Tech Talk: Wearables For The Elderly

The elderly have a large number of needs that a good portion of the younger population do not experience, such as a simple fall turning into a life-threatening event, or suffering from diseases like dementia and diabetes. Traditionally, these reasons have compelled the elderly to flock to nursing homes, hire in-home nurses or live with their children, or at the very least, use a device such as LifeAlert that doesn't do much aside from its main function, alerting emergency help when its user is in danger. A new wave of wearables, however, is set to change those trends. After all, most smartwatches these days already boast features like GPS, heart rate monitoring and more than enough sensors to be able to tell what a user is doing; why not leverage these to help older users?

Having a look in the Play Store, it becomes clear that there is already a market for devices focused on the elderly - apps for both smartphones and smartwatches that focus on health or simplifying the user interface for elderly users are quite common. With just a bit of added functionality at the system level, a smartwatch could do things like monitor a user's heart rate and send alerts if it gets low or irregular, or alert authorities and a few predefined parties if a user falls and doesn't immediately get back up. Adding in sensors, medical features and other fine-tunings that will help with the elderly market is also a growing market niche. With the medical wearable space valued at just over half of what the market value is for diabetes test strips alone, the market is certainly there for devices that can do things for a user like monitor their blood pressure and blood sugar, keep track of their mental and physical state, and other such functions. The question, of course, is how to implement these functions, and there are a few device manufacturers out there already answering that question.

One such manufacturer is a startup called UnaliWear. Founded by a former retiree who worked for Texas Instruments, UnaliWear has a device in the works called the Kanega Watch, coming from a successful run of crowd funding. The Kanega Watch sports features that are aimed at helping disabled and elderly users, but in a stylish frame that doesn't look much different from any other watch out there. The Kanega Watch has a voice-activated interface and can store reminders for things like appointments, guide a lost user home, detect falls or even contact emergency services, all without being paired to a smartphone.

Another such device, called the Allen Band, was made by Thor Schrock after his father, Allen, had a fall and was left on the floor for 24 solid hours. This inspired Thor to join forces with his sister to create the Allen Band. The Allen Band is able to monitor users' temperature, heart rate, and body state, reporting if a user has been still for too long or if any abnormalities pop up. The Allen Band's main feature, of course, is fall detection. When a user falls, the band asks if they're okay. At that point, a press of a green button tells the band that the user is fine and can get up, but inactivity or the push of a red button sees the Allen Band leaping into action by informing applicable caretakers.

Devices such as smart glasses that help users with visual impairment, as well as a wearable focused on keeping caregivers informed of a user's heart rate already exist, but it's quite obvious that technology can take this trend further. Dream devices like wearables that have a way to monitor blood glucose, full-service augmented reality systems that boost a user's hearing and eyesight, and even wearables that provide all of those health functions and the functions of a standard smartphone while being simple enough for an older user to operate are all possible in the near future, and the market is definitely there. It's just a matter of manufacturers or independent creators making it happen.

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