay require a doctor’s recommendation. Some hospitals and social services agencies may subsidize the device for low-income users.
Your local Area Agency on Aging may have information about systems available in your area. Ask friends, neighbors or relatives about their experience with fall detection systems, too. When you have a list of companies you are considering, check with your local consumer protection agency, state Attorney General and Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against them. It’s smart to find out:
- Is the monitoring center open around the clock every day of the year including holidays? What kind of training does the staff receive?
- What is the average response time, and who gets alerted when a fall is detected?
- Can the system be used if you move to another home? To another city or state?
- What is the company’s repair policy? What happens if you need a replacement?
- What are the initial costs and ongoing costs?
- What kind of services and features will you get?
It’s important to choose the right service and equipment for your needs and budget. You should know the accuracy rates for the product you choose, how the system works, the quality of the monitoring service and the obligations required when signing up.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Does the system provide its accuracy rate?
- What is the battery life of the pendant or devise?
- Is there a long-lasting battery backup for the console? This is important, especially in case of a natural disaster, when the elderly and disabled may need help the most.
- What about the quality of monitoring center and its staff? Does the center automatically test your equipment to make sure it is working?
- What will the annual cost be and who will pay for it?
- Is there a long-term contract commitment?
- Consider the layout of the home and the user’s lifestyle, then look at the range of the monitoring device, which can vary.
Although scientists have been working on other types of fall detectors that involve cameras, vibration measurement, thermal and visual imaging, to name a few, so far this technology has not proven reliable or practical enough for personal use. We are reviewing systems that employ technology measuring a body’s change in acceleration and orientation, and that are widely available for use by seniors today.
A fall detection system includes a waterproof device with a built-in sensor that is worn on the body, a console connected to the user’s telephone (or a customized telephone) and an emergency response center.
When a fall is detected, a message is transmitted automatically to the emergency response center. Typically, the person at the center will call the senior and try to speak to him or her on the speakerphone in the home. Depending on the response or lack of response, emergency services and/or members of the person’s emergency call list will be contacted. The service is offered 24/7. Base units have battery back-up in case of a power outage.
Fall detectors work by measuring the body’s acceleration — or change in acceleration — and position, using accelerometers and gyroscopes. The technology is sophisticated enough to recognize various postures and can determine whether the person’s motions are intentional (as in lying down) or not (as in falling). It can measure the change in acceleration from any direction and can detect body orientation, so it knows if the person is sitting up or lying down.
For example, the Philips Lifeline with AutoAlert system uses multiple accelerometers and pressure sensors to continually monitor the person’s movements while wearing their pendant-style device. When a senior falls, it will wait 30 seconds and if it detects that the person is not getting up, a call will be placed to Lifeline’s Response Center for assistance.
In another example, the myHalo(TM) alarm system uses a chest strap devise that constantly measures a person’s movements in relation to height, orientation and acceleration in order to identify a fall. Both companies’ have a very high accuracy rate in fall detection with few false alarms. For details about these fall detection systems and others, see our reviews and Ratings Chart.
All but one of the fall detection systems we reviewed work in conjunction with a monitoring or response center that is responsible for investigating and notifying the appropriate persons and/or emergency responders when the system is triggered. These centers are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and the staff is trained to handle a variety of types of calls and emergencies. They are a critical component of the fall detection system.
When you evaluate the quality of the center, consider the following:
- Is the center UL-listed? Underwriters Laboratories examines equipment as well as staffing issues.
- Is it certified by an outside agency such as the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA). Check here for a list of “Five Diamond” certified central stations from the CSAA.
The staff at the call center should also be top-notch because these people are in a position to evaluate emergency situations, take into consideration the client’s medical background and condition, calmly talk to the senior, and summon the appropriate help — all in a timely manner..
For instance, the Link to Life Fall Detection Systems uses trained emergency response professionals at its Care Center who use customized response protocols. Another company, Prime Medical Alert with its AmberSelect PERS, employs certified EMT (Emergency Medical Technicians).
When you sign up for a company’s fall detection services, you will discuss a plan in advance for various circumstances and indicate how you want them to respond to and handle your emergency events. A monthly fee is charged for this service. There may also be a one-time installation fee for equipment that may be attached to your phone or a console. These will be detailed in our individual product reviews.