How Apple’s new safety feature could detect Parkinson’s falls

Emergency SOS, with iPhones and Apple Watch, can make the call to 911

Mary Beth Skylis avatar

by Mary Beth Skylis |

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I’m on the phone with a technology expert from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department — the biggest sheriff’s department in the world — when the idea strikes me: Dad could use an Apple Watch to help monitor potential falls caused by his Parkinson’s disease.

Since Parkinson’s affects mobility and balance, falls are common. In fact, estimates suggest that 45% to 68% of people with Parkinson’s fall at least once a year, which can result in a  myriad of injuries and complications. Dad recently suffered from his first fall, when he lost balance while reaching for something in the kitchen. The whole experience startled everyone in the family.

But as I was working on an article about Apple’s Emergency SOS feature, which has been part of the iPhone 14 and 15 for about a year, a partial solution to the problem fell into my lap. Evidently, Emergency SOS can detect falls as well as vehicular crashes. When it does, the phone makes a loud noise to alert the owner. If the owner doesn’t turn off the alert, Emergency SOS calls 911. And if a service disruption prevents a cellular call from going through, Emergency SOS transmits by satellite.

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The sound of a fall has become all too familiar for our family

I’m mainly digging into this topic because I’m also a columnist for an outdoor publication, where the readers are interested in the role this type of feature could play in a backcountry setting. But as I learn more about the Emergency SOS feature for both the most recent iPhones and the Apple Watch, I’m realizing the innovation has another market.

How Emergency SOS helps

While I think I might have a hard time persuading Dad to trade in his old data-free phone for one of the newest iPhones, I wonder if the safety features could be worth it. He spends the majority of his time by himself, and if he falls, the incident is likely to go unwitnessed.

Some athletes disable Emergency SOS on the Apple Watch because it has a tendency to go off if they’re doing burpees or falling while they’re skiing or engaged in another sport. But for those who don’t jump around a lot, the feature could be a big bonus.

What I find particularly appealing about this technology is that it’s hands-free. The idea of calling first responders when you’re incapacitated isn’t exactly new. But Emergency SOS marks the first time that it’s fully integrated and hands-free on a device like the iPhone or Apple Watch.

I doubt I’ll be able to persuade Dad to use the Apple Watch either, because it needs an Apple phone, laptop, or tablet to use the associated app. But I’m excited at the prospect of the safety features. Maybe I’ll just need to get Mom on my side and wear him down a little bit!

Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Alan Tobey avatar

Alan Tobey

Once, in my 14th year with PD AT AGE 79, I HAD. A FALL. But it didn’t really count, because the only thing that MATTERS IS the LANDING.. AND WE CAN INFLUENCE THAT.. in my Pilates class, for example, I learned how to add ROTATION as a reflex reaction, which can turn a solid landing into a glancing blow with far lighter consequences. If you go light on over-depending on a cane — using it not to support your full weight but only to indicate where your current balance is located —. You may experience far fewer falls that produce hard landings.

Injuries from adverse landings can be far less a problem if you think of them not as “accidents” but usually as the consequences of misattemtion. and focusing there can profit at any stage of PD.


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