In today’s world, gadgets make our lives much easier and help us take care of our well-being. Anyone can encounter health problems and not be aware of them, and those who already have illnesses should be able to be protected from unforeseen circumstances. Medical alert devices can be a good help in this regard.

In this article we will look at Apple Watch as a medical alarm device, to detect sudden falls. According to various data, about 800,000 people face this problem, especially those who already have diseases like epilepsy or seizures, but also those whose pathological condition is caught completely suddenly (cardiac arrest, injuries, elderly people).

How does it works

Fall detection is available on Apple Watch Series 4 and above, as well as SE models. This feature is implemented with the help of built-in modules – accelerometer and gyroscope. The gyroscope is a device for measuring the orientation angles of an object. It allows you to determine where and how the iWatch was tilted. Accelerometer – counts changes in acceleration and helps in determining the position in space.

Difference in working of accelerometer and gyroscope
Difference in the Gyroscope and Accelerometer

These two modules allow you to perform basic smart functions in wearable electronics, smartphones, and Apple Watch in particular. For example, they allow you to count number of steps, track your sleep quality, and monitor physical activity at the gym, running, or in the pool.

The sudden fall detection is also part of their functionality. If there is a sudden change in value (rapid tilt in the gyroscope and changes in acceleration in the accelerometer) that is different from your usual activity, iWatch will start sounding the alarm about a probable fall.

The company has analyzed possible fall patterns in advance, so that the watch should not disturb you during games or other entertainment.

Work algorithm

After the algorithm is triggered, the watch will perform the following sequence:

  1. They will start to vibrate, make an alarm sound and display a fall detection message on the display. The alarm sound will gradually intensify so that people passing nearby can pay attention to it.
  2.  Starts a minute countdown and tracks the occurrence of movements.
  3. If movements are detected – only the message will be displayed.
  4. If missing, the watch will automatically start calling an emergency number after 30 seconds (the number may vary depending on the country). Once connected, the iWatch will play an audio message informing you that the wearer of this watch has fallen, and will report the current geographic latitude and longitude using the GPS module.
  5. After the call, device will send an incident message to your trusted contacts. These phones must be set up in your Medical ID.  

If you start moving after a fall, you have the option to select “I fell, but I’m OK” or “I didn’t fall” and the message will disappear, or to slide the “Emergency SOS” slider, which will start an emergency call.

Fall Detected in watchOS

All falls will be recorded in the Health app.

How good is Apple Watch fall detection accuracy?

Apple itself states that Apple Watch is not capable of identifying every possible fall. This is especially true for those involved in active sports. If the watch moves sharply during gym or jogging, a fall can be falsely detected.

Special mention should be made of people with limited mobility and those who are in wheelchairs. According to a study published in Assistive Technology journal in April 2021, for this category of people, the watch from Apple does not work accurately enough. Among the 300 tests for falls from a wheelchair, only 14 were recorded as sudden falls (this represents 95.3% of falsely negative and only 4.7% of correct, positive cases). It is worth noting that this sample is not definitive, and with changes in calculation algorithms and the use of artificial intelligence, the accuracy of determination can be improved by the developers.

Do I need iPhone around? What about Cellular model?

The whole algorithm of detection is already built into the watchOS software shell, the presence of an iPhone nearby to determine the fall is not necessary.

However, to send an emergency message or call a trusted number, the GPS-only series watch must be connected to a nearby iPhone via WiFi or Bluetooth.

The GPS + Cellular series, which have an eSIM card installed, are capable of operating autonomously from your smartphone and transmitting the SOS signal over the mobile network in any case. Understand the basic differences between GPS and GPS plus Cellular you can in our article.

First Set Up and Settings

Watch App in iPhone Fall Detection
Fall Detection Setup at Apple Watch iPhone application

If your profile states that you are over 55 years old, the feature will be activated by default. If you are younger but over 18, it is not. Then at initial setup:

  1. In the Apple Watch app on iPhone, tap the My Watch tab.
  2. Select Emergency SOS.
  3. Here you can enable fall detection as a function, once activated you can configure whether it should work:
    • Always
    • Only during sports activities

Setting Medical ID and adding emergency contacts

If you have previously made changes to your phone settings, make sure that “Emergency Calls & SOS” is enabled in Settings – Privacy – Location Services – System Services. Otherwise, if an emergency occurs, Apple Watch will not be able to read the necessary medical information about you and transfer it to the emergency services.

To enter and change your information in your Medical ID:

  1. In the phone settings, go to Health.
  2. Select the Medical ID item.
  3. Enter all the information you know about yourself: medical data, blood type, date of birth, height, weight, allergies, diseases, medications, organ donations, etc.
  4. Under “Emergency contacts”, click on the “+” button to select the people you want from the phonebook. Next, specify the type of your relationship. If you want to delete a contact, press the “-” button.
  5. You may also:
    • Allow your medical data to be displayed when your phone is locked – turn on the “Show When Locked” option.
    • Share your medical information with emergency services – move the “Share During Emergency Call” slider.
  6. Click the “Done” button in the upper right corner to save the data you entered.

Enabling Wrist Detection on watchOS

All of the above applies only if your Apple smartwatch has hand presence detection enabled (it detects whether it is on your wrist or not). To check whether this feature is enabled on your model, do the following on your watches:

  1. Enter in Settings application.
  2. Click on «Passcode».
  3. Enable «Wrist detection».
How to setup wrist detection
Turn on Wrist Detection

Video with fall detection test


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