Those facts triggered a response from the technology industry: electronic fall detectors. These devices — mostly worn as pendants around the neck, on wristbands, clipped to pants or built into smartwatches — send an instant alert if they detect that the wearer has suddenly fallen to the ground or floor.
Electronic fall detectors “can be important in getting people to emergency or urgent care sooner and prevent complications that can arise from lying in one position for an extended time,” says Hilaire Thompson, a professor at the University of Washington who studies traumatic brain injury and injury prevention.
How a fall detector does its job
At the core of any fall detector is the accelerometer. Its tiny electronic sensors measure movement on three different axes:
- Right and left
- Forward and backward
- Up and down
And the sensors register the unique motion of a fall:
- A short loss of gravity or a sense of weightlessness
- A jarring impact
- A period of motionlessness and a horizontal or tilted position
Accelerometers are sensitive and sophisticated. They can, for example, “distinguish a fall from the act of taking something off a shelf or walking down stairs,” says Marketing Director Kate Wahl at Medical Guardian, a Philadelphia-based medical alert systems company.