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What Are the Best Safety Alert Devices with Fall Detection?

Q. My neighbor Suzanne is an avid jogger. I always see her out jogging early in the morning while I’m walking my pups. She’s got all the gear, including one of those newer Apple Watches.

The other day, Suzanne was speed-walking instead of jogging, with her arm in a sling. I caught up with her and joined her for a block and a half. She explained how she tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and broke her arm. She described how, upon impact, her Apple Watch asked if she fell and she answered that she had. It quickly alerted authorities, and an ambulance arrived shortly after and took her to the emergency room. I was amazed that a wristwatch can do such a thing, and think something like that could be great for seniors who are prone to falling.  

So, here I am thinking that I should purchase a smart watch for my mother, who lives alone and has fallen a few times recently, but I want to make sure I know what is out there so I can make an informed decision. Can you tell me what are the best safety alert devices available for fall detection? Thanks so much for your help!

A. More than 25 percent of Americans who are 65 and older experience a fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, the 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.

Whether or not they cause injury, falls can have a major impact on quality of life for seniors. Many seniors who have fallen while walking or exercising, or even doing routine daily activities become reluctant to do those activities again for fear of falling, knowing that a future fall could cause serious injury.  

Medical alert systems, such as smart watches, with fall detection can provide extra security for older adults who are at a high risk of falling. Such wearables can give you and your loved ones added peace of mind and potentially help seniors age in place longer. Harnessing this type of technology can provide families and caregivers an extra layer of support when it comes to their loved one’s safety. 

How Does Fall Detection Work? 

In an emergency, every second counts. Your phone may be out of reach or, in a worst-case scenario, you may be unable to speak. Medical alert systems with fall detection automatically detect falls and can be programmed to ask if you are hurt and to automatically notify your emergency contact person(s) and/or an emergency monitoring center and/or 911.  

Some systems allow you to press a help button or interact with a voice-activated device. Medical alert systems, including some smart watches, can provide 24/7 monitoring services. Some of these systems come with a monthly subscription fee and some of them, such as smart watches, may have no extra monthly fee!  

What Are Some of the Best Fall Detection Smart Watches Available Today? 

Fall detection is not as common in medical alert smart watches as in traditional medical alert systems. If fall detection is a priority, you may want to consider the UnaliWear Kanega Watch, the Apple Watch, or a traditional at-home or on-the-go medical alert system. There are a few other brands that have fall detection, but they are not as highly rated and don’t have as many smart watch features. 

Here are some of the most highly-rated smart watches, so you can compare what is available:  

Apple Watch  

  • Available on the Apple Watch SE and the Apple Watch Series 4 or later.  
  • Requires either a synced iPhone to be nearby and connect to the watch via Bluetooth, or an Apple Watch with built-in cellular service, which typically costs $10 a month in addition to your regular cellular phone plan. 
  • This fall detection feature is included once you purchase an Apple Watch, so you don’t have to pay extra for it. An Apple Watch will run you $249 or more, depending on which version you choose. 
  • The Apple Watch is water-resistant, as is the watch band it comes with, so users can wear it while swimming and in the shower. After showering, if your Apple Watch comes in contact with soaps, shampoos, or conditioners, Apple says it should be cleaned with fresh warm water and dried with a lint-free cloth, as chemicals found in these items could negatively affect water seals and acoustic membranes. Many available Apple watch bands are not water resistant, but the band it comes with is extremely comfortable and fairly easy to put on and take off for most people. Dozens of additional watchbands are available; consider a Velcro latching watchband for persons with limited dexterity. 

How Fall Detection Works 

  • If the birth date you enter when setting up your Apple Watch (or adding it to the Health app on iPhone) indicates that you’re 55 or older, Fall Detection is turned on automatically. If you’re between ages 18 and 55, you can turn on Fall Detection manually by doing the following: open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone. Then, tap My Watch and Emergency SOS. If you choose “on,” you can opt for “always on” or “only on during workouts.”  
  • If the Apple Watch detects a fall, it will “tap” the person on the wrist with a buzz, sound an alarm, and show an alert. The person can then choose to connect to emergency services or dismiss the alert by pressing the “digital crown” button on the side of the watch. Users can also tap to close the alert or tap “I’m OK” to dismiss the alert. 
  • If the Apple Watch senses the person is moving, it will wait for them to respond. However, if the person appears to be immobile for approximately 60 seconds, the Apple Watch starts a 30-second countdown while it taps them on the wrist and sounds an alert. 
  • The alert gets progressively louder so that either the user or someone near them can hear it. Unless someone taps the cancel button, the watch will contact emergency services automatically as soon as the countdown ends. It will share the person’s current location as latitude and longitude coordinates via Apple’s GPS location monitoring feature. 
  • Once the call is completed, the watch sends a message to the user’s emergency contacts with their location so they know a fall was detected and emergency services have been notified. The watch pulls these emergency contacts from the user’s Medical ID, which must be set up in advance to make the best use of the fall detection feature. Unless the person confirms that they didn’t fall with their Apple Watch, all falls are automatically recorded in their Health app. 
  • If you have iPhone 14 or iPhone 14 Pro, Fall Detection notifications to emergency services may be communicated by the Emergency SOS via satellite system when you’re outside of cellular and Wi-Fi coverage, where Emergency SOS via satellite is available. Learn more about Emergency SOS via satellite. 
  • All Apple Watches must be removed to be charged regularly. In general, an Apple Watch battery should last around 18 hours and can be fully charged in anywhere from about 45 minutes to 2.5 hours depending on the model.  

UnaliWear Kanega Watch 

  • Has removable lithium ion batteries that need to be charged every 24 to 36 hours. Comes with an extra set of batteries so you can effectively wear the watch 24/7, but you must swap out the batteries regularly. The manufacturer claims that swapping out the square-shaped batteries is easy, even for people with limited dexterity 
  • It can interact with the wearer via voice, a push button, and large white-on-black text on its screen.  
  • The watch is water-resistant, so users can wear it in the shower, although it’s not recommended for swimming. 
  • Runs exclusively on the Verizon 4G/5G cellular network nationwide. 
  • Equipment cost: nothing to purchase, just a monthly service fee which includes the equipment.  
  • Monthly cost: $60–$70 

How Fall Detection Works 

  • When users first receive the watch, they provide UnaliWear with any relevant medical information. 
  • The watch connects to the internet and an emergency response operator via Wi-Fi or via Verizon’s nationwide cellular network (included in the watch plan) whena fall emergency occurs. 
  • If the user falls or calls for help, the watch’s GPS can help locate them. It also connects them to an emergency response operator in seconds. 
  • The operators have each customer’s provided medical information on hand to help determine what kind of help should be sent when they receive a call. 
  • Since no two people share identical falling patterns, the watch uses artificial intelligence (AI) to learn about each user’s movements. If the watch detects what might be a fall, and the wearer tells the alert center that they didn’t fall, the AI learns to ignore similar movements of that user in the future. 

Many of the well-known, reputable medical alert companies do not offer fall detection within smart watch models. There are a few that do, such as the WellBe Medical Alert Round Watch, the Med-Watch “Fall Detection” with GPS,  and the Home and Wellness Stride Smart Watch for Seniors, but they have limited features.  

Other Highly Rated Fall Prevention Wearables  

Studies have found that fall detection is more accurate when it’s on a device worn near the center of the body, as a watch or bracelet with fall detection may cause false alarms due to normal arm movements. 

If you are interested in other options besides watches, these are some other highly-rated fall prevention wearables: 

Bay Alarm Medical SOS Mobile Plus 

    • Monitoring service starts at $39.95 per month (after $80 device purchase) 
    • GPS tracking app monitors wearer’s location in real time 
    • Provides 24/7 monitoring, including fall detection 

Galaxy on the Go Mobile System with GPS & Fall Detection 

  • Monitoring service starts at $49.95 per month (no device purchase necessary) 
  • Includes a lockbox to allow notified parties to enter a home with minimal damage 
  • Provides 24/7 monitoring, including fall detection 

US News also recommends GetSafe,One Call Alert,Medical Alert, MobileHelp,
Medical Guardian, LifeFone, LifeStation, and ADT. 

Fall Detection Device Accuracy and Limitations 

Fall detection devices have the potential to save someone’s life. But just as with other types of technology, these products do have limitations. These are some of the ones to keep in mind: 

  • They might not work when someone is unconscious.  
  • When a person falls, they may hit their head and become unconscious as a result. In this situation, an automatic fall detection device can still be effective.  
  • Devices that require a push of a button, however, won’t help the person. 
  • The battery may die.  
  • While many of these devices have an extensive battery life, all still need to be recharged or have the battery replaced at a particular interval in order to function.  
  • If a fall occurs when the battery is dead, the person won’t receive the assistance they need. 
  • There can be flaws with automatic technology.  
  • Sometimes, a device that uses automatic technology to detect a fall may not work or detect when a fall occurs.  
  • Conversely, it can also falsely detect a fall even when one didn’t happen. 
  • They are only effective if they’re worn.  
  • In order for fall detection devices to detect falls and connect to medical personnel, they must be worn by the user.  
  • This compliance can be an issue, especially for older adults with memory loss and other cognitive impairments. 

How to Find the Right Medical Alert System with Fall Detection  

When choosing a smart watch with fall detection or a medical alert system, you’ll first want to decide on what coverage options and features are necessary for your loved one’s needs. Besides fall detection, these features can include medication reminders and location services for caregivers, among other things. Medical alert systems with fall detection also offer different add-on features, such as mobile apps for caregivers. These services can provide additional peace of mind for family members or caregivers. 

When deciding on a system with fall detection, be sure to take into account daily activity levels. Does your loved one stay at home or adventure away from it? This will help you decide if you should get an at-home, mobile, or combination unit. It will also help determine if additional features are needed, such as those on the Apple Watch.  

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

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. 

Advice on Using Fall Detection Devices 

Undetected falls can have harmful effects and sometimes even be fatal. Being able to access help if you or a loved one falls is crucial to remaining independent and aging safely.  

When Taking Preventative Measures Isn’t Enough 

When taking preventative measures such as wearables for fall detection isn’t enough for your loved one to continue aging in place, assisted living or nursing home care may be necessary. However, nursing homes in Northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland can cost as much as $150,000 per year or more, a catastrophic amount that can quickly lead to financial ruin. 

Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting you or your loved ones from having to go broke paying for nursing home care, while also helping ensure that you or your loved ones get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. Call us to make an appointment for an initial consultation. 

Northern Virginia Elder Law: 703-691-1888 
Fredericksburg, Elder Law: 540-479-1435 
Rockville, MD Elder Law: 301-519-8041 
Annapolis, MD Elder Law: 410-216-0703 
Washington, DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797 

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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