Should You Use Apple Watch for Fall Detection in 2024? Experts Weigh In

Sep 29, 2023
Fact Checked
Apple Watch fall detection may be better at detecting “hard” falls compared to slow, gradual falls. Learn why this matters.

Alternatives to the Apple Watch for Fall Detection

The Apple Watch isn’t a dedicated medical alert watch, and it may have more bells and whistles than you need. You may want to consider a watch that offers features such as superior fall detection, a longer battery life, a 24-hour monitoring center, and a lower price tag.

Best for Premium Features
24/7 monitoring center located in the United States
Includes GPS tracking, voice-to-text messaging, and several apps
Our Top Pick
Best for Fall Detection
Very good
Fall detection included in monthly fee
Free month of service with code “NCOA”

Apple Watch Compared to Other Fall Detection Devices

“Using the Apple Watch as a fall detector comes with several benefits,”said Sean Marchese, a registered nurse with more than 20 years of patient care experience.

“The device has functionality for monitoring several other health data, such as heart rate, exercise, and more. It has phone calling functionality and works well for connecting with family or emergency services.”

See how the Apple Watch SE and Series 8 compare to the best medical alert watches below.

Table 1 Comparison of Apple Watch with fall detection to other top medical alert watches, as of August 2023

Watch ModelStarting equipment feeStarting monthly priceConnection typeFall detectionBattery lifeWater-resistantBrand response time
Apple Watch SE$249 $0 AT&T, T-Mobile, VerizonYes, included18–36 hoursYesNA
Apple Watch Series 8$399 $0 AT&T, T-Mobile, VerizonYes, included18–36 hoursYesNA
Medical Guardian MGMove$199.95 $39.95AT&T or Verizon cellular; landlineYes, $10 per monthUp to 5 daysYes1–25 seconds
Bay Alarm Medical SOS Smartwatch$255 $24.95 AT&T or Verizon cellular; landline Yes, $10 per monthUp to 5 daysYes1–25 seconds
UnaliWear Kanega Watch$199 $59.95 VerizonYes, included24 hoursYes50+ seconds
HandsFree Health Medical Alert Watch$159.95 $29.95 T-MobileYes, $10Up to 48 hoursWaterproof25–50 seconds

Whether you’ve been an Apple enthusiast since its founding in 1976 or are newer to the company’s products, you may be considering an Apple Watch to help you age safely at home. After all, if the Apple Watch can detect falls and contact emergency services, isn’t it similar to fall detection devices?

Although it doesn’t include all the same features as other medical alert watches, the Apple Watch may be a good alternative for active older adults, especially those who live alone, are comfortable using technology, and already have an iPhone.

About Apple Watch with fall detection

Apple Watch with fall detection costs more than traditional medical alert devices. Still, you don’t have to pay the monthly monitoring fee required with most medical alert systems since the watch isn’t connected to a 24/7 monitoring center.

Instead, it calls the nearest 911 dispatcher when you push the Emergency SOS button or if the watch detects a fall. Most medical alert systems connect to a 24/7 monitoring center staff member who will contact emergency services, a designated caregiver, or both during an emergency.

The fact that Apple Watch only contacted 911 during an emergency was one of its biggest disadvantages compared to medical alert systems. Now, add-on services (most about $10 per month), like the Care Smart app, are available to connect the Apple Watch to a 24/7 monitoring center, similar to how medical alert systems work.

Why you can trust our expert review

Hours of Research
Surveys Deployed
Brands Tested
Experts Consulted

Our Reviews Team spent more than 2,500 hours conducting in-depth research on medical alert systems. During our process, we:

Read more about our medical alert systems review methodology.

Pros and cons of Apple Watch with fall detection

Pros No monthly monitoring fee Emergency SOS button to call 911 Fall detection available GPS location tracker Voice-activation features Health and wellness monitoring
Cons Higher equipment fees compared to medical alert systems ($249–$799) Requires an iPhone to set up Not automatically connected to a 24/7 monitoring center More high-tech than standard medical alert watches Touchscreen may be difficult to navigate

Table 2 Comparison of Apple Watch models, as of August 2023


Starting cost

Case dimensions




Apple Watch SE$249

40 x 44

Apple Watch Series 8$399

41 x 45


Apple Watch with fall detection models review

If you’re looking for an Apple Watch that can also function as a medical alert system, the Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 8 are great options in terms of cost and features. They share the following features:

With GPS ⓘGPS technology uses satellites to provide users with positioning, navigation, and timing services. and an emergency button, all Apple watches can be used as a medical alert device, but certain models offer extra features in addition to the ones listed above.

Here’s a look at each model. We compared costs and features to help you decide which one best fits your needs and budget.

1. Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch SE with black wristband and Apple Watch SE with white wristband

The Apple Watch SE (second generation) has a lower starting cost than the Series 8 ($249 compared to $399). Both models share the important health and safety features listed above, including SOS Emergency and fall detection.

The SE also has low power mode, a feature that extends the battery life up to 36 hours. Low power mode turns off select features, like the “always on” display, heart rate notifications, and background heart rate measurements.

The watch also includes a step counter and heart rate monitor, but it doesn’t have the more advanced health monitoring features of the Series 8. We recommend the Apple Watch SE if you want a lower starting price with more basic health monitoring features.

2. Apple Watch Series

Apple Watch Series 8 with analog display and a yellow band next to a Series 8 with digital display and a gray band

The Apple Watch Series 8 has all the features of the SE—including fall detection and Emergency SOS services—plus a watch face that’s nearly 20% larger.

Unlike the Apple Watch SE, the Series 8 screen doesn’t go black when you haven’t engaged with it. This “always-on” display means you don’t have to raise your wrist or touch the watch face whenever you want to check the time or other home screen information.

On top of that, the Series 8 offers two health monitoring features not available with the SE: the Blood Oxygen app and EKG app.

The Blood Oxygen app allows you to measure your blood oxygen level on demand. This feature is a major plus if you have a health condition requiring frequent blood oxygen monitoring.

With the EKG app, you can take your heart’s electrocardiogram (EKG) to monitor its rhythm and flag any potential irregularities. Remember to check health monitoring results with your health care provider for the most accurate interpretation.

We recommend the Apple Watch Series 8 if you’re looking for more in-depth health monitoring features, a larger display screen, and don’t mind a higher starting price.

How does Apple Watch with fall detection work?

Fall detection is included with all Apple Watch models newer than the Series 3. The feature is not compatible with Series 1, 2, and 3.

Fall detection automatically turns on if you indicate you are 55 years or older during setup or when you input your age in the Health app. You can always double-check if fall detection is turned on by:

  1. Opening the Apple Watch app on the iPhone connected to your watch
  2. Selecting “Emergency SOS”
  3. Scrolling to “Fall Detection”
  4. Sliding to the “On” position
An iPhone screen showing fall detection toggled to the on position from the Apple Watch app

When your Apple Watch detects a hard fall while you’re wearing it, the watch will:

You can cancel the alarm or contact 911 by sliding the SOS Emergency Call icon on the screen.

Apple Watch screen after fall detection is activated with options to call emergency services or cancel the alarm

If your watch senses you’re moving after your fall, it will wait for you to respond to the alert and won’t automatically contact 911. The watch automatically calls emergency services if you haven’t moved for about a minute after your fall.

A member of Our Reviews Team tested fall detection with an Apple Watch Series 8. The watch registered zero out of 11 test falls, leading us to assume Apple Watch fall detection does not detect slow, gradual falls, which are easier to replicate during testing.

Multiple Apple Watch users reported successful fall detection experiences in a Reddit forum from 2022. Almost all users described their falls as sudden, hard falls.

Since Apple Watch fall detection is designed to detect hard falls, it may not be the right safety tool for older adults who experience slower, more gradual falls.

Apple Watch Series 8 on wrist displaying Medical ID, Compass Backtrack, and SOS Emergency Call features
Our Reviews Team testing Apple Watch fall detection

We asked Christopher Norman, a geriatric nurse practitioner based in New York state, the difference between a “hard fall” and “slow fall” and what that may look like for older adults.

“A slow fall would be like a controlled descent: I feel myself getting dizzy, my legs start to give out, I might take a knee, and then fall forward or to the side,” said Norman. He explained how these falls might result in a bone break or fracture, depending on the person, but a joint dislocation or sprain/strain is more likely with a slow fall.

“A hard fall would be considered something more sudden: I’m walking at a normal pace, trip over something, and fall forward,” said Norman.

He explained how generally, an older adult’s reaction time may be delayed, so they may not put their hands out as quickly to break the fall. This can result in a more full-force collision with the ground or object, which is more likely to result in a break or fracture.

Remember, your Apple Watch can still call emergency services or a caregiver if you fall, even if fall detection isn’t activated, but it won’t be automatic. With no fall detection triggered, you lose the added protection of automatically calling emergency services, especially if you can’t call yourself.

If fall detection is a crucial feature for you or your care recipient, we recommend a medical alert necklace. While a 2016 study found a fall detection sensor placed on the left wrist was more accurate than a sensor placed on the chest, recent research cautions that quick, jerky movements of arms and hands may be more likely to cause false alarms with a watch and is not representative of a body’s mobility. [1]Gjoreski M, et al. How Accurately Can Your Wrist Device Recognize Daily Activities and Detect Falls? Sensors. June 1, 2016. Found on the internet at [2]González-Cañete, Francisco Javier and Casilari, Eduardo. A Feasibility Study of the Use of Smartwatches in Wearable Fall Detection Systems. Sensors. March 2021. Found on the internet at

Use the Falls Free CheckUp to assess your falls risk and receive free falls prevention resources.

Wearing an Apple Watch with a pacemaker

Although the Apple Watch has health and heart monitoring features, which can be helpful for someone using a pacemaker or heart defibrillator, the watch contains magnets that may interfere with these devices. These magnets are commonly found in smartphones and smartwatches.

If you use a pacemaker or other implanted medical devices, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends you keep your smartphone and smartwatch at least 6 inches away from your medical device. [3]Magnets in Cell Phones and Smart Watches May Affect Pacemakers and Other Implanted Medical Devices. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. May 13, 2021. Found on the internet at

Apple has a similar warning and safety recommendation on its website.

Apple Watch with fall detection features

Apple has several apps you can use with the Apple Watch, including the apps on your iPhone. The Apple Watch allows you to customize watch faces, adjust settings and notifications, configure the home screen, install other apps, and more.

Because there are countless apps and features available for the Apple Watch, we’ve highlighted the ones comparable to the best medical alert systems:

Norman explained access to real-time health data, like heart rate monitoring, can help empower users and keep them more engaged about their health conditions.

But he also cautioned, “Paying too much attention to an issue or being constantly reminded that a body system is being monitored can be stressful for certain types of people.”

He encouraged potential users to consult a knowledgeable health care professional before buying any device to monitor a body system.

Care Smart App

Care Smart is a service from Verizon that turns your Apple Watch into a monitored medical alert system. For $10 per month, your watch calls a 24/7 monitoring center instead of directly contacting 911 during an emergency.

You can contact the monitoring center by pressing the “Get Help” button or triggering fall detection. When you call the monitoring center, a staff member speaks directly to you from your watch and can see your watch’s location.

Depending on the situation, the staff member will call emergency services, a designated caregiver, or both. The staff member will automatically dispatch emergency services to your location if you’re unresponsive.

You’ll also create a “Trust Circle” consisting of your designated caregivers. They’ll receive emergency alerts, be able to track your watch’s location, and get updates during an emergency call. Trust Circle contacts are unlimited.

Table 3 Comparison of the two Care Smart plans, as of August 2023

Care Smart plan

Monthly price


Caregiver Alert$5 per line*

Location sharing with Trust Circle

Unlimited Trust Circle contacts

Fall detection alert to Trust Circle

Professional Monitoring$10 per line*

Access to 24/7 monitoring center

Location sharing with Trust Circle

Unlimited Trust Circle contacts

*A line is any device that uses voice or data to communicate (basically priced per device)

The Caregiver Alert plan does not include access to the monitoring center, so we recommend the Professional Monitoring plan. Since standard medical alert system monitoring fees normally start at $20 per month, $10 per month for 24/7 monitoring is a more affordable option.

If you’re considering monitoring services for your Apple Watch but don’t want to switch to a Verizon cellular plan, learn more about our experience with Lively 24/7 monitoring services for Apple Watch in our Lively review.

How much does an Apple Watch with fall detection cost?

The cost of the Apple Watch with fall detection depends on the model, watch case, and if you choose GPS or GPS plus cellular connectivity.

Models with GPS have a lower starting price than those with GPS and cellular. For example, an Apple Watch SE with GPS connectivity starts at $249, while the same model is $299 with GPS and cellular connectivity.

Case size and connectivity options for an Apple Watch SE during the online shopping process
How to choose your connectivity plan when ordering your Apple Watch online

Remember, fall detection is not a cost factor for Apple Watches—it’s automatically included with Series 4 models and above.

The Apple Watch model costs in this review range from $249–$799. How does this compare to the cost of medical alert systems?

Medical alert systems generally cost $20–$45 per month for monitoring services, while some mobile systems and watches also charge an additional one-time equipment fee. This one-time equipment fee ranges from $0–$299 for popular medical alert system watches.

Apple Watch Emergency SOS and fall detection services don’t charge a monthly monitoring fee since emergency alerts go directly to 911, not a monitoring center (unless you’ve purchased the Care Smart app or another add-on monitoring service).

Apple offers monthly payment plans when you purchase your Apple Watch with an Apple Card. For example, a payment plan for an Apple Watch SE with a $249 starting price would be $10.37 per month for 24 months. This is the only payment option Apple offers, and many may not think it’s worth opening a new credit card.

Are Apple Watches covered by insurance?

Even though both can be valuable for your health and wellness, Apple Watches and medical alert systems are not covered by insurance.

While Apple Watches are not eligible for purchase with money from a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA), you can speak with your health care provider to see if your medical condition justifies a Letter of Medical Necessity to purchase an Apple Watch with these accounts.

For example, if you have a medical condition that causes low blood oxygen levels and requires frequent monitoring, your health care provider may write a letter stating why an Apple Watch is essential.

Keep in mind you can’t contribute your HSA funds when you’re enrolled in Medicare, but you can still access them. Your FSA funds are tied to your employer and typically have a “use it or lose it” policy by the end of the calendar year. Some employer policies allow rollover into the next year, but this varies.

Info icon

Use NCOA’s BenefitsCheckUp tool to see potential cost-saving resources and programs in your area.

How to purchase an Apple Watch with fall detection

You’ll need an iPhone to set up your Apple Watch, another potentially substantial cost. Fortunately, Family Setup allows you to use your Apple Watch without needing your own iPhone. A family member or caregiver can use their iPhone to set up and control your Apple Watch.

You can purchase your Apple Watch with fall detection online at or by calling 800-MY-APPLE (800-692-7753). If you’re shopping on the Apple website, your options may feel overwhelming at first since you’re shopping by model, casing material, and watchband style.

We recommend filtering your search to display the casing material and watchband styles you’re interested in. This will help cut down on the models to choose from. Once you choose the model and style you’re interested in, you’ll select:

  1. Band color
  2. Case size
  3. Connectivity type
  4. Band size (depending on the style)
  5. Optional AppleCare+ coverage

Depending on your location to the closest Apple Store and the time you order your watch, you may be able to pick it up at the Apple Store the same day you order it.

We were given three delivery options during the online check-out progress:

  1. Pick up at the our nearest Apple Store the same day (free)
  2. Ship the watch from the Apple Store to our home within two hours ($9)
  3. Ship the watch from the Apple Store to our home to pick up three to four days after placing the order (free)

Most Apple Products come with a one-year limited warranty and up to 90 days of free technical support. The limited warranty protects against defects due to manufacturing for one year after the date of purchase. It doesn’t cover damages from accidents, natural disasters, or normal wear and tear.

If you’d like to protect your watch beyond this limited warranty, you can purchase AppleCare+ and receive:

Month-to-month ($2.49–$3.99) coverage and two-year coverage ($49–$79) are available. Prices vary by model.

We confirmed with a customer representative you have 14 days from the day you receive your Apple Watch to return it for a refund.

Apple Watch with fall detection customer service and satisfaction

You can call 800-MY-APPLE (800-692-7753) to speak with a customer service representative. An automated voice will answer and route you to the appropriate department based on your answer to the question, “What can I help you with?”

After saying we were interested in learning more about the Apple Watch SE, we were transferred to the Apple Watch sales department and waited less than a minute to speak with a live sales representative.

Our representative was patient, knowledgeable, and answered all of our questions. They asked thoughtful questions to learn why we were interested in the Apple Watch and what features we wanted to learn more about. The call never felt like a sales pitch, and our representative was patient and helpful.

If you do need help setting up or troubleshooting your Apple Watch, there are multiple ways to contact Apple Support:

Apple Watch with fall detection customer reviews

Apple has 1.9 stars on Trustpilot and more than 7,000 reviews. A majority of reviews discussed the company in general and aren’t specific to Apple Watch products, so this isn’t the best representation of third-party Apple Watch customer reviews.

The Apple Watch Series SE has 4.7 stars based on more than 5,000 customer ratings on Amazon. While multiple listings for the SE model exist on Amazon, we chose this product listing rating since it has the most ratings and reviews.

Positive reviews mentioned the following:

“The older I get the more I rely on my Apple Watch to track all my health issues, so when I go to the doctor I have a good report of my body to present to him. I can pull my activity counts, average heartrate, run an EKG, and more. It even tells him how much I am hydrating. If I take a fall the watch detects and asks if it should call for help, it tells me when I have been watching my televised story programs too long and need to stand up and move, and also tracks how well I am sleeping. The bigger screen on this model is also helpful to my failing eyes.”


“I wish battery life was better. I have turned off a lot of notifications on this watch. But I like the idea of ‘fall detection’ and answering phone calls and texts from my watch”


Most negative reviews focus on issues customers had when ordering the Apple Watch SE from Amazon, such as shipping, broken equipment, or missing accessories. A few reviewers touched on poor battery life and watch size.

The Series 8 has 4.7 stars based on more than 6,000 Amazon customer ratings. Many positive reviews mention the health monitoring features, especially the heart rate and blood oxygen level monitors.

“Like the ECG, blood oxygen, and fall detection features. Only drawback is it has to be charged everyday.”


“​​I never wore a watch and didn’t want a bulky smart watch. After open heart surgery I thought it would be good to track my heart beat and blood oxygen. My wife convinced me to get a smart watch and I love it. I can track my sleep, count steps without carrying my phone, see my stock price, and current weather. I get notifications without having to pull out my phone. I don’t know why I waited so long.”


Like the Apple Watch SE, many of the Series 8 negative reviews stem from issues with packaging and ordering from Amazon. A few customers reported fall detection did not work.

“Just spent four days in hell with Apple Support because my 84-year-old mother’s brand new Apple watch failed to detect falls TWICE. Went through the settings six times with support and the Apple Store, even escalating to the ‘Health and Safety’ team, who apparently could care less. Did falling simulations 32 times, it picked up 3. That’s a > 90% failure rate. Apple falls back on ‘we don’t detect all falls.’ Yeah, but you should be able to do better than 1 in 10.

You can buy it for other reasons, but for god’s sake, don’t buy it for an elderly or infirm family member. Buy a REAL CERTIFIED MEDICAL DEVICE.”


Bottom line

Even without a monthly monitoring fee, an Apple Watch is significantly more expensive than most medical alert systems. Some users may justify the watch’s higher price for its smartphone capabilities, as well as its impressive health and wellness features.

Marchese, the nurse with more than two decades of patient care experience, pointed out the shortcomings of using the Apple Watch as a medical alert system: “It is not always connected to a help center and lacks automatic or one-touch controls for those who have fallen or become unresponsive,” he said. “However, apps on Apple Watch now connect the wearer to a constant monitoring system, but these also require a subscription service. The Apple Watch is a good option as a fall detector for those who have one or are planning to get one to use in some other capacity.”

If you’re looking for a more affordable option with similar features to the Apple Watch, we recommend the HandsFree Health Medical Alert Watch. For almost $100 less than the Apple Watch SE, you can enjoy two-way calling, heart rate monitoring, step tracking, and access to a voice-activated smart assistant.

Or perhaps you’re looking for a more basic medical alert watch with minimal features. If so, we recommend the Bay Alarm Medical SOS Smartwatch or Medical Guardian MGMove.

The Apple Watch is designed to detect “hard falls,” which we found to be another shortcoming of this watch. This may not be a helpful safety tool for older adults who are more likely to have slow, gradual falls. For a more customized fall detection technology that learns your movements, we recommend the UnaliWear Kanega Watch.

Frequently asked questions

Apple Watch fall detection does not detect 100% of falls, like any fall detection device. In general, fall detection devices are more accurate when worn around the neck than on the wrist. Apple stated the watch “might detect high-impact activity as a fall and trigger fall detection.”

If your Apple Watch detects a fall, it will contact either 911 or the Care Alert 24/7 monitoring center, depending if you purchased the Care Smart app from Verizon. You can cancel a false alarm from your watch face within about 60 seconds of the fall being detected.

Yes, Apple Watch fall detection is available for older adults and any user for no extra charge. Fall detection turns on automatically when users indicate they are 55 years or older when setting up their watch or in the Health app.

Apple Watch fall detection is designed to detect a hard fall, according to Apple. Some older adults may experience slower, more gradual falls that Apple Watch fall detection may not detect.

Yes, your Apple Watch can call 911 if it detects you’ve fallen. The watch taps your wrist, sounds an alarm, and shows an alert message on the watch face when it detects a fall. If you don’t cancel the alert or the watch detects that you’ve been immobile for one minute, it will automatically call emergency services.

The Care Smart app is now available for Apple Watch. For those using the app, the watch connects to a 24/7 monitoring center if it detects a fall instead of going straight to 911. Depending on the situation, monitoring center staff can dispatch emergency services or caregivers.

Yes, fall detection is an important safety feature, especially for those with a higher risk of falling. A device with fall detection can potentially contact emergency services if you’re unresponsive or immobile after a fall. Older adults, anyone prone to seizures, recovering from a surgery, or those with mobility issues should consider a medical alert system with fall detection.

The majority of respondents (60%) to our Reviews Team’s survey of 1,000 medical alert users said automatic fall detection was the top special feature they wanted in a medical alert device. [5]NCOA Adviser Medical Alert System Survey. 1,000 respondents. Conducted using Pollfish. Launched Nov. 11, 2022.

One of the only disadvantages of fall detection is the possibility of false alarms. A false alarm may be stressful for the user, especially if they’re not sure what triggered fall detection and if emergency services show up unexpectedly.

Most fall detection devices give you time between the “fall” and contacting emergency services to cancel the alarm. If you miss this cancellation window and the device contacts emergency services, stay on the line and tell the operator that you are OK and the call was a false alarm.

Have questions about this review? Email us at


  1. Gjoreski M, et al. How Accurately Can Your Wrist Device Recognize Daily Activities and Detect Falls? Sensors. June 1, 2016. Found on the internet at
  2. González-Cañete, Francisco Javier and Casilari, Eduardo. A Feasibility Study of the Use of Smartwatches in Wearable Fall Detection Systems. Sensors. March 2021. Found on the internet at
  3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Magnets in Cell Phones and Smart Watches May Affect Pacemakers and Other Implanted Medical Devices. May 13, 2021. Found on the internet at
  4. Judy A. Stevens, et al. Circumstances and Outcomes of Falls Among High Risk Community-Dwelling Older Adults. Injury Epidemiology. March 2014. Found on the internet at
  5. NCOA Adviser Medical Alert System Survey. 1,000 respondents. Conducted using Pollfish. Launched Nov. 11, 2022
Emily Breaux headshot
Emily Breaux Author
Emily Breaux is a writer with a background in education. She has written on multiple health care and technology topics, as well as for the higher education and hospitality industries. She specializes in medical alert systems and enjoys writing about hearing aids, health insurance, and wellness topics specifically for older adults.
Christopher Norman Headshot
Christopher Norman Medical Reviewer
Christopher Norman is a Board-Certified Geriatric Nurse Practitioner and Holistic Nurse. As a nurse’s aide, registered nurse and now nurse practitioner, he has loved working with older adults since 2004.
Kathleen Cameron
Kathleen Cameron Reviewer
Kathleen Cameron, BSPharm, MPH, has more than 25 years of experience in the health care field as a pharmacist, researcher, and program director focusing on falls prevention, geriatric pharmacotherapy, mental health, long-term services and supports, and caregiving. Cameron is Senior Director of the NCOA Center for Healthy Aging, where she provides subject matter expertise on health care programmatic and policy related issues and oversees the Modernizing Senior Center Resource Center.
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