The Flaws of Fall Detection in Medical Alert Buttons

The Flaws of Fall Detection in Medical Alert Buttons

time icon 5 min read update icon Sept. 30, 2019


Medical alert systems can be equipped with fall detection capabilities, to serve as a layer of protection for seniors in dire situations. Unfortunately, there are instances in which the fall detection feature may fail to properly function. 


A medical alert system can be a valuable investment for any senior. When the alert button is pressed during an emergency, help will be immediately available. This provides many seniors with reassurance and peace of mind. Medical alert devices can also be equipped with fall detection features. If a fall is detected, a signal will automatically be sent, notifying the monitoring center.

Unfortunately, fall detection is not guaranteed to work accurately one hundred percent of the time, and there may be instances when the fall detection signal will fail to reach the monitoring center during an emergency. In other instances, the device may send false alarms during times when there is no emergency.

The automatic fall detection sensors are highly sensitive and can usually differentiate the movement of a senior falling and a senior sitting, but not always. Furthermore, the technology is able to sense drastic height changes produced when a sudden fall occurs, however, the sensor may not operate properly if a senior faint and slowly falls to the ground, or if the senior falls from less than half a meter. 

Disadvantages to be Aware of with Fall Detection Medical Alert Buttons

1. Cannot Detect All Falls

Seniors may fall as a result of medication, mobility conditions, or health issues. As a precaution, seniors may opt to invest in medical alert devices with fall detection capabilities. However, seniors should be aware that fall detection features are not foolproof. There may be instances when falls are not detected, which may be fatal if the senior is rendered unconscious as a result of the fall.

It should also be taken into consideration that if a true fall occurs, there is a possibility that the system will fail to call for help. Furthermore, if the device detects movement after a fall, it presumes that the senior is still conscious and has the ability tomanually call for help by pressing the alert button. Therefore, the system will automatically cancel the signal to prevent a false alarm.Furthermore, seniors with low strength may experience sliding falls, which areusually gradual falls from wheelchairs and chairs. Due to the gradualness and low impact of the fall, the sensors do not always detect sliding falls.

2. False Alarms

Although fall detection technology is advanced and can detect many falls, devices are not advanced enough to always distinguish normal everyday routines from actual falls. There have been reported instances when normal activities, such as lying down in bed or sitting in a chair,falsely activated the sensors. These false alarms are not only embarrassing but can also be time-consuming for the monitoring staff and emergency personnel. Fortunately,fall detection technological developments are continuously undergoing refinement to minimize occurrences of false alarms.

3. Higher Cost

On average, most medical alert system costs range from $29.95 to $49.95 a month. Though convenient and a necessity for some, fall detection is usually an add-on feature for the system. Furthermore, not all companies offer the fall detection option. Only certain companies offer the fall detection feature, and it comes at an added cost that it is usually charged on a monthly basis. Critics are often skeptical as to why seniors would pay extra for a system that is not yet foolproof.

It is important, however, to note that even though no fall detection device can accurately detect all falls, these systems are usually very reliable. They can be especially important since there is a known time window in which it is crucial for an injured senior to receive medical assistance. A senior’s chance of successful recovery is significantly increased with a fall detection medical alert button.

4. False Sense of Security

Having a fall detection medical alert button may allow seniors and their family members to feel reassured that help will be available during an emergency or fall. However, as stated before, no system can detect one hundred percent of falls. Having a fall detection medical alert button often provides a false sense of security in the event the device malfunctions, or the senior is not wearing the device at the time of a fall. In case of power failures, most devices offer a battery backup of a few hours. This may be extremely inconvenient for periods of extended power outages.


Use of fall detection technology has increased in the past few years. The feature offers peace of mind to seniors, especially those with illnesses that may cause them to be susceptible to falling or becoming incapacitated. Knowing the expectations and flaws of the fall detection device can prove to be vital for seniors. After a fall, a senior may not be able to manually call for help or press the alert button, but the fall detection feature can serve as an extra layer of protection.

Seniors should be made aware, however, that the system does not detect falls one hundred percent of the time. Although fall detection devices have both pros and cons, overall, they can provide the extra measure of security needed to enable seniors to go about their days with the confidence of knowing that medical assistance will be immediately available if they should fall. While the systems are not perfect, the protection is worth having.

T. Mashae Pearson - Senior Advisor

Shae is senior researcher with Grandfolk® providing in-depth product and service reviews to empower senior buying decisions.