Fall detection devices for seniors come up short of expectations

Fall detection devices, like wearables or pendants, might not be as effective as advertised, according to research that was recently published in the International Journal of Medical Informatics.

Many Americans are familiar with the “Help! I’ve fallen and can’t get up!” commercials showing an elderly woman using a wearable to notify emergency caregivers of her condition. However, these types of fall detection technologies may not be as effective as consumers believe. In this study, researchers from the University of Alberta explored and tested the feasibility of the devices and how people actually use them.

"There seems to be a knowledge gap between fall detection technology and the use of it," said study co-author Lili Liu, a professor in rehabilitation medicine at the University of Alberta in Canada. "It's disturbing to think that these technologies aren't properly tested for the real world, to be used by people who very much depend on them."

Falls are responsible for as much as 85 percent of hospitalizations of seniors in Canada. Serious falls by seniors can result in death within a year in 20 percent of seniors. Manufacturers of these technologies state they can reduce time from the fall to receiving medical care; researchers set out to identify the impact they really have on elderly care.

A total of 118 peer-reviewed studies that focused on the development and evaluation of fall detection devices were included in the study. Researchers identified 10 monitoring technologies being used, including wearables and in-home sensors.

Researchers found most of the studies failed to describe if the technology was ready for real-world use or whether it had only been tested in a lab setting. Additionally, researchers noted a lack of feedback from actual users with only three studies focusing on user acceptance.

“In addition, 90 percent of the reviewed studies didn't include any input from professional or family caregivers, but it's vital to designing technology that they're willing to use,” said PhD student Noelannah Neubauer. "There are too many devices available in the market that are sitting on shelves collecting dust because they did not address the varying wants and needs of the consumer, and caregivers are often the ones who purchase these technologies to assist in their duties."