Automatic Fall Alert Systems Will Not Detect 100% Of Falls

Philips Lifeline Customers in Foxborough Find Out The Hard Way

Automatic Fall Alert Personal Emergency Response Systems

Auto Fall Alert Detection by Philips Lifeline

On Thursday, 17 July 2014, Paul MacDonald of Foxborough, Massachusetts, discovered Elizabeth, his wife of 55 years, on the bathroom floor, lifeless. MacDonald tried to move and wake her up, but it was already too late.

Before the incident, the MacDonald children paid for an auto-alert system from Philips Lifeline to lessen their worry about their parents, who were both in wheelchairs. The automatic fall detection alert system is intended to recognize falls and send an alert to the monitoring center. There is no need for the senior user to push even the SOS button, making it very convenient to use.

A month ago, however, the MacDonald household informed that the system fizzled, failing to send help when Elizabeth fell down in the bathroom. She died that night without receiving any help. According to reports, the reason for the fall is still unclear.

Paul was depressed about the system’s failure. He said that when they needed Lifeline the most, it was not there to provide the help her wife needed. Bill Holmes, their son-in-law, purchased the Lifeline device to provide them peace of mind and safety for their parents but the results were contrary to their expectations. The system that was supposed to protect Mrs. MacDonald, failed at the most crucial moment.

Based on records of past medical emergencies, Lifeline did work as predicted a majority of the time. The standard version of medical alert systems required the pushing of a help or SOS button, so the family thought that getting an automatic one would be much more convenient and easier to use.

In a statement given by Philips Lifeline to Boston News Center 5, the company said that the automatic version of Lifeline has the capacity to recognize more than 95 percent of the falls and will automatically call in for help if it detects one. However, there are some circumstances wherein the device would not recognize a fall. As such, Lifeline advises their customers to push the button on the device whenever an emergency occurs. But the MacDonalds insisted that they were not supplied with this information.

Besides sending their warmest sympathies to the MacDonald household, Lifeline held their own internal investigation to understand how incident happened. As far as we know, they have not publicly released any follow-up statement.

Auto-Fall Alert Has Limitations

As we previously discussed in this auto fall alert editorial, one of the things to beware of when ordering an auto fall alert system is to understand that it will not detect 100% of falls. This is especially something to keep in mind if the user is wheelchair bound, as some sensing mechanisms may be more attuned to detecting standing falls rather than sliding falls. Auto-alert systems definitely have their place, but it behooves the elderly user and their families to be aware of its limits and not get an exaggerated sense of security.

Additional Fall Detection Alarm Options

When there is one or more person at home a good stretch of the time with elderly or disabled system user, an added fall alarm option to consider are these fall and motion sensors. They will sound an audible alarm if a fall or significant movement is detected. The alarm doesn’t go to a monitoring center, but it will alert the people at home, and they can press the medical alert button for help or call 911 directly.


In summary, auto fall alert systems are not 100% accurate. What happened to the MacDonalds household was very unfortunate. Their example has certainly alerted other users of these systems to be more careful. This technology is helpful, but it is not prudent expect that it will surely detect each and every fall and dial into the monitoring center in every single instance. Whenever possible, seniors and other users of these systems should still press the help button to manually register an alarm call.

Lifeline is one of the first medical alert companies to introduce fall alert. This technology is now widely available with other top companies you may have heard about, such as LifeStation, Medical Guardian or Bay Alarm Medical. Whichever company you may end up subscribing to, none will have the capability to be 100% accurate.

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