By Tak Sato
NEO Boomer and Beyond Tech Columnist
Wearable pendants with a button to summon help — also known as “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” devices — are a great invention.
As I started working more with Boomer and senior demographics in late 2011, I started thinking about the “What if?” scenario where people become unconscious after a fall.
As technology continued to permeate into every nook and cranny of our lives, and as technology evolved at the speed of light, I started seeing solutions and services that catered to the above “What if?” scenario. Many were functionally sufficient, but in the earlier stages didn’t have a very friendly form factor and/or required additional equipment, such as a chest strap, to be worn to actively detect a fall.
Let’s face it — it is also not as simple a conversation as saying “Mom, you need to wear this,” either. My own mom is aging-in-place, and I believe many can agree that such a conversation ranks alongside “Dad, you have to give up your driver’s license because your reaction time has deteriorated.” It’s unpleasant for everyone. My opinion is that function along with aesthetics goes a long way, especially when trying to convince someone to wear a fall detection and alert device.
A Changing Field
As recent as 2017, I recommended a device that had fall alerting baked into it. I received feedback from a senior, also aging-in-place alone, that it was another thing to worry about to charge and wear. Actually, this is becoming a bane to many digital world tools, however beneficial, due to the duality of real and digital worlds we live in.
Although examples of smartwatches date back to the early 1970s, “smart” had a different meaning back then and contrasts starkly to what “smart” means today. When first introduced in 2015, smartwatches were companions to smartphones — more Dick Tracy-esque than a standalone communication device depicted in the comic strip. Manufacturers have introduced generations of smartwatches annually since, and by the third iteration, they had a standalone option where the smartphone was optional.
That brings me to Apple’s recent introduction of their fourth generation, or Series 4, of its smartwatch. It’s a game changer for senior fall alert systems. Why? With the same aesthetics as their prior generation smartwatches, they have included, among other new features, fall detection and FDA-approved blood pressure monitoring. (Note: At press time this BP feature is promised to be released as a software update.)
I can’t speak to how well these features are executed in real life because I don’t wear their smartwatch, but this is an exciting development for Boomers and seniors in general. It satisfies the “What if?” scenario, and it’s a device that many people, young and old, wear. You could even call it trendy.
I hope that competitors will step up to incorporate these features and introduce other beneficial features specific to Boomers and seniors. Competition also should bring prices down so they become attainable to more people needing such devices. See, even for-profit companies can be difference makers!
Disclaimer: Tak does not endorse nor promote Apple products. He merely looks at the digital world offerings from the perspective of what is beneficial to people, especially Boomers and seniors, and the appropriateness of the solution.
Tak Sato is the founder of the Cleveland-area nonprofit Center for Aging in the Digital World (empowerseniors.org).