Fall Sensors and Fall Detection Devices: A Primer

“Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

We’ve all seen the TV commercial that ran in the late 1980s. It played on a fear of falling. Aging seniors are helpless, according to this ad.

Aging seniors aren’t helpless. But the reality is, falls do represent a great threat to their health and wellbeing. Falls can cause serious injuries and require hospitalization. In fact, nearly 60% of the time an elderly person is admitted to a hospital, it’s because of a fall.

In recent years, much progress has been made in the area of fall detection. Gone are the days where the user needs to push a button in order to let someone know they’ve fallen. Newfangled devices will do that automatically.

So where are we now and what’s best for you or your loved one?

Fall Detection 101

First of all, a little primer on how fall detection works. All wearable devices operate pretty much the same way; they contain sensors, accelerometers, and algorithms. These elements work together to interpret the user’s motions and determine whether these events—movement, direction, speed—indicate a fall.

The available fall detection devices on the market are all very accurate and result in few false positives. (That means incorrectly identifying an event as a fall.) Because accuracy is key to confidence, all brands are working to improve accuracy of their models and eliminate all false alarms.

When it comes to understanding which device might be right for you and your loved one, it’s helpful to understand two things: what a particular device needs to work and where you wear it.

How Tethered Is The Device?

Traditional fall detection required the user to have a landline telephone. Aging seniors are still likely to have a landline in their home, so this is a perfectly reasonable option. However, such systems will only work in the senior’s home.

Other devices connect with your smartphone. As long as you’ve got your smartphone, the device can set in motion a prescribed set of actions when it detects a fall—texting loved ones, alerting EMS, and so forth. These devices use your smartphone’s mobile service to carry out these protocols. In some cases, the device may be connected to the Internet via wifi. Of course, if the device is dependent on the wifi network, it won’t work when you’re out of range.

Still other devices have built-in mobile capabilities. In other words, they don’t need a smartphone nearby to work.

Where Oh Wearables

Think back to the LifeCall commercial mentioned above. Their solution, and the solution of many fall detection manufacturers, was a pendant. But today’s seniors don’t have to wear a fall detection device around their necks.

Would you prefer to wear something on your wrist? Something that looks like a watch or FitBit? The Apple Watch (version 4 and later) has built-in fall detection. And there are more affordable dedicated devices like the Buddi. How about a fall detection device that clips to your waist unobtrusively, like a pager?

Cautions and Considerations

As a consumer, you have choices. Whether you’re thinking about a fall detection wearable for yourself or for a loved one, you have a lot of options—and a lot to consider.

Price will be a factor. If you choose to use an Apple Watch, you’ll have the cost of the watch, at the very least. And the Apple Watch is meant to be used with an iPhone, so there’s a corollary cost. 

Other devices aren’t quite so pricey, but require monthly subscriptions for anywhere from $9.95 a month to $39.95 a month. 

Then there’s the question of stigma. A pendant might be the most appropriate, but if you or your loved one feel stigmatized by wearing it, you should probably search for another option, one that doesn’t scream, “Hey, I’m getting older and I’m afraid of falling.” (I can personally testify that my mom conveniently forgot to wear her pendant about 80% of the time.)

Battery life is another issue. Does the device require changing batteries? Charging batteries? How long between charging? Some devices, like the Buddi mentioned above, don’t need batteries, but most do. And as we age, it’s not uncommon for us to forget to do things, especially when it comes to new learning and new routines.

Which brings us to the last factor to consider, the simple fact that technology can be a challenge for aging seniors. In our view, simpler is better.


For Further Reading

We hope this gets you thinking about fall detection. If you’d like to know a little more about specific devices, here are some websites we found helpful:




Naturally, if your loved one is at risk for a fall, don’t hesitate to reach out to Ovation Home Care for a free in-home consultation. One of our care advisors can explain which of our services could help reduce the likelihood that your loved one will experience a fall that results in a hospitalization.