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Seniors Get Healthy with Wearables

11.17.2016

TV spots for fitness trackers and smart watches promote hi-tech wearables as the go-to accessory for healthy millennials obsessed with exercise and fitness. It’s easy to miss how hi-tech wearables are also revolutionizing the health of seniors.

There are all kinds of internet-connected wearables emerging on the market. For seniors, they are becoming an ideal solution for monitoring vital signs, tracking symptoms and helping maintain a health regimen.

By 2030, one in five Americans will be over the age of 65, up from 13 percent today, making seniors a logical target for wearable marketers. 

LifeAlert, the original elder care wearable, captured the attention of seniors and younger adults with TV commercials featuring the iconic catchphrase: “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” But for older adults, falls are no joke. They are a leading cause of traumatic injuries that cost the healthcare system an estimated $34 billion a year.

ActiveProtective, a Pennsylvania-based company, is developing a wearable belt that uses smart sensors to detect a fall and deploy small airbags designed to protect a senior’s hip bones.

Preventing falls is the approach favored by the Moore Balance Brace, an ankle-foot balance support that uses flexible textile sensors to collect and relay data about the wearer’s activity level, walking cadence, gait speed, and other measures. Physicians use this information to determine if patients are using the brace correctly as well as detect any increased risk for falling.

More common and ten times more costly than falls, diabetes afflicts one out of every five seniors, according to the National Health Interview Survey. To manage the disease and prevent complications, a patient must check his or her blood glucose often, most commonly with a painful needle prick to a fingertip.

DexCom, Inc., headquartered in San Diego, has developed a continuous glucose monitoring system that uses a sensor just under the skin of the abdomen. The sensor is linked to a stick-on transmitter that sends blood glucose readings every five minutes to the patient’s Apple Watch or smartphone.

Novartis  and Google are working on smart contact lenses that use sensors and microchips to measure blood glucose levels in a diabetic’s tears. The lenses transmit that data to a wireless device for tracking.

Seniors with diabetes may soon be able to wear “smart socks” that warn when they are at risk for foot ulcers, a major and costly complication of the disease. New Zealand-based startup Footfalls & Heartbeats is collaborating with the University of Nottingham to develop socks that use plastic optical fibers to measure how well blood is pumping through the capillaries and warns of an impending ulcer.

From a simple smart watch app that reminds seniors to take their medication to sensor-laden smart fabrics that monitor and report vital signs, wearable technology is transforming elder care.  

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