"There seems to be a knowledge gap between fall detection technology and the use of it," said study co-author Lili Liu, a professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.
‘High-tech devices like at-home sensors, wristband monitors used by the elders lacks efficiency.’
Even though the market is already filled with such products, their readiness for use by the general public is questionable, she added.
"It's disturbing to think that these technologies aren't properly tested for the real world, to be used by people who very much depend on them."
In Canada, falls are responsible for 85 per cent of hospitalizations for seniors. After a serious fall, 20 per cent of older adults will die within a year.
Liu, PhD student Noelannah Neubauer and researchers from the Université de Montréal and Universidad del Rosario sifted through 118 peer-reviewed studies, published worldwide in three languages, that focused on development and evaluation of fall detection devices. Ten types of monitoring technology were identified, including wearable devices and in-home sensors. Though the quality of the research was strong overall, it only went so far, Liu said.
"Most of the studies didn't describe whether the technologies were ready for use in the real world," she added.
Most were tested only in lab settings using available students, said Neubauer. Some studies even used mannequins to simulate falls. None tested the technology with seniors or in real-life environments.
The review also revealed gaps in feedback from real users. Only three studies explored user acceptance, and none focused on their preferences, leaving fall detection tech research out of step with the World Health Organization's recommendation to address what older adults want.
"Most of the technology being researched was either wearable or situated in the home, but most people want a combination of both," Neubauer said.
"None of the studies addressed the fact that just because you have a piece of technology that works, doesn't mean it works for the older adult," Liu noted.
One of the studies showed that 80 per cent of older adults were reluctant to push the button on their devices after a fall, either because they had difficulty activating it or because they didn't want to disturb a caregiver.
"Not everyone who falls wants an immediate emergency dispatch. They might want to contact a neighbour instead or get up themselves. We need to have their input into what happens when they fall, and the technology doesn't capture that," said Liu.
One of the main reasons for developing fall detection devices is to offer an option for people who want to remain independent, yet not one of the studies measured that as an outcome, she added.
In addition, 90 per cent of the reviewed studies didn't include any input from professional or family caregivers, but it's vital to designing technology that they're willing to use, said Neubauer.
"There are too many devices available in the market that are sitting on shelves collecting dust because they did not address the varying wants and needs of the consumer, and caregivers are often the ones who purchase these technologies to assist in their duties."
The cost of the technology was another area that was barely explored: 80 per cent of the studies didn't address the question at all, while 15 per cent mentioned it without specifying a cost, only recommending that systems be low-priced.