Best Fall Detection Sensors of 2018

Jeph Preece ·
Senior Domain Editor
Updated
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A fall detection sensor is not a medical alert device you purchase solely on its own. Rather, you add the fall detection sensor to a medical alert system, either as a pendant or an activated feature on a mobile device. With this in mind, you should choose one of the best medical alert systems before you decide whether to add a fall detection sensor. I tested the call response times, quality of the call centers, speaker clarity and the fall detection sensors. After comparing costs with the performance, the GreatCall Mobile Lively earned my pick for the best fall detection sensor overall because this service provides the best medical alert system with the best fall detection performance.  

Best Overall
GreatCall
The GreatCall Lively Mobile had the best fall detection sensor in our tests, but the call response speed, speaker quality and affordable monthly cost make it the best choice overall.
View on GreatCall
Best Value
Medical Alert
Medical Alert has the most affordable medical alert system available and the fall detection pendant is very good at detecting falls. It's also very good at confusing minor movements as falls too.
View on Medical Alert
Best Emergency Response Center
Medical Guardian
Medical Guardian may not have the best fall detection sensors or the best prices, but the emergency responders are as good as it gets, a characteristic which cannot be understated.
View on Medical Guardian
$49.95@Medical Guardian
Best Emergency Response Center
Medical Guardian
$24.99
View on Great Call
$37.95
View on Medical Alert
$49.95
View on Medical Guardian
$39.95
View on Acadian
$35.95
View on Blue Star
Best Overall
GreatCall's Lively Mobile performed the best in my fall detection tests.
GreatCall's Lively Mobile performed the best in my fall detection tests, but that doesn't mean the fall detection sensor is necessarily worth the additional $15 it costs per month to activate the feature. It's a bit on the sensitive side, though it seems a little inconsistent. It doesn't take much of a bump to the device to cause it to detect a fall, but it's not nearly as sensitive as some other sensors. In addition, there were some simulated falls where the sensitivity was lacking, perhaps due to a low battery. Still, the fall detection was the closer to the sweet spot than other sensors I tested. The Lively Mobile starts out at about $25 per month, making it one of the most affordable medical alert systems, but to activate the fall detection, you must upgrade to the Ultimate package. This increases the monthly cost to $40 per month. However, this package still has excellent value beyond the fall detection feature. It includes compatibility with the caretaker tracking app, mobile urgent care service that provides 24/7 access to nurses and doctors for minor health issues and product replacement if the Lively Mobile is damaged or stops working. In my main review of medical alert systems, GreatCall also earned my pick for the best medical alert system overall because it performed the best in all the important areas. The call response time was twice as fast as the second fastest medical alert services. From the moment I pressed the help button to the moment the emergency responder asked if I needed help was an average of 14 seconds. In addition, while the emergency responders were just average, the speaker quality is unmatched by other mobile systems, making communication easier. It's also one of the most affordable medical alert systems, costing less per month than most service's in-home landline systems, which are outdated and severely limiting.
Pros
  • Fall detection was the most reliable
  • Fastest average call response time
  • Very affordable
Cons
  • Emergency responders were average
  • No medical information packet
  • Fall detection can result in false alerts
$39.99GreatCall
Read the full review
Best Value
Medical Alert is my pick for the best value because it has the cheapest medical alert system on the market.
When you add the fall detection, it costs just $30 per month. By comparison, most services cost $40 for the same in-home landline system with fall detection. The good news with Medical Alert's fall detection pendant is it detected every simulated fall. If you're extremely concerned about your loved one falling and being unable to press the help button, then this medical alert add-on is worth the additional $10 per month. The bad news is the sensitivity. Throughout my testing, it detected falls while gently swinging the pendant in my hand, while placing it on the table and while walking a little too briskly while it was around my neck. It detected falls when dropped from a height of just 3 inches. With such a sensitive sensor, it's easy to imagine the false alerts becoming more of a nuisance to your loved one than a safety net. And you have to consider the chance it could detect a fall when your loved one is too far from the base unit to hear it call for help. If she's unable to tell the emergency responder of the false alert, an ambulance is sent to her home. With the sensitive fall detection pendant aside, Medical Alert's overall performance as a medical alert service was excellent. The call response time averaged under 30 seconds and the emergency responders were good. In addition, the mobile system is among the best mobile alert systems I tested.
Pros
  • Detects real falls accurately
  • Most affordable base package
  • Very fast response times
Cons
  • Fall detection was overly sensitive
  • Not many additional services
  • No medication reminder service
$37.95Medical Alert
Read the full review
Best Emergency Response Center
Medical Guardian's fall detection pendant wasn't great, but the emergency responders were excellent, receiving the highest grade for quality in my test.
Calling an emergency response center, even in an emergency, is a high anxiety situation. Studies even suggest seniors often won't push the help button as a result. But the emergency responders with Medical Guardian do an excellent job at easing this anxiety. They speak clearly with a calm and patient tone. They never seemed annoyed when I told them I was just testing the device, or I accidentally activated the fall detection. On every call, they asked at least twice if I was okay and always reminded me to press the button if I need help. This goes a long way towards keeping your loved one calm while also alleviating any future anxiety they may have at calling for help. The fall detection received a C grade in my test. It detected about 10-percent of the falls. But, at least it detected something. Many of the fall detection pendants I tested only detected falls when I spiked them in the ground like a football. In addition, it's not overly sensitive to the point where it calls for help at the slightest bump. If having some fall detection protection provides peace of mind, the additional $10 per month is worth it. On a positive note, the fall detection pendant's quality, lanyard quality and style are far superior to the standard pendants included with the landline system. This could make the additional cost worth it on those characteristics alone. Medical Guardian also performed well in the other tests I performed for medical alerts. The average call response time was under 30 seconds and tied for the second fastest. In addition, both the mobile system and the in-home systems have above-average speakers. Finally, Medical Guardian is one of only a few medical alert services to offer a medical alert smartwatch, the Freedom Guardian. This is a smartwatch, fitness tracker and medical alert all rolled into one. It's perfect for your technologically adept loved one, especially since it doesn’t look or feel like a medical alert device, so they are more likely to wear and use it.
Pros
  • Excellent emergency responders
  • Fall detection pendant isn't overly sensitive
  • Medical alert smartwatch
Cons
  • Average pricing
  • Fall detection sensitivity failed to alert the provider for most falls
  • No medication reminder service
$49.95Medical Guardian
Read the full review
Best Pendant Performance
In my tests, BlueStar SeniorTech had the best fall detection pendant.
Fall detection sensors come in two forms – as a feature on a mobile medical alert device or a pendant with an in-home system. In my tests, BlueStar SeniorTech had the best fall detection pendant. It wasn't perfect by any means, but it was closest to finding the sweet-spot between being too sensitive and outright failing to detect anything. It detected 80-percent of the simulated falls, but it also detected about 60-percent of the drops from three inches, a test designed to gauge the sensitivity. In addition, it only detected one fall while gently swinging the pendant in my hand. It may seem like its overly sensitive, and it is on the sensitive side of the spectrum but compared to some pendants and mobile devices I tested, the risk of too many false alerts is much less. As a medical alert service, however, the emergency response speed was dismal. It was the slowest service in my tests. On average, the calls for help went unanswered for over 91 seconds. Several calls even went unanswered for over five minutes. To make matters worse, the mobile device – the SOS Ranger – does nothing to indicate a call is in progress. The device is silent until someone answers. This amplified my anxiety, as wasn't sure it had called or if the call was dropped. I can't imagine how it would feel in a real emergency.
Pros
  • Best performing fall detection pendant
Cons
  • Very slow emergency response time
$35.95BlueStar SeniorTech
Read the full review
Best Fall Detection Alert
When Acadian OnCall's mobile device detects a fall, a voice says "Fall Detected. Calling for help."
After testing so many fall detection devices, it's clear how important this notification is for alleviating anxiety and for helping the senior recognize false alerts early. The voice goes a long way to helping minimize anxiety because you know help is coming. And it repeats until someone answers, so you're never left wondering if the call was dropped or not. Fortunately, you don't have to worry about dropped calls or short call response times, as Acadian OnCall's call response time averaged under 30 seconds. The fall detection performance earned a B grade. It's not as sensitive as most sensors on one end of the spectrum but it's also not sensitive enough on the other end detecting only about 30 percent of the simulated falls. However, it never detected any falls in the sensitivity tests where I dropped it from three inches and swung it gently. So it's not likely to cause false alerts, but it's also less likely to detect a real fall.
Pros
  • Excellent fall-detected alert
Cons
  • Detected just 30-percent of falls
$39.95Acadian OnCall
Read the full review

Why Trust Us

Top Ten Reviews has reviewed fall detection sensors since this technology first hit the market in 2014, and I've been an expert on medical alert systems and senior care technology since 2015. I've published comprehensive articles and guides covering a wide variety of senior care topics, like fall prevention tips, dementia behavior management, geriatric depression, social isolation in seniors, caretaker tips and more. I've also reviewed medical alerts systems for Dignifyed, a sister site of Top Ten Reviews devoted to senior care topics. My focus with senior care technology is in finding the best products that help your senior loved one maintain independence and a high quality of life on a budget.

How Much Do Fall Detection Sensors Cost?

Fall detection sensors aren't purchased as an individual product. These are add-on options to a medical alert system. On average, a fall detection pendant costs between $10 and $15 per month, though some services offer the option as low as $5 per month. The same price differential applies to mobile systems with fall detection, as these systems are about $10 to $15 per month more than the same device without the sensor activated.


How We Tested


For three weeks, I thoroughly tested all aspects of the best medical alert services – the call response time, quality of emergency responders, speaker quality and volume output and more. Since the systems and services are more important than the fall detection sensor, I encourage you to consider my reviews of the best medical alert systems of 2018. You can also read more about those tests.

Finding the Sweet Spot
Every fall detection sensor relies on an accelerometer to measure gravitational force. When you fall, the g-force accelerates until you hit the ground. By using carefully tuned algorithms to account for the expected g-forces experienced in a fall, the fall detection sensor is designed to differentiate between a fall and accidentally being bumped into the refrigerator door. This is the sweet-spot – the point at which a fall detection sensor accurately detects falls but doesn't cause false alerts for all the little bumps and movements it inevitably experiences in day-to-day activities.

To find the sweet spot, I made sure to wear the fall detection sensor as described in the instructions provided. Typically, this meant right over the heart or just above the heart and over the clothing. Then I fell from various angles onto a mattress – face first, backwards, sideways and more. I simulated falls where I tried catching myself, falls where I rolled a little after I hit the ground and falls from a seated position onto a hard floor. Many sensors detected every fall. This was very encouraging. Many others failed to detect anything.


To gauge the sensitivity of the sensors, I dropped the sensors from various heights, starting from four feet and ending at 3 inches. I also swung the devices gently in my hand. Only the most sensitive sensors detected falls in this test. In addition, throughout testing, I noted every time a pendant or mobile device accidentally detected a fall while testing other things and while moving around equipment. These false alerts happened often. In a few instances, one of the mobile device's fall detection was so sensitive, it detected falls while resting in the charging cradle on the table.

On the other side of the spectrum, four of the ten services had fall detection sensors with failing grades. I rarely give failing grades to products I test, but these sensors detected none of the falls. In fact, I was convinced the sensors were defective, though it seems strange for so many services to send defective devices. However, I eventually tried to see if they'd detect a fall if I three them into the ground as hard as I could. Finally, they worked, but only when I spiked them like a football. 

Are Fall Detection Sensors Worth the Extra Cost?

At $10 per month for a fall detection add-on, you're looking at an additional expense of $120 per year on top of your medical alert system costs. It's a significant expense, especially if your loved one lives on a strict budget. In addition, the technology is very inconsistent. This expense likely means either having a sensitive sensor that causes so many false alerts, your loved one eventually stops wearing it or a sensor that doesn't detect falls at all.

To put it simply - you shouldn't buy a medical alert system based on the compatible the fall detection sensor. Rather, you should base your purchase decision based on the quality of the medical alert system and the service, only adding fall detection to the system if the peace of mind of the added protection is worth the additional cost. For many, the peace of mind is invaluable, especially when you consider the following statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • One in three seniors over 65 experiences a fall and this risk increases with age 
  • One in five falls result in a serious injury requiring hospitalization
  • A senior is treated for a fall in an emergency room every 11 seconds
  • The most common injuries are traumatic brain injuries and fractured hips
  • Falls are the primary reason most seniors lose their independence and become inactive
  • Falls are the leading cause of death in Americans over 65

Fall detection sensors aren't perfect, but the technology is still relatively new and it's getting better.

Apple Watch 4: The First Smartwatch With Fall Detection

In September 2018, Apple announced the launch of the fourth edition of the Apple Watch. The news caught our attention because one of the major parts of the announcement was the Watch would include fall detection. 

We ordered the smartwatch as soon as it was available, and I tested the fall detection sensor over the course of a week. And while the technology is really no different from other fall detection sensors, as it relies on an accelerometer and gyroscope to detect g-forces and movement, this smartwatch is the most effective fall detection sensor available right now. The reason has everything to do with the processes and stages of the detection that minimize, if not eliminate, fall alerts while still effectively detecting falls.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Delayed Response: It only detects falls when the person falls and doesn’t move, indicating a real emergency rather than instances where you’ve bumped into something or stumbled. This eliminates most false alerts and it works very well.

  2. Canceling Feature: If the watch detects a fall, it gives you an opportunity to cancel the call before calling 911.

  3. Alarm: If you don’t cancel the fall detection, an alarm from the watch sounds, alerting anyone in your vicinity to your situation.

  4. Calls 911 Directly: By calling 911 directly, you can get help faster because the emergency isn’t routed through an emergency call center. In addition, the Emergency SOS app sends your vital medical information and GPS location to responders.

Starting at about $400, the Apple Watch 4 is not cheap, but without a monthly subscription, the long-term costs are actually more affordable. Using a smartwatch is certainly not for everyone, but you can read in greater detail how the watch might be a great option for your loved one in our review of medical alert smartwatches.