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How Wearable Devices Aid Aging at Home

We are living in a new era of aging in place due to wearable technology devices that enable more freedom and help us remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. These devices can track fitness activity, provide reminders to take medications or be ready for appointments, monitor health conditions and prevent serious health crises like strokes and heart attacks, track sleep quality, get help if we fall or have a health crisis, and help us find places (or help others find us) through GPS tracking.

Wearable devices can provide peace of mind for us and our families, and even enhance communication when linked to a smartphone. And wearable devices have become increasingly stylish and mainstream; people of all ages are wearing activity trackers and smartwatches.

  • Apple, Samsung, Garmin, Fitbit, Adapt, Google, and others offer smartwatches that can perform a wide variety of tasks and app-based options. A spin-off industry offers a wide variety of colorful wristbands to use with mainstream devices.
  • Medical alert companies are now offering wearable devices that include a watch function. Some are part of a comprehensive system that includes smart home devices.
  • Some doctors are working with patients to use wearables to report health information back to the doctor’s office.

How to Choose the Right Wearable Device for You

  • Consider how you want to use the wearable device, including:
    • Emergency alert so you can push a button or verbally ask for help and reach a contact center that notifies your emergency contacts and/or calls 911 for you.
    • Automatic fall detection so you don’t have to proactively push a button to call for help.
    • Health monitoring, including blood pressure, blood sugar, oxygenation, heart rate (mobile EKG is now an option), sleep patterns, stress levels, calorie intake, and hydration.
    • Pain control assistance, including wearable transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units.
    • A daily check-in with an agent at a call center to ensure all is well with you.
    • Activity tracking, such as sitting, standing, walking, running, and other movement-oriented activities.
    • Daily routine tracking and alerts if there are changes that could indicate health concerns, such as when you go to and get out of bed, go to the bathroom, eat meals, etc.
    • Communication and socialization via linking to a smartphone or cellular capability in the device itself. This could include voice communication, text messaging, emails, or social media. (Staying connected is vital for healthy aging in place.)
    • Entertainment and cognitive stimulation through games, music, book recordings, and videos.
    • GPS location tracking so loved ones will know where you are, and/or you can get directions if you can’t find your destination or are lost.
    • Notifications to family members if you get lost or have unusual movement patterns or health changes.
  • Borrow a wearable device, if possible, to try it out and see if you like it. (Every state has a National Assistive Technology Act Technical Assistance and Training Center and most have device loaning programs.)
  • Keep your skills in mind, including speech, dexterity, and interest/ability to learn new skills.
  • Think about what you’re most likely to wear every day. Will a wristband device, a necklace/lanyard, or a pendant that can be pinned onto clothing work best for you? Other options are generally geared toward monitoring specific health conditions and include stick-on patches, smart gloves, smart socks, and other smart clothing items. There are even smart rings, earbuds/headsets, and glasses available.
  • Determine usability and security. Is the device easy to put on and use? Can it operate on voice commands as well as touch commands? How is it charged and for how long? Is it available in different colors and designs that you like? Is there easy-to-access technology support for the device (especially if talking with a live person is important to you rather than online support)? What type of security is built in to protect your identity and personal information?
  • Is there an app required for set-up and loading new functions? Can the app be accessed on the wearable device itself, or is a smartphone, tablet, or computer required?
  • Calculate costs. Consider the cost of the device as well as ongoing cellular service if needed. Is a contract required or can you cancel at any time? Are there discounts for older adults? Would your insurance help pay for the device (some Medicare Advantage plans offer discounts for medical alert devices.) Is it tax deductible as a medical expense?

For help finding the right wearables for you, enlist family members to help with researching the options; talk with your doctor, physical therapist, or occupational therapist; talk with friends about their experience with wearables; or contact your local assistive technology center, senior center, or technology-focused organization to ask about training opportunities and device demonstrations.

Amy Goyer is a caregiving expert and author of Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving. A passionate champion for caregivers, she has also been one her entire adult life, caring for her grandparents, parents, sister, and others. Connect with Amy on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

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