Finding the Best Fall Monitor: A Review of the Features

Fall monitors
Aging in place is the best plan for seniors whose health allows them to do so. Living at home or with loved ones, rather than in a long-term care facility, results in longer, healthier, happier lives for seniors. Caregivers do well to make every effort to keep seniors in their homes and as independent as possible for as long as it is feasible. There are, however, exceptions to every rule; health and safety must be balanced with independence. Continuing to age in place depends entirely on whether or not seniors are safe from serious injury or accidents.

Why Fall Monitoring Makes Sense

Falls, even seemingly small ones, can threaten the lives of older people. What is hardest about falls is that they can occur at any time and any place, and often do, during moments when vulnerable seniors are without supervision from caregivers and physicians. Seniors with mobility issues or numbness in the hands or feet (a common side effect of diabetes in older people) are especially prone to falls. These dangerous accidents can cause anything from bruising to broken bones and even, frighteningly, death in older people. They are one of the main reasons seniors stop aging in place and move into a facility.

Therefore, working with seniors to prevent falls and getting them help quickly after falls occur is crucial. Technology offers fall monitoring systems in hopes of ameliorating the effects of seniors’ greatest nemesis: falling down.

Self-Reporting and Sensing

Basically, there are two kinds of fall monitoring technology: self-reporting and sensing. Self-reporting technologies are typically worn as a pendant around the neck or on the wrist like a wristwatch or bracelet. The device has a button that can be pressed by the elderly person when he or she has fallen, or in case of other emergencies, such as not being able to breathe. As long as an elderly loved one is within proximity of the console (such as within 1,000 feet), the senior can explain to the monitoring service, using the device as a microphone, what has happened. Then the service will contact appropriate medical personnel. This is great for seniors who experience no cognitive difficulties. However,  it does require them to self-report a fall and depends on their ability to do so. Some monitoring systems will respond without speaking to the senior; emergency personnel will be dispatched if the senior merely presses the button.

Fall monitoring systems that sense impact and report it regardless of whether the senior is able to press a button and speak or not, are often add-ons to the typical medical alert system. These more specialized pendants or wrist bands send an alert to the console and thus the monitoring system when the senior may be too disabled to do so, for example, if the senior has been rendered unconscious either before or after a fall. Some examples of well-known medical alert devices with a fall monitoring add-on include Phllips Lifeline, Bay Alarm Medical system, Medical Guardian, LifeFone, and others.

Some fall monitoring systems take things a step further. For example, Keystone Technologies offers monitors that work through a series of sensors placed throughout the home. These sensors monitor a senior’s typical movements and get medical assistance if there is a noticeable change, focusing on falls and a sudden lack of movement or a change in vital signs. The sensors around the home track and “learn” movement patterns and normal behavior and are set off when there are deviations. There are even apps available for smartphones that can alert others that a fall has occurred for a senior they care about.

The Limits of Fall Monitoring Technology
A study published in February 2016 in the Journal of Biomedical Informatics notes that, although fall prevention technology has improved, it has its limits. The study shows that current systems do not focus on environmental evaluation, a huge factor in determining how safe a senior is at home. Current systems do not prevent falls through creating a safer use of space; what’s more these systems are “static,” meaning that seniors can truly only do one thing—set off the alarm. Also, there are not very many options for seniors to “un-ring” the bell of the alarm once triggered, even if it is a malfunction in the equipment. Setting off an alarm after the fact of a fall will help a senior get care faster, but it is not preventive of falls in the first place.

However, the longer the wait between falling and getting help, the worse off a senior may be; thus these devices and their ability to sense a fall quickly are a great way to get immediate help for a loved one should a fall occur.

Hamm, Julian, Money, Arthur G., Atwal, Anita, and Parakevopoulos, Ioannis. (February 2016). Fall prevention intervention technologies: A conceptual framework and survey of the state of the art. Journal of Biomedical Informatics, 59:319-345. Available at Retrieved July 25, 2016.
Keystone Technologies. Keystone Care. Available at Retrieved July 25, 2016.
Pappas, Stephanie. Best Medical Alert Systems 2015: Top 3 Picks.LiveScience, June 23, 2015. Available at Retrieved July 25, 2016.
Stanley Healthcare. STANLEY Healthcare is the Leader in Electronic Fall Monitors. Available at Retrieved July 25, 2016.