A wearable device that sets off an alert when it detects a fall has been developed to give elderly people reassurance that emergency services will be contacted instantaneously if they suffer an accident. Called FATE, or FAll DeTector for the Elderly, the device uses technology similar to airbags in cars which are triggered when sudden acceleration is detected. Matthew Stock reports.
Like many elderly people, 72-year-old Merce Benet worries about falling over and injuring herself. So she was happy to test this prototype device that aims to speed up emergency response time to falls. Called FATE, or FAll DeTector for the Elderly, it's worn around the waist. Sensors detect any movement that could resemble a fall, and wireless technology locates the user's position, alerting the authorities. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) FATE PATIENT MERCE BENET SAYING: "I feel safe because most of the day I am on my own, so if I fall I have to wait for someone to come. So wearing this makes me feel calm." UPSOT - DEVICE BEING ACTIVATED IN LAB Lead researcher, Joan Cabestany, from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, says FATE uses technology similar to airbags in cars, which are triggered by sudden acceleration. (SOUNDBITE) (English) UNIVERSITAT POLITECNICA DE CATALUNYA (UPC) RESEARCHER JOAN CABESTANY, SAYING: "The main principle used in this device is accelerometry. Accelerometry is the same principle that is used for example in cars." The device is being tested by dozens of elderly volunteers in pilot studies in Spain, Italy and Ireland. Initial results show there's room for improvement. Emergency teams have reported the device is too sensitive - triggering false alarms when it mistakes sudden movement for a fall. But there are no such complaints from Merce Benet - she says it's already helped her in an emergency. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) FATE PATIENT MERCE BENET SAYING: "(I fell and) the device activated the alarm. A man called me and I told him I wasn't injured but that I had fallen and couldn't get up. And they came to lift me up. So, I fall and they lift me up." The World Health Organisation says about 30 percent of over 65-year-olds suffer a fall at some point. Current alert devices require users to press a button sound the alarm - something not always possible in an emergency. The makers of the FATE device hope it will dramatically improve the time it takes for emergency services to be alerted to an accident, while providing reassurance to the elderly and their families.