Posted by Rowena Heal 05 June 2015
How we could be using wearable tech to save lives
For many consumers, wearable tech is still a gimmick, sitting somewhere between the realm of trendy fashion items, kids’ toys and fitness accessories.
For years its role focused on the lucrative fitness markets, meaning it has largely missed out on opportunities to offer positives in healthcare and law enforcement. It’s no real surprise, as the value of wearable tech in the fitness market alone could exceed $16.1bn this year, but around a third of people buying a wearable product will likely abandon it within six months. Suggesting a new approach is needed to ensure consumers continually use their products.
UK police have been wearable video recording devices for the past 10 years and the New York Police Department have been piloting Google Glass since last year, largely due to an increased need for accountability – highlighting two great examples of extremely positive uses of wearable technology.
Innovation and problem solving
Volkswagen recently announced an app for the Apple Watch allowing parents to monitor the driving habits of their teenage children. Car-Net offers automatic incident notifications, roadside assistance and, most interestingly, the ‘Family Guardian,’ which notifies parents when the driver exceeds the speed limit.
Data security and snooping is a door that swings both ways, of course. China recently took the, arguably, paranoid step of banning smartwatches among its armed forces - some two million people - after one recruit received an Apple Watch as a present.
The US and Japan have so far led the way on developing and adopting wearable tech in healthcare, aimed at helping chronically ill and older people. In the UK, however, the elderly are only now being properly included in the debate.
Helping vulnerable older people
Wearable technology has a huge part to play in helping people in later life but it will be up to developers to capitalise on this and appeal to the older demographic. Panic buttons, wearable emergency call bracelets and neck chains already save lives and are vital for older people living on their own. This technology, however, has been around for a long time and has far-reaching potential; helping the elderly live longer and more independently, a trend often called ‘aging in place.’
Auto-dialling panic alarms fitted into the phone, can then by activated by Wi-Fi pendants which are cheap and useful. A step up is fall-detection systems, that use ceiling mounted optical and acoustic sensors to detect motion in the room. It can then phone an emergency number for assistance and is enhanced by a voice-activated function asking the user how they are feeling. If they respond, the alarm will cancel, so it won’t go off if they decide to just take a nap.
Tech writer J.C Herz, author of Learning To Breathe Fire, slammed tech firms for wasting time trying to appeal to already saturated fitness markets. She argued firms need to forget about any concerns of health regulation and develop apps and devices targeted at improving peoples’ wellbeing, particularly the infirm and elderly.
The rising cost of care funding
For older people, the cost of going into care can be startling. Residential care for older people costs tens of thousands of pounds each year and anything that can help them stay in their own home for longer can only be a positive thing.
Wearable technology has a huge part to play in helping them in later life and it will be up to the developers to help capitalise on this and prove it can play a key role in benefiting lives.
Back in January, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh wrote in the Guardian that wearable technology had a key role to play in patient welfare. He suggested technology “enables you to predict things, to act early and to prevent unnecessary admissions, thereby not only taking a load off the NHS but, more importantly, actually keeping somebody safe and feeling good.”
Whether it’s reminding someone to take medication, monitoring their sleep patterns, knee braces with stress sensors or movement recorders, the potential of wearable tech in healthcare is vast. Technology developers clearly want to target lucrative markets and fitness certainly is that, but as the population ages, more people could benefit from a refreshed focus from developers.