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According to the CDC, every year, 36 million elderly fall leading to 32,000 deaths and 3 million admissions to emergency departments. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated in a press release that falls are “the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide.“
Fall Detection is also known as incident detection. It makes the most of the accelerometers and gyroscopes of a smartwatch or fitness tracker to detect abnormal patterns of movements consistent with a fall.
Understanding the differences between Fall Detection and SOS Feature
Fall or Incident detection should not be confused with the SOS button or SOS Feature that can be built into a wearable device.
Just as its name implies, the fall detection feature will detect falls. They are helpful for hikers, runners, the elderly, or even cyclists who can program the feature to alert an emergency contact and receive assistance.
There will be no need to worry about sending the help request using wifi at home. However, the situation becomes more complex when using your device outside.
There will then be a need for either an LTE watch connecting to the cellular network or a Bluetooth connection with a phone.
The Emergency SOS Feature is different and is more like a medical alert device. Again, freedom Guardian is a popular choice. In case of an emergency, it can be used to call 911 or any other emergency service you choose and transmit your location.
In that sense, the SOS button is closer to the pendant we usually see around the neck of children or the elderly. However, it also requires a way to connect to the cellular network to be used outside.
Some companies, such as Lively Wearable, even developed a dedicated device for the elderly to contact emergency services quickly.
Are Fall Detection Technologies effective?
Recently, Rohit Tanwar et al. published an exciting article about the different technologies currently on the market and the potential to detect falls.
Incident detection devices fall into three main categories:
- Wearables devices
- Camera-based devices
- Ambiance devices
If wearable devices are the best priced, they are intrusive and require users to wear them.
On top of that, smartwatches and fitness trackers are not always sensitive enough to detect falls consistently. Since the Series 4, the Apple Watch and Apple Watch SE come with a fall detection feature. However, their consistency and reliability still need to be improved, as exemplified but a study recently published in the “Assistive Technology” scientific journal.
In this study, 25 subjects were asked to simulate a fall from a wheelchair while wearing an Apple Watch. Just 14 falls were identified by the Apple Watch from 300 recorded fall trials, yielding a sensitivity rate of 4.7 percent and a false negative rate of 95.3 percent.
3D-Axis accelerometers are the sensors of choice for detecting a brisk falling pattern. However, if these sensors are good enough for analyzing a rapid fall, they are not reliable enough for detecting slow falls, which often occur in the elderly.
Does any Fitbit device have fall detection?
Fitbit smartwatches and fitness trackers are packed with sensors that allow tracking movements, steps, heart rate, various types of workouts, Blood Oxygen Saturation, Fitness tracking, Heart Rate Variability, Stress (thanks to the Electrodermal Activity Sensor), and even performing an FDA cleared electrocardiogram for the new models such as the Fitbit Sense and Fitbit Charge 5.
Unfortunately for Fitbit users and contrary to Apple, Garmin, and Samsung, without mentioning dedicated watches, Fitbit does not offer any automatic fall detection or incident detection features in any of their wearables.
Not that this feature has not been long-awaited by Fitbit users, as shown on various Fitbit forums.
Can you add fall detection to the watches?
According to our research, the only company that offers the possibility to add medical assistance while wearing a Fitbit is Better Alerts.
The company, based in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, provides the possibility to download a dedicated App. Available for iOS or Android, that will make the most of the Fitbit Ionic and Versa.
The Better Alerts App is free, but the services will require a monthly subscription ranging from $19.95 to $29.95, depending on the features. The app has been available on the Apple Store since 2014 and is regularly updated. At the time of this writing, the latest update was released in January 2021.
The standard plan transforms the Fitbit into an SOS device as users will be able to contact the Better Alerts platform or 911. Interestingly, the GPS location will also be transmitted to facilitate the arrival of the emergency services. In addition, daily activities will also be made available to caregivers, which can be helpful to ensure that the elderly keep maintaining a reasonable level of activity.
The Total plan will cost you $29.95 per month, but it goes further. This plan claims to transform the Fitbit Ionic and Versa into a Fall Detection device that will send an automated alert and the GPS location when a fall is detected.
When looking at the reviews and ratings left by the users of this service, we advise you to exercise caution when considering this app. Users complain that the service is subscription-based and that the app does not connect to a Fitbit Device. The quality of the support is also questioned.
Overall, using a third-party app is not a reliable option when looking to add fall detection and SOS Features to your Fitbit.
Which smartwatches feature incident detection?
Fitbit produces high-quality smartwatches and fitness trackers packed with sensors that let people track their health, sleep patterns, and activity quickly.
It is difficult to understand that the company has not yet integrated features as simple as an SOS or fall detection technology into their range.
If Apple, Garmin, and even Samsung, since the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 included a fall detection and alert system, we wonder why Fitbit does not consider making the same step.
Smartwatches and Fitness trackers are not reserved for Gym rats anymore. According to Statista, more than 21% of the Fitness trackers devices are above 60 years old.
Seniors can greatly benefit from the Fitbit Watch to stay active and healthy. With a battery life of close to one week, the Fitbit Charge 5 is a non-intrusive watch with the potential to improve the elderly’s health.
Even if, as we saw with the Apple Watch, there are false alarms, adding an incident detection feature to a wearable is an important “peace of mind” feature for both the wearer and the carer.
Fitbit Fall Detection is still missing, but we hope that the Fitbit App will one day be upgraded. Fitbit being part of Google makes perfect sense for the emergency services to receive the GPS location superimposed over Google Maps if a hard fall is detected.