Wearables: A New Kind of Assisted Living

The idea of “assisted living” is being redefined. Off on the horizon, and not all that far off, is a robust wearables market for our aging population designed to “assist” independent living for the elderly.

Virtually every kind of wearable technology under development or on the market today is applicable to the senior market. From wrist-worn units to glasses to clothing, there is technology to help the aging and elderly live more active, enjoyable and productive lives.

Wearables are already well-embedded in our everyday lives, courtesy of Fitbit, Apple Watch, Android Wear, and other useful gadgets. Wearable assistance for seniors is also becoming more common with products like those from Great Call. They offer wireless-enabled services that connect to a neck pendant or wrist-worn device. Subscribers can program their wearables to notify other people or healthcare professionals in the case of an emergency. And, today’s smart watches have apps that will let wearers know when it’s time to take medications. The value of these products and services is clear — to support independence and activity that might otherwise be too risky.

These examples are only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to the assistance that wearables are designed to provide. Here is a sampling of other products we can expect to see in the very near future.

Glassistant. This project is focused on helping people with “mild cognitive impairment” or onset dementia with support that allows them to stay oriented and able to function in a social environment. Sensors in the glasses measure the wearer’s stress levels and, according to the website describing the project, they analyze “the current environmental factors such as the field of view or the location and use Augmented Reality to display information about objects and situations.” This product is still under development, focusing among other things on making the appearance of the glasses as normal as possible and improving the automatic operation of the sensors.

Moore Balance Brace. This foot and leg brace is the result of a collaboration between a company that has developed “smart socks” for athletes and an orthotics firm. It is designed to assist the ability to maintain balance, which helps reduce the risk of falling that is a concern to many elderly people and their caregivers. Flexible textile sensors in the brace alert the wearer when they are about to lose their balance. Used in conjunction with other aids such as canes or walkers, this brace promises to be very effective in reducing the number of fall injuries sustained by seniors.

The Superflex Suit. This “robotic” bodysuit has evolved from smart clothing used by the military to allow soldiers to carry heavy loads. It is designed to help seniors walk, get up from a chair, sit down, and climb or descend stairs. It functions as a kind of light exoskeleton, with motors in hexagonal pods placed in key locations that enhance wearer muscle power and take on some of the work required in movement.

These are just three example of wearables currently under development. There are many more, including small wrist devices for tracking blood pressure, sensor-equipped footwear and socks for diabetics and T-shirts that monitor vital signs to help track health and prevent heart failure and seizures.

The senior wearables market is big, which is good news for us Boomers! With 19 percent of the U.S. population expected to be comprised of people 65 or older by 2030, and analysts predicting that medical applications in wearables will reach $843 million by 2021, be prepared to see a significant redefinition of “assisted living” over the next decade.

(Additional reference: https://techcrunch.com/2016/10/17/targeting-the-untapped-market-of-wearables-for-elder-care/