Automatic Fall Detection – Why Time Matters

elderly disability falls

I had to laugh when my wife shared with me a question that a granddaughter had posed. In response to hearing one of the voice prompts in our iHelp model announce, “A fall has been detected. . . ”, the question asked was, “Why do old people need something to tell them they’ve fallen?”

Of course, the real purpose of the voice prompt is to let them know that fall alert messages are about to go out to their emergency contacts.  The warning gives them time to cancel the alert if it’s gone off by accident.

How Does It Work?

Technology can make things easier and safer for us.

Automatic Fall Detection (AFD) is built-in to all Guardian Safety Pendant models.  The technology works by using an accelerometer in conjunction with a highly sensitive barometric sensor and an algorithm that is supposed to distinguish a fall from an every day, normal movement.  Sensitivity settings allow adjustment to minimise false alarms.

In the event of an actual fall, text messages are sent to family / friends or a professionally monitored service to alert them that a fall has likely occurred.

Fall Alert pendants generally trigger when dropped at least half a metre, then stop suddenly.  Some algorithms also include that the device must tilt on an angle or become motionless for a few seconds.  This effectively duplicates what would happen if someone were to fall and become unconscious.  Even though only a small percentage of those who fall actually black out, what happens after a fall is vitally significant and potentially deadly.

Why Quick Action is Critical

Aside from the possibility of bone breakage, the immediate effect from falling is soft tissue damage.  For half the seniors who fall and cannot get up, swelling gradually expands causing an increase in pressure at the impact points.  For those fortunate enough to be able to get up, the reduction in pressure may lead to nothing more than a sore bruise.

Unrelieved pressure starves soft tissue of oxygen and nutrients.  If left unchecked, the problem worsens as damage invades deeper tissues.  When muscle tissue breaks down, proteins are released into the bloodstream which can clog the kidneys.  This is called rhabdomyolysis.

Some who fall, unable to get up, may be on the floor for hours or days without water.  Dehydration can lead to low blood pressure, confusion, damage to the brain, kidneys, and other issues.

If a fall happens while eating or drinking, that food or liquid might accidentally be inhaled.  If such were the case, there is a risk of aspiration pneumonia, which would likely complicate the recovery period.  If the floor or room is cold, hypothermia would be another issue.

Did You Know. . . 

1 in 4 who are 60 years of age and older fall at least once a year.

1 in 3 aged 65 years and older will experience a fall annually.

30% of seniors fear falling who have never fallen.  Psychologically, as the fear of falling increases, daily activity diminishes.  This leads to a reduction in muscle strength and when a fall eventuates, the fear of falling again doubles to 60%.

A senior is admitted to the hospital due to a fall every 15 minutes in Australia.  The average time a senior spends in the hospital from a fall is 7 days.  This is longer than for any other type of injury.

1 in 5 over the age of 65 admitted to a hospital due to a fall were on the ground for over an hour.  Half of those 1 in 5 will die within 6 months.

Limitations of Fall Detection Technology

Some falls don’t tick all the boxes.  For example, if someone were to faint and slowly slip to the ground against a wall, that might not be enough to activate the alert.  Or if there is movement after a fall, AFD cancels because it presumes the user is conscious and able to press the SOS button to call for help.

On the other hand, a false alarm might be triggered by just sitting down or removing the device and placing it onto a table.

In short, AFD technology is not 100% foolproof.


Minimising fall risks makes logical sense, despite the technological shortcomings.

As a family business, after investing the time to understand a client’s individual needs, only then will we prescribe and custom program the safety pendant model ideally suited for them.  AFD is one of several customisable options though it’s not necessarily a function that everyone must have on.  However it is easy to remotely adjust, switch on or off.

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