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Automatic Fall Detection: A Step in the Right Direction

The Impact of Falling

 

Falls are a tremendous problem worldwide and have the potential to cause significant personal injury, physical decline, activity limitation and even death. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently found that 3 million individuals are treated in emergency departments for falls annually in the United States. Of the 3 million individuals that were treated for falls, 800,000 were hospitalized, most likely due to traumatic brain injury or hip fractures. According to the CDC, fall related injuries were also found to account for almost 30,000 fatalities in elderly individuals in the United States in the year 2016.

Costs to healthcare systems have increased with the aging population in the United States. An estimated $50 billion in medical costs were related to falls in the year 2015 alone. Less than half of all older adults who have fallen and were not significantly injured did not report this fall to their healthcare providers, suggestive that the problem of falling is actually much larger than the CDC reports show.

Falling once increases ones likelihood for future falls, which could result in more significant injuries, or injuries in the future. Therefore, it’s imperative to identify those who have fallen and assist them to reduce the likelihood of future, possibly more injurious, falls.

 

So what can we do about this problem?

 

For years, manual systems have been around as an assistive device to help individuals who have fallen. However, these devices are not without fault, as the individual has to actually be wearing the device at the time they fall. Many individuals may choose not to wear device such as this as they may find it unsightly. Also, with this type of device, the individual must be conscious and aware of the need to push a button to alert for assistance.

Several new products have been released with automatic fall detection capabilities. The most widely used of these products possibly being the new Apple Watch Series 4. The new watch has a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope that can detect a hard fall. With this device, if an individual is unresponsive for 60 seconds after a hard fall is detected, an emergency call will be placed and a text message can be sent to emergency contacts automatically.

With devices such as the new Apple Watch, some of the stigma associated with more traditional systems is eliminated, and these devices do not rely on an individual being conscious and aware for help to be contacted.

Many may wonder if a device such as this can misclassify random, everyday movements as a fall when the wearer has not fallen. Apple’s official take on the fall detection feature is that all falls cannot be detected and that the more active you tend to be, the more likely you could inadvertently have a fall detected. However, recent reviews have shown the watch to be rather effective at detecting true falls, including this recent YouTube review from the Wall Street Journal where the watch is worn by a professional stunt double.

Another such device, the Starkey Livio AI hearing aid, includes automatic fall detection capabilities. Similar to the Apple Watch, these hearing aids have built-in, automatic inertial sensors to detect falls. In the future, this feature is to be integrated with the Starkey phone application, as well as with other technology such as the Apple Health app. Once again, this alleviates the need for the individual to have the wherewithal to press a button to indicate they have fallen, also while treating hearing loss.

More information on the Starkey Livio AI hearing aids can be found here.

 

The Future of Fall Detection and Falls Prevention

 

Wearable automatic fall detection devices are an integral part of the future for fall detection and falls prevention. These devices allow for expedient contact for medical assistance, which could reduce fall related mortality. Also, these devices have the potential to detect even non-injurious falls, that may have otherwise gone unreported, and can allow for behavioral or environmental modifications to reduce the likelihood of future falls. These devices can also be integrated with other health systems such as the Apple Health Application or hearing aids for those with hearing loss, allowing for more holistic healthcare.

The future for fall detection and falls prevention appears to be automated, sleek and integrative, and the future is now.

 

 

*Featured image courtesy Mayo Clinic

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Brady Workman

Brady Workman, AuD, is an audiologist in the Balance Disorders program at Wake Forest Baptist Health Center. Brady resides in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and is licensed by the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists and is a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology. His primary clinical interests include comprehensive vestibular assessment and adult hearing diagnostics.

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