Wearable technology created the biggest buzz at the Consumer Electronics Show—from cameras, to ear buds, to glasses, to jackets, to shoes and socks—all with sensors that gather info and stream info to and from the wearer in real time. (For a good overview, see C/Net’s wearable tech coverage.)
There are two markets for wearable technology that make sense: fitness and the elderly. Having mislaid my FitBit sensor over a year ago and made no attempt to find it, I’ll let others comment on the fitness market. But I have recently devoted time to hooking my 96-year old mom up with all the latest technology so she can continue to live “independently.”
For my mom, herself, wearing anything different than the clothes she already wears is problematic. She has a wonderful pendant that she can use to answer the phone and to call for help. But she takes it off and leaves it wherever when she goes to bed (which is when we really want her to be wearing it). The only garment she wears a lot is her bathrobe, so wearable tech pinned to her bathrobe might work (note to self—get a duplicate and pin it to her bathrobe).
The most useful technology we’ve found for Mom isn’t for her; it’s for us, and it’s not wearable. We have recently signed up for the Full Circle America service, which provides custom-tailored monitoring and support for virtual independent living. (See my book review or buy the book, Alone and Invisible No More.) Mom now has 24-hour surveillance cameras and motion sensors. Any family member can log on to see how Mom spent her last 24 hours in her apartment and/or what she’s up to right now (better to call when she’s not asleep). Our “extended family members” at Full Circle America monitor these cameras and sensors and look for patterns and anomalies and work closely with local neighbors and our far-flung family to build a social network of support and interactions. Mom has one-button Skype on her TV set, but she still needs someone there to remind her: “The TV is ringing, answer it with this button.”
From the standpoint of peace of mind for distant kids, being able to “see” your elderly loved one putter around their home, see that the neighbor came by as promised to take her out to dinner, see that her companion showed up exactly on time to fix lunch and bring the papers—this is invaluable!! Knowing that others are watching when you’re not watching—and that they care about and understand your parents and want them to be happily independent—is a huge relief. Working together with a family, friends, neighbor, volunteer support network to keep our feisty seniors happily in their homes until they die is a fantastic and sustainable model. Using high tech and high touch together to achieve that goal is a huge business opportunity. But tech alone won’t hack it. And, from a user experience standpoint, the elders have to be the ones to co-design the solutions that will work for them.
The monitoring system we’re using is made up of off-the-shelf consumer technology. It’s simple, plug and play. But what makes it work is that this particular set of devices and cloud-based software (and the configuration evolves constantly) is being co-evolved with thousands of elder clients and their families under the thoughtful and caring guidance of a hands-on family practice MD and gerontologist, Dr. Alan “Chip” Teel, who is convinced that social support and interactions are much more important than medical-needs-based approaches. And, for Chip Teel, keeping our elders out of nursing homes, where they die faster and get depressed, is all important.
I’m so glad my mom is willing to be an innovator.