The best kind of technology is technology that can improve our everyday lives. Medical alert devices have been around for a few decades now, calling emergency services when they detect the wearer has taken a hard fall. Recently, Apple added a Fall Detection feature to the Apple Watch that does the same thing.
What Is Apple Watch Fall Detection?
Apple Watch Fall Detection is a feature on Apple Watches that can sense if you’ve fallen and summon emergency services if needed.
Falls can cause serious medical emergencies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 3 million people over the age of 65 go to the emergency room because of a fall each year, and 800,000 are hospitalized due to a fall. The CDC also estimates:
- 1 out of 5 falls causes serious injury
- 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
- Vision impairment more than doubles your risk of falling
Between 2007 and 2013, the number of deaths caused by falls increased by 30%. At that rate, the CDC estimates that we could see seven fall deaths per hour by 2030.
Older patients are not the only ones who can benefit from fall detection. Many medical conditions can increase your likelihood of falls, fainting, or seizures. Even if you don’t have these conditions, fall detection is still helpful, as accidents can happen to anyone.
How Does Apple Watch Fall Detection Work?
Medical alert devices, including the Apple Watch, use two pieces of technology to detect falls:
- An accelerometer divides the change in your body’s velocity or speed and divides that by time
- A gyroscope determines your orientation using the Earth’s gravity
Apple says it has fine-tuned its algorithm to detect falls using this technology.
When your Apple Watch detects that you’ve fallen, three things will happen: Your watch will tap you on the wrist, sound an alarm, and create an alert message. The message will read, “It looks like you’ve taken a hard fall,” and give you three options:
- Emergency SOS
- "I fell, but I’m okay”
- “I did not fall”
Selecting the “Emergency SOS” option will contact emergency services (911 in the U.S.) for you.
If you don’t dismiss the alert and your watch senses that you haven't moved for one minute, your watch will start to vibrate and will sound an alarm that gets louder for 30 seconds. If you still don't react or move, your watch will then contact emergency services and send your location to your emergency contacts.
How to Get Fall Detection on Apple Watch
Fall detection comes already installed on the Apple Watch SE and Apple Watches Series 4 or later. If the date of birth you entered indicates that you’re 55 or older, fall detection will be turned on automatically. If you're under the age of 55 and want to turn on fall detection, follow these steps:
- Go to the Watch app on your iPhone
- Tap the My Watch tab
- Tap Emergency SOS
- Toggle Fall Detection on
- Choose “Always on” or “Only during workouts”
How to Use Apple Watch Fall Detection
Once you’ve activated fall detection on your Apple Watch, it will automatically detect if you suffer a fall.
Because Apple will contact your emergency contacts and emergency services, there are a few things you may want to check to make sure that this process goes smoothly:
- Verify who you've set as your emergency contacts and let them know that you've set them as your emergency contacts.
- Make sure you have “Emergency Calls & SOS” turned on. You can find this by going to Settings, then Privacy, then Location Services, then System Services. If you have this turned off, your Apple Watch won't be able to call emergency services.
- If your area supports it, Apple will send your Medical ID to emergency services. Make sure your medical information is up to date, especially any medical conditions or allergies you have.
After you’ve set everything up, there's nothing more you need to do unless you get an alert on your watch.
Apple Watch Fall Detection Accuracy
Apple offers the following disclaimer for Apple Watch Fall Detection: “Apple Watch cannot detect all falls. Your watch might detect high-impact activity as a fall and trigger Fall Detection".
There haven’t been many studies about the accuracy of the Apple Watch Fall Detection. Currently, Fall Detection on Apple Watch seems to be less accurate than other medical alert devices.
A study published in 2015 looked at the accuracy of medical alert devices overall and found that these devices detected 80% of falls and had about one false alarm per 40 hours of use. Meanwhile, a study published in 2022 looked at the fall detection accuracy of the Apple Watch specifically. It found that it only detected 4.7% of falls and had a false negative rate of 95.3%. More studies are needed to get a fuller picture of the reliability of Apple Watch Fall Detection.
Tips to Prevent Falls
While having an emergency alert device, whether it’s an Apple Watch or the type that hangs around your neck, is helpful, avoiding falls altogether is best. There are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of falls:
- Talk to your doctor about your fall risk
- Talk to your doctor about vitamin D supplements, as studies have shown that vitamin D may help your balance
- Talk to your pharmacist about whether any of your medications could increase your risk of falls
- Have your vision checked at least once a year
- Update your eyeglasses or contact lenses as needed
- Do strength and balance exercises, like tai chi
There are also things you can do to make your home environment safer, like:
- Keep your floors clear of things you could trip over
- Keep items you use often in places that are easy to access
- Put railings on both sides of stairs
- Add brighter light bulbs to give your home more light
- Put grab bars in your shower and around your toilet
- Use nonslip mats on shower floors and in the bathtub