More Effective Fall Detection Using Wrist-Worn Technology

Advances in healthcare mean that the western world has an elderly population that is significantly growing in number. This demographic segment now represents a larger proportion of society, as people’s life expectancies have become more prolonged than they were in previous generations. Rather than being in care homes, many senior citizens want to reside in their own accommodation for as long as possible and thus enjoy a better quality of life. It must be recognised that this desire for continued independent living has major consequences though.

Older people are at significantly greater risk of falls and these falls can potentially result in serious injury. Academic studies on geriatric emergency care have revealed that approximately 30% of the over 65 age bracket have a fall at least once a year and nearly 50% of these people will suffer further falls over the course of that time period.

Emergency systems that are already utilised to react to these circumstances, such as home medical alarms, tend to be costly to implement and are quite complex too. Each of the mechanisms involved will take time to perform and this results in delays that slow down the response process considerably. Other systems which are activated by pressing the button on a device worn around the neck or on the hip, can be inconvenient for the user as they carry out everyday tasks. Furthermore, because of their positioning on the body, they can cause additional injuries to the wearer during a fall. There is thus a growing need to create wearable alarm devices that are less intrusive for elderly people.

The placement of an alarm device on the wrist has shown itself to be a better option. This is much more comfortable from a user perspective (as most people are accustomed to wearing a watch there). Its location (with the user’s arm generally at their side) is close to the body’s centre of gravity and can thereby accurately determine the nature of the body’s movements (differentiating between a fall and other activities). Plus, of course, the wrist is easy to reach after a fall has occurred.

To be fully effective, such a wrist-worn device will need to possess the following attributes:

  • Some form of detection apparatus, with a high degree of accuracy.
  • Supporting electronics – so that the alarm is activated automatically if a fall incident is detected, but the user is no longer conscious to do so themselves.
  • The capability to forward the alarm to a smartphone, so that the emergency services can rapidly be informed of the situation.
  • A manually-operated alarm button, allowing the user to alert the emergency services directly or cancel the alarm should it have been triggered by mistake.
  • An energy efficient display that can be used to access the time, as well as displaying the alarm.
  • Finally, the device should be both water and impact resistant, so that it does not have to be removed at any point during the day.

A prototype wrist-worn fall detector, which covers all of these elements and showcases the advantages of this type of monitoring hardware, has recently been developed by a research team at FH Aachen, University of Applied Sciences. The device incorporates leading-edge semiconductor technology from Toshiba, as well as highly sophisticated fall detection algorithms.

The basis of this device is a RBTZ1011-4MA. board, which incorporates the TZ1011MBG processor with an ARM® Cortex®-M4F core, 24-bit data conversion functionality and digital signal processing. The board has 3 different types of sensor, each supporting high accuracy 16-bit operation and detecting along all 3 axes. These are an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a magnetometer.

To learn more about this ground-breaking monitoring device and Toshiba’s high performance processor technology click here:


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