Help button and device illustration
by Chia-Lin Simmons

If there is one public health sector and workforce that is calling for improved technology in the modern era, it is the caregiving industry.

A plethora of studies, surveys and data show that professional care providers and the people they support are underserved by solutions that offer only antiquated technology and awkward gadgetry.

By 2050, 23% of the population of the United States will be over 65. These demographics mean that close to a quarter of the entire population will officially be “elder adults,” and it represents the largest shift in decades.

Today’s Caregivers Deserve More
Workers in the care economy are suffering burnout and leaving the profession in record numbers, but medical alert service companies are still slow to deliver new devices that address the needs of caregivers.

Even before COVID-19 struck and personal care providers became stretched to the breaking point, technology in the compassionate care sector had already fallen behind the pace of other connected services and devices such as vehicles, fitness tracking wearables and smart home or
office appliances.

Though many of today’s elder adults have more disposable income than the generations preceding and following them, the majority of technological innovations are not aimed at them. Clearly, our aging population is not well served.

Old tools, new needs and strong demand are a perfect formula for change.

To meet the care device challenge, what has been historically called the personal emergency response services (PERS) makers need to accelerate innovation and provide smarter, more intuitive solutions.

Innovation in Wearable Devices
Meeting this challenge means creating products, services and other PERS resources that can form the infrastructure of a caregiving system.

New devices must deliver these six primary benefits to consumers, their families and people employed as caregivers:

  • safety
  • security and privacy
  • simplicity
  • affordability
  • wearability and sleek design
  • adaptability

These six components, when built into new devices, apps, and supporting software, will allow care providers to use technology that makes their jobs more efficient while providing the reliability and independence elder adults say are priorities.

1. Safety
The Senior List’s Medical Alert Device Consumer Usage Report for 2020 said that every year, one in four seniors over age 65 will experience a fall, in many cases with injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 29,000 people aged 75 and older died from a fall in 2019, and millions more have non-fatal falls.

Given that 79% of elder adults prefer to age in place, improved fall detection in the home is vital.

It is also critical that any fall detection technology provides help within what is called the golden hour—that is, the first hour after an accident or fall takes place. Statistically, outcomes are much better when that happens.

Safety monitors designed to function outside the perimeter of the house or yard are rapidly changing to keep up with modern needs. Today’s wearable devices need to be waterproof so they continue to work in the rain and the kitchen or bath. With a broad geographic range, the devices can be relied upon to work inside and outside the home.

Devices should also work rapidly and without many-layered, complex communication connections to access assistance.

2. Security & Privacy
Respecting the privacy of older adults and caregivers without sacrificing the quality of assistive care is paramount for the PERS industry.

In July 2022, a Forbes Health survey of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted by OnePoll found that 53% of respondents “believe a medical alert system is an invasion of their privacy.” Stronger privacy firewalls and frequent monitoring of who has access to information generated by the devices and apps is necessary to guarantee that users’ personal information is never compromised when a device is purchased or activated. Devices should also avoid causing embarrassment or disturbances in public settings and not transmit audible, loud messages like, “You’ve fallen, do you
need help?”

Simple design modifications to preserve security and protect privacy will vastly improve user participation and satisfaction.

3. Simplicity
A December 2020 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, says the complexity of reading and interpreting the output from wearable devices is a significant obstacle for older adults and professional caregivers.Devices should not require more than the push of a button or a voice command to activate assistance.

4. Affordability
For older adults, military veterans and people in underserved or under-resourced communities—and for the health care providers who serve them—affordability is key and a low price point for devices ensures access to all. According to a 2020 AARP Research Report on Caregiving, only 50% of caregivers in the U.S. are using a “software” or “technological tool” to help them.

One factor limiting the adoption of PERS devices are services that require high-priced monthly fees. Affordability means no monthly fees. Companies that require a consumer to have an up-to-date cell phone and qualifying service should offer these features as choices, not necessities. It is
that simple.

In the future, assistive living technology must not be an unaffordable luxury. More people using wearable devices will make the jobs of professionals and the responsibilities of family members both more effective and easier.

5. Wearability & Design
A wearable device study based on a national survey in the United States and reported in Health Informatics Journal found “a low level of wearable use” (17%) among more than 1,400 older adults. Poor or awkward design is a primary factor in the lack of adoption of wearables, according to studies, feedback from end users and industry experts.

PERS in the future will no longer be chunky boxes worn around the neck. As with all tech gear in the internet of things (IoT) era, tiny is big. Devices that resemble pendants, watches or other wearable fashion must be small, sleek, integrated, and customizable to satisfy individual consumer style preferences.

6. Adaptability
Future care device prototypes must be built and updated on an ongoing basis to test and refine tech improvements. Innovations such as apps could expand PERS capabilities beyond alerting 911 and designated family members or guardians. For example, a device might take a user’s pulse or inform medical personnel of any underlying health concerns.

This is feasible due to the advent of IoT. IoT devices are connected to the cloud and allow for automatic installation of updates and improvements. In addition, machine learning can help devices improve their artificial intelligence capabilities for features such as accurate fall detection.

New features and improvements based on well-funded research and development are surefire ways to advance technology in the sector. This kind of due diligence will establish innovative companies as leading visionaries able to meet and even anticipate marketplace demands.

A Call to Action
When it comes to improving technology for caregiving, there’s no time to waste. New designs, improved style and ease of use, expansion with apps and other connectivity capabilities—while remaining price-sensitive and focused on providing the broadest access to professional caregivers, family caretakers and users—are all on
the horizon.

It is up to companies like LogicMark and other innovators in the industry to heed the call, manufacture and deliver on technology’s promise, and provide compassionate, assistive care devices to all.

Chia-Lin Simmons is the CEO of LogicMark, a provider of medical alerts, personal response systems and remote personal monitoring devices. She has more than 26 years of experience as an executive for technology companies including Audible/Amazon, Harman International (Samsung) and Google.