Wearable, connected devices are the must-have items of 2015. Plus, the soon-to-debut Apple Watch may add even more buzz to the sector. These emerging wearables have social media capability and built-in fitness tracking and health monitoring capabilities.
But Samsung, Apple and the other tech giants are actually late to the party. Seniors have trusted wearable medical alert systems for years, and new medical alert systems have more features than ever.
Let's look at how medical alerts have changed over the years and see what's next.
What is a Medical Alert Bracelet?
The medical alert bracelet is a personal emergency response system for seniors and caregivers. You can press a button on your neck or wrist to call for help. The button is always on your person (wearable) so help is just a touch away.
The Medical Alert Bracelet of the Past
The first medical alert bracelet had only one simple function. In 1975, Popular Science magazine featured it as an "emergency dialer"—a machine attached to the (rotary) phone. To call for help, the senior pressed a button on a medallion worn around the neck. When depressed, the button relayed a signal to the machine. Then the machine sent out a single prerecorded message to a predetermined number.
The major drawback to this early system was the single emergency contact number. You had to hope that person was home! The contact knew that there was an emergency. But, they received no details about what was happening. While revolutionary, seniors and caregivers demanded more features and customization.
Today's Senior Wearables: Fall Detection and Mobile Medical Alerts
Today's medical alerts are smaller, lighter and more feature-rich than the days of yore. These medical alert systems come pre-programmed for minimal installation and effort on your part. When seniors press their help buttons, they connect with trained emergency operators. The operator dials through a personalized list of your emergency contacts. Your contacts know exactly what's going on, and help is immediately on the way—no more guessing and no more prerecorded messages.
Also, seniors are no longer tied to their home landline telephone. New mobile medical alerts use GPS to pinpoint location. In-home wireless networks make life-saving monitoring services both accessible and affordable to all. The technology acknowledges the restrictions of everyday homeowners and breaks down those barriers. In the process, this allows for more comprehensive care.
Another key breakthrough, advanced fall detection technology, keeps seniors safer. These medical alerts use sensitive accelerometers to detect slips and falls. When a senior slips, they can get help without pressing the help button at all. Previous help buttons were not nearly as smart. Now the processes are automated to immediately send out a distress call. We all know there are times in your life that prevent you from being autonomous or self-reliant. Today's technology can rise to the challenge and intervene on your behalf.
The Future of Medical Alert Bracelets: The Internet of Things
Alert bracelet technology has made leaps and bounds, but the basic idea of emergency alarms remains unchanged. So what's next for the alert bracelet in the Internet of Things era?
The Internet of Things describes how smart devices can communicate both with you and each other. Your refrigerator, washer and drier, your front door... you can communicate with them all via computer or smart phone.
The next medical alert systems won't require a bracelet or pendant at all—they will be built into our clothes and home fixtures. Your shirt will keep an eye on your heartbeat and call caregivers if you fall. Your slippers will make a distress call when they do not get walked out to check the mail.
Your home, clothes and other technology will work together to keep you safe and healthy. In the era of the Internet of Things, everything is keeping watch, making sure seniors remain safe.
Shayne Fitz-Coy is the Co-CEO and President of Alert-1, an aging-in-place technology company headquartered in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with offices nationwide. A Certified Aging in Place Specialist, Shayne has a bachelor's degree in Psychology from Harvard College and a master's in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Shayne hails from Maryland, and now calls the Bay Area home.