Falling in the shower

By:  Richard Caro   |  Posted: October 4, 2013   |  Updated: April 18, 2023

Problem Description


The (80 yr old) mother of a friend of mine lived alone, fell in the shower, broke her hip, and lay there for 5 hours before someone found her. It was a disaster for her health.

There are really two big problems here, and one of them at least is amenable to a technical solution.

1. How can you make it less likely people will fall in the shower?

2. If you fall and cannot get up, how can you make sure someone will come by and rescue you if you live alone?

Now there are of course various grab bars and other things to reduce the probability of falling. Perhaps there are other better ideas?

And there are PERS (Personal Emergency Response Systems) products in the form of pendants etc. But as far as I know none of them would have worked in this situation.

If there is a PERS that would have been useful for this unfortunate lady, please tell us about it in the comments below. Otherwise, can someone brainstorm about a possible technological solution?

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8 thoughts on “Falling in the shower”

  1. What about people who refuse to prepare?

    My father refused to have a PERS device, and he didn’t want people checking on him, until he fell and lay stuck in a awkward position for two hours.  If there had been an inobtrusive way to monitor him, it would have helped.  If he could have had a PERS that was voice activated, so he didn’t have to wear a pendant, he probably could have called for help.

    Does anyone have any solutions?

  2. Voice activated PERS

    Would the solution I describe on the right (Voice activated PERS) have worked in your scenario do you think?

    And do you think your father would have been willing to have such a thing installed?

    The problem with PERS pendants is that they make you look old and feeble. Perhaps something hidden and room specific would be better?

    • Voice Activated PERS has problems

      A voice activated PERS would have helped in my father’s case, since he fell by his bed.  To work in the home, it would need to be installed in each room and be inobtrusive.  It might need to be invisible to the elderly, which is very difficult in their own home, for people who don’t want any monitoring system.  It would not work at all when outside the home shopping, for example.  For this it may be posible to get the elderly to care a cell phone.  There will need to be a range of options.  I doubt one solution can handle every case.

  3. PERS – the implication of being old and feeble

    I am only 64 so I would never wear a PERS however I have a cell phone with a PERS button on the back.  This button can be programmed to call multiple people and out send out multiple SMS (text message).  Everybody has cell phone,  to do is to be contemporary.  In the home there could be a cell phone base station (a real cell phone) and 5,6, … 10. more cell phones that look like a normal phone but have limited functionality.  These would look like a cell phone but they would simply be PERS extensions.  Most of their real estate would be devoted to batteries that never need to be charged of replaced.  This would be possible because the PERS extensions would almost always be asleep.  These phones would be place all around the house.  Bathroom counter next to the shower.  the back of the toilet, with the TV remote controls, on the kitchen counter and bedroom night stand.  When the senior is up an dressed they would carry their cell phone with the PERS button.  When that are not they would have multiple PER extension cell phone statistically place around the house. They could be completly water proof so they could even be placed in the shower as appropriate.

  4. Falling alerts: Zeroing in on a real product concept

    Building on the prior commenters thoughts, here is an idea for debate.

    I just installed an interesting burglar alarm and it made me realize there is a way to leverage this existing technology to make a PERS system that addressess the challenges discussed in this thread.

    The current burglar alarm system includes a base station that connects by cell coverage to a monitoring facility. It consists of a set of easy to install security nodes that one can install at doors and windows etc, and which talk to the base station via some sort of local wireless network (probably ZigBee or something like that).

    It includes what they call a Panic button, and when you push that it connects to the monitoring facility.

    What if we or they made a new node that we called a PERS node, and it was waterproof and included simple voice recignition software so that it could trigger a PERS alert to the base station when anyone spoke a specific phrase.

    Then that PERS node could be deployed into each room of the house.

    Do you see any problems with that idea?

  5. “Help” is good, for a specific phase

    We are lucking at least in some of the world to have the work help.  May I suggest that it is a word that can be relatively easily differentiated. The sounds are not ambiguous.  To get an intelligent device to respond to the word “HELP” should be a relatively easy coding job.     

  6. Avoiding false positives is hard

    It’s pretty easy to program voice recognition in controlled conditions.  When a person is yelling across the room and there are echos and noise from a TV, it can be very difficult.  

    It’s also critical to not respond to the word HELP except in the right context.  How do we keep the TV from triggering it?  How do we keep normal conversation from triggering it?

    Even if a senior has a cell phone, and even if PERS devices are located any many convenient locations, they may be unreachable when someone falls.  It is common to fall in a location where the person can’t maneuver or can’t move.  You can’t count on being able to reach anything.

    I’m optimistic there is a solution, but it will be hard to make it work in the real environment and be accepted by the seniors.

  7. Install Motion Sensor outside and inside the bathroom

    How about installing two passive motion sensors, one inside the bathroom door and one just outside of it. The two sensors report into a computer.

    When the computer sees the outside sensor go off followed by the inside sensor, then we know someone has gone into the bathroom.

    When the computer sees motion outside the bathroom, then it knows that someone has been outside the door.

    If the computer senses someone has gone in but not come out for some period of time, then it alerts a caregiver via text message.


    When it senses someone outside the door it isn’t sure that the person left the bathroom, but it could infer that whoever was outside the door would have responded to a person inside in distress.

    After sensing someone outside the door it waits five minutes. If it senses motion inside the bathroom after that then it starts its timer again waiting to see if someone leaves.

    I think this could be fairly easy to set up. There may be some false alarms, but that’s completely acceptable in a monitoring situation like this.