You are probably aware of the late night television commercials in which an elderly person is on the floor, calling “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” This is the rallying cry of the personal emergency response system (PERS) companies, who offer a range of base units and pendants for seniors to wear so that they can call for assistance if they need it. There’s one basic problem with many PERS devices, however; many seniors won’t use them. No matter how stylish you make it, the pendant is often viewed as a badge of shame. Furthermore, many studies show that users are reluctant to summon help even when needed, due to embarrassment or simply not wanting to be a bother.
A new product from Medical Guardian addresses many of these problems. The company is a long-time provider of PERS systems, including a passive in-home activity monitor. Last month, they released the Freedom Guardian which is a smart watch intended for seniors. It looks much like any other smartwatch, thus avoiding the badge of shame problem. A large red button on the side will summon help when pressed for three seconds, providing emergency two-way communication with trained operators. It also functions as a watch, with a familiar analog face, so it serves a useful purpose in addition to acting as an emergency device. It tracks the wearer’s location using GPS and other wireless methods, and even provides a current weather forecast. It also has an add-on option to receive text messages from family and caregivers, and it can read them aloud so there is no need to read a tiny screen. The company recommends that the watch be recharged every night using an included charging stand. A companion smartphone app and a web portal let family members and caregivers access location and other information.
The watch costs $100, but the main expense lies in the $45 monthly service fee. Part of this charge is due to the cellular service that is included; you don’t need a special base station or WiFi for a connection. And the watch stays connected even when the wearer leaves his or her home, anywhere in the U.S. This product could benefit from adding an activity tracker function, so that the wearer and others can see how many steps were taken in a day. Changes in activity level could alert caregivers to possible illness or impairment. Even so, this is a big improvement over the big red button pendants, and could help seniors live independently and safely.