Apple’s Watch often grabs the headlines for detecting falls or alerting people to dangerous arrhythmias. It happens so much these days, that Apple even released a video on the Watch Series 7 in January of this year, using real 911 calls to show horrific stories of Watch-assisted survival.
Smartphones are also helping carry out some amazing rescues, like helping a man survive 65 hours buried in rubble after an earthquake or actually stopping the bullets, with thousands of less dramatic – and still incredible – life-saving cases in between.
There is no doubt that the latest tools can help save your life in a myriad of ways – if you enable the right features – and knowing how to use them when it matters most.
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Turn on fall detection
In late January of this year, police in Southern California found a man lying unconscious on the side of the road “bleeding profusely” from a head wound after his e-bike crashed. Emergency workers said it wasn’t a good Samaritan or even the man who called emergency services, but rather the Apple Watch was sitting tightly around his wrist at the time of the accident. The “heavy fall” triggered the watch’s automatic accident detection feature, which set off to work and called the local 911 dispatchers.
But the fall detection feature that called in a cyclist in California is disabled by default unless you are 55 or older. to turn it on:
- Go to your Apple Watch app on iOS.
- Tap “Emergency SOS” and then enable fall detection.
- After enabling it, you can decide if you want it all the time or only during workouts.
Recently, Samsung added fall detection to its Galaxy Watch lineup of wearable devices as well. If you have a Galaxy Watch 4, Watch 3, or Watch Active 2, you can enable Hard Fall Detection within the Android Settings menu:
- Open the Samsung Wearable app on the phone synced to the Galaxy Watch.
- Tap on SOS, then toggle on fall detection.
- From there, follow the prompts to select the emergency contact who will receive an SOS message in the event of a possible fall.
With both the iOS and Android version of the feature, emergency contacts are called if the device detects a heavy fall or crash and the wearer doesn’t respond to alerts.
Apple is rumored to be working on a similar crash detection feature for its smartphones, while some Android devices — like Google’s Pixel 3, 4 and later — already have it as an option to enable it right away.
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Act before you fall and can’t get up
Your smartphone can now tell when you’re headed for a fall. While most trips, stumbles, falls or falls often seem like random, independent accidents that don’t come from anywhere, this is not always the case. The iPhone can now detect the type of unsteady gait that could lead to a fall several weeks or even months in advance and warn of higher risks.
I first found these scales after doing an ultramarathon a few weeks ago. When I opened the Health app on my iPhone to see the total number of steps I took during the 50K race, I came across countless other helpful ideas as well, including “Double Support Time,” “Step Length,” and “Walking Speed,” and “walking asymmetry.” To find you:
- Open the Health app on iOS. It looks like a small red heart in a white box.
- Then click on Show all health data and scroll down.
Each of these data points can alert you to changes in balance or alert you to other signs of unsteadiness on your feet that could lead to a fall.
But you are not finished yet. While your device may detect poor stability in your stride, it’s still up to you to do something about it—especially as you age—to mitigate the chances of a serious fall:
- Return to the Health app on iOS. Then tap “Summary” at the bottom left.
- Scroll to the bottom of the page until you see “Persistence notifications” in bold. Click on the button labeled “Setup”.
After you agree to the notifications and read how they work, you’ll start receiving reports about your persistence in walking within the Health app. If your device starts to detect that your gait is less stable than usual, it will alert you.
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If you only take one piece of advice from this story, do it
In order to get life-saving help when you need it most, be sure to prepare your medical ID. There are different ways to do this depending on whether you are using an Android device or an iPhone.
For iPhones, the Health app on iOS has built-in support for all your important information, including medical conditions, allergies, current medications, blood type, and emergency contacts all listed in a medical identification sheet that’s stored securely on your iPhone.
To make this vital feature available to emergency responders, go back to the Health app, tap your profile picture, then tap a medical ID:
From here, click Edit to make changes to how you share your Medical ID with others. You can choose to display it on your phone’s lock screen, so it can be viewed in an emergency or even shared directly with 911 when you make an emergency call from your device.
For Android phones, adding Medical ID information to your devices varies depending on whether it’s a Samsung phone, a Pixel, or even the Android version you have installed.
For Android 11 and earlier, open the Settings app and select Users and Accounts.
Then tap on Emergency Information and edit the fields to add your vital information. You can also add an emergency contact with personal information.
To access this information from the lock screen, swipe up on the screen and select Emergency, then Emergency Information.
If you’re using a device with Android 12 or later, you’ll need to select About phone in the Settings menu, instead of Users and accounts. The rest of the steps remain the same.
If you want an alternative way to view medical ID information on your Android phone, you can try free, easy-to-use apps like this Medical ID page.