Smartwatches are excellent for managing communication, setting reminders, controlling music, and much more – all without having to take your phone out of your pocket.
Like most smartwatches, the Apple Watch combines these useful tools while allowing users to monitor their exercise and heart rate. However, what makes this device unique is that it also detects falls and, most importantly, automatically calls for help in an emergency.
As hard falls are the leading cause of injuries among adults aged 65 and higher, fall detection can be a great ally in preventing serious consequences. If you have an Apple Watch SE, Apple Watch Series 4, or later, then you’ll find this feature pre-installed in your device.
Still, you may wonder if this smartwatch is the right option for you or your loved one, and the answer depends on the user’s lifestyle and level of assistance needed. Although Apple Watch is designed to accurately detect falls, its effectiveness may vary according to many factors. So, it’s important first to understand how it works.
How Apple Watch Detects Falls
The Apple Watch uses three factors to detect falls: motion sensors, optical heart sensors, and Apple’s algorithms.
To detect a fall, the Apple Watch analyzes the wearer’s movements using its two motion sensors: an accelerometer and a gyroscope. As its name suggests, the accelerometer measures the user’s movements and acceleration, which is essential for detecting the difference between normal and sudden motions.
The gyroscope complements it, providing additional data about the watch’s rotation and orientation to help determine the direction of the wearer’s wrist during a hard fall.
Optical Heart Rate Sensor
The watch’s optical heart sensor also plays a significant role in detecting a fall. As the sensor monitors heart rhythms, it identifies when heart rate patterns have a sudden peak followed by a period of inactivity.
This information, along with the accelerometer and gyroscope data, enhances the watch’s accuracy in identifying a hard fall and triggering the fall detection alert.
Finally, Apple’s algorithms analyze the combination of the data provided by the accelerometer and gyroscope to determine the motion patterns during a fall. With this information, the device can determine whether the user is just moving normally, exercising, or has suddenly fallen and needs emergency assistance.
How to Set Up and Customize Fall Detection
Most of Apple Watch’s settings must be configured from the iPhone it’s paired to. However, simply enabling fall detection can be done from either the iPhone or smartwatch.
How to Enable Apple Watch’s Fall Detection Using Your iPhone
- Open the Watch app.
- Find the ‘My Watch’ tab.
- Tap ‘Emergency SOS’.
- Enable ‘Fall Detection’.
How to Enable Apple Watch’s Fall Detection From Your Watch
- Push the crown button.
- Go to ‘Settings’.
- Tap ‘SOS’.
- Tap ‘Fall Detection’.
- Enable fall detection.
Apple Watch Menu
Apple Watch SOS in Settings
Fall Detection in SOS
Fall Detection Activation
Fall Detection Additional Customization
Apple Watch lets you choose between having fall detection always on or only during workouts. For those who are 55 or older, the default setting is to have fall detection always on. Although this can be changed, we recommend that older adults do leave the default settings as they are.
The second option is for those with a more active lifestyle. These people have higher chances of triggering fall detection during a high-impact activity, which can be mistaken for a hard fall.
So, setting fall detection to be on only during workouts reduces the chances of false alarms. Essentially, this is because when you activate the workout tracking on your watch, it will also activate fall detection. This way, the device is able to distinguish between the typical high-impact data and a hard fall.
What Happens After Apple Watch Detects a Fall?
The main point of Apple Watch’s fall detection is to help the user get immediate medical assistance if needed. So, once the watch detects a hard fall, it taps the wearer on the wrist, sounds an alarm, and displays an alert.
Then, two options appear: call emergency services or dismiss the alert. If no action is taken, but movements are detected, the device waits for the user to respond to the alert.
If no movements are detected for about one minute, the watch calls the emergency services automatically.
How To Set Up Emergency Contacts
Once medical assistance is contacted, the watch sends the user’s location to their emergency contacts, making them aware of the fall and that emergency services were called.
So, it’s extremely important that your emergency contacts are set up in your iPhone’s Medical ID. Here’s how to do it:
- Open ‘Settings’ on your iPhone.
- Got to ‘Health’.
- Choose ‘Medical ID’.
- Tap ‘Edit’.
- Under ‘Emergency Contacts’, tap ‘add emergency contact’.
- Choose the person from your contact list.
- Set the relationship between you and the emergency contact.
It’s equally important to add your health information to your Medical ID, such as medical conditions, allergies, medications, and blood type.
Additionally, to make sure emergency professionals can gain access to your medical information, tap ‘show when locked’.
To add an extra layer of precaution, tap ‘share during emergency call,’ so the iPhone and Apple watch can share your medical information with the Emergency Services.
Tips for Maximizing Fall Detection Benefits
To maximize your Apple Watch’s accuracy in detecting falls, make sure to do the following:
- Wear the watch correctly: For the LED sensors to detect movements and heartbeats, the wristband can’t be loose. It should be worn as tightly as possible (while still being comfortable).
- Regularly run software updates: It’s equally crucial to frequently check for updates. Apple is always improving its systems to fix bugs, correct malfunctions, and enhance its algorithms and data analysis.
- Wear the watch consistently: The more you use the watch, the more the device will learn about your activity patterns. Having enough movements and heart rate data is essential for the algorithm to better distinguish between a normal high-impact workout and a hard fall.
Pros and Cons of Using Apple Watch to Detect Falls
While there are lots of benefits of using Apple Watch’s fall detection, some downsides of the functionality must be taken into account, especially by senior users.
Why Medical Alert Devices with Fall Detection Are Better for Seniors
Although fall detection on the Apple Watch is excellent for people with highly active lifestyles, life alert systems may be a better option for older adults who require enhanced monitoring.
These devices are designed considering the user’s safety. They’re put through rigorous testing and certification processes specific to medical alert systems. To top it all off, they offer constant monitoring through an assistance command central.
Medical alert devices with fall detection are also available as smartwatches. Plus, there are standalone fall detection necklaces, which are more accurate in detecting falls than wristbands.
Additionally, there are on-the-go medical alert systems that are perfect for detecting falls and tracking the senior’s location, as they come with a GPS, which is excellent for those suffering from dementia.
What's more, some medical alert devices offer several other vital features, such as:
- Immediate activation of emergency services and caregivers.
- Seamless communication and coordination during fall incidents.
- Dedicated care and support with a specialized team.
- Sync with home monitoring systems for a robust safety network.
A Good Precautionary Measure, But Not the Best One
All in all, the Apple Watch enhances people’s safety with its fall detection and other helpful health monitoring features. However, it may not be the most appropriate choice for senior adults who require increased monitoring and assistance.
So, going for medical alert devices with fall detection is the safest choice, mainly for two reasons. Firstly, because they are connected to a monitoring center with trained professionals that assist the user. Secondly, devices worn around the neck are more accurate.
Even so, regardless of whether you’re using an Apple Watch or a medical alert device, taking precautionary steps to prevent falls is also important. By going above and beyond to be safe, seniors hold on to their autonomy to live independently, and their loved ones can have peace of mind knowing appropriate measures will be taken should an incident happen.
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