American Society on Aging Conference–Registration Deadlines

Enjoy Chicago, conference goers! ("Ultrawarm Coat, warm" from LLBean)

Enjoy Chicago, conference goers!
(“Ultrawarm Coat, long” from LLBean)

The 2015 Aging in America Conference will be held in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, March 23-27, because where else would you rather be in March than Chicago? Those of you with hardy constitutions should know that the earliest registration deadline, for the best discount, is this Friday. There are other discounts available later in the year for slightly less early birds.

If  you’re planning to go, we suggest you stock up here first.

The watch we’ve been watching for?

We admit we’ve gotten more than a little bit weary of endless variations on Personal Emergency Response Systems (aka “I’ve fallen and…”) as well as “Big Brother” sensors to track the movements of seniors in their homes. So much so, that we nearly overlooked the press materials from Lively. Yes, it’s yet another start-up with yet another variation, but it seems they might have actually gotten it right. We caution you we haven’t tested their products, but they at least appear to be simple, well-thought out, and reasonably priced.

Lively currently has two offerings:

The Lively PERS watch. Courtesy:

The Lively PERS watch.

Miniature activity sensors (they remind us of dollhouse-sized toilet seat covers), that can be placed anywhere in a home, including on pill boxes. They chart normal patterns of activity and can alert when there’s a deviation.

Their own version of a PERS device. Hurrah, it’s not a pendant, it’s a waterproof watch–and it actually tells the time! Most importantly, they’ve figured out that senior eyes need BIG type and senior fingers need a BIG emergency button. Kudos to them for that alone; however, the promotional video on their website suggests the watch may be uncomfortably big for many women.

The watch itself costs $49.95. The response service is free for the first month, $34.95 a month thereafter. Nevertheless, there’s only a limited supply currently available, and since this is a new company, no guarantee on how long their service will be available. Caveat emptor, but it does look promising.



Better tech for detecting breast cancer

As most women know, all the current methods for detecting breast cancer have drawbacks. Mammography can be painful, and may not detect cancers in dense breast tissue.* Ultrasound and MRI may be more accurate, but they are also far more expensive. Detecting lumps by hand can work, but often they are already larger than one would wish. Now, a team at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln have created a prototype for more sensitive and accurate early detection.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 9.31.22 PM

“Schematic of touch experiment. A touch pressure applied on the top through a glass slide compressed the palpable structure on the tactile device.”

As described by an American Chemical Society (ACS) press release, the scientists made “a kind of electronic skin out of nanoparticles and polymers that can detect, ‘feel’ and image small objects. To test how it might work on a human patient, they embedded lump-like objects in a piece of silicone mimicking a breast and pressed the device against this model with the same pressure a clinician would use in a manual exam. They were able to image the lump stand-ins, which were as little as 5 mm and as deep as 20 mm…the device could also be used to screen patients for early signs of melanoma and other cancers.” The full article, published in Applied Materials and Interfaces, can be found here.

We admit this is a long way off from clinical use, since it will have to go through the FDA approval process, not to mention the challenges of mass production. Nevertheless, it’s a device worth rooting for because, as the ACS reminds us, “Clinical breast exams performed by medical professionals as an initial screening step are inexpensive, but typically don’t find lumps until they’re 21 millimeters in length, which is about four-fifths of an inch. Detecting lumps and determining their shape when they’re less than half that size improves a patient’s survival rate by more than 94 percent.”

*Digital mammography should be better at this because the images can be enhance for better detail, according to the Mayo Clinic.


How to avoid tech-induced insomnia

The American Chemical Society (ACS) puts out a series of videos on a range of chemistry topics, including important advice on how to (hopefully) lessen insomnia. Turns out all that tech is only making it worse. ACS shows that the blue light from all those screens is telling your body, “It’s daytime!”

Some of you may find the advice useful for yourselves. Others, we suspect, are going to love this video as the perfect “I told you so!” retort to tech-obsessed kids and grandkids.




A warning on bladder cancer biopsies

According to the medical literature, bladder cancer “occurs most commonly in the elderly: the median age at diagnosis is 69 years for men and 71 years for women.” Why are we bringing up such a grim topic? Because UCLA just published a study in the journal Cancer on a sometimes fatal issue with bladder cancer biopsies and it’s important to get the word out.



The study found that about half of bladder cancer biopsies didn’t take enough tissue to accurately stage the cancer. Tragically, less-than-optimal biopsies and incorrect tumor staging were associated with a significant increase in deaths from bladder cancer.

The study’s first author, Dr. Karim Chamie, an assistant professor of urology and surgical director of the bladder cancer program at UCLA, explains that that many times, biopsies only take tissue from the inner lining of the bladder itself, ignoring the underlying muscle wall. If the cancer has started to invade, tissue from the muscle wall needs to be examined to determine the next course of treatment.

Chamie offers this advice to patients and their families: “We hope these findings will help empower patients to ask about the quality of their biopsy and, if it is suboptimal, then urge their doctors to repeat the biopsy prior to deciding on what type of treatment to prescribe.” By “suboptimal,” he means no tissue was taken from the muscle wall. Don’t be afraid to ask, it could save your or a loved one’s life.

Simple–and complex tech–for not forgetting pills

We’ve all forgotten to take pills at one time or another, but who knew it was such a thing that there’s actually a website called, which features every kind of day-of-the-week/time-of-day pill container you could imagine. Or at least thought you could imagine, until a tech start-up came up with a sensor-based gizmo that wraps around pill bottles and inhalers.

Amiko--Doesn't yet exist

Amiko–Doesn’t yet exist. This example is opened to show the circuitry.

Existing pill organizer--this and many others at

Existing pill organizer–this and many others at

Amiko, as the gizmo is called, “is an affordable, lightweight sensor-packed in a leaf-shaped sleeve that is specially designed to fit perfectly on five common types of medicine packaging. Easy to use, Amiko is placed on medicine packaging and detects both motion and the angle of motion…[and] tracks the medicine taken and sends information to a connected app available to patients and caregivers.” That’s according to the press release, we haven’t tried it for ourselves, because–as seems to be all too often the case with new gizmos these days–it doesn’t yet exist.

It’s you know, close to existing, if you’ll just pony up for their fundraising campaign, which starts today on IndieGoGo.

The advantages it should have over basic pill reminders is that it can link to electronic health records as well as send compliance information to caregivers. It may be reassuring to adult children worried that their parents aren’t taking medication. However, as forgettingthepill amply demonstrates, the existing, simpler products should suffice for anyone not suffering from extreme memory impairment. Granted, they don’t look as cool.

UPDATE: Link to Amiko IndieGoGo should now work. Here’s the video they’ve put up; the description of the product starts at 1:09:





Neither rain nor snow nor wilted lettuce?

There’s a new entry on the list of online food delivery services. It’s, um, the Postal Service. Yes, that’s right, the folks who can’t get your mail to you in under a week are supposed to be able to get your groceries to you the same day you order them. They’ve partnered with Amazon, which is good about delivery–because they usually do it through UPS.

Heck, if this guy's doing the deliveries, maybe it'll work.

Heck, if this guy’s doing the deliveries, maybe it’ll work.

So call us skeptical, but here, from Internet Retailer, are the details about the service, which has just been approved to expand in the San Francisco area over the next two years:

“The Postal Service has been testing early-morning grocery deliveries in recent months with Inc., No. 1 in the 2014 Internet Retailer Top 500. Amazon has been delivering orders in branded totes, some of them containing freezer packs to keep perishables fresh, to postal facilities between 1:30 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. Postal carriers have been delivering the totes to customers’ doors between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.”

The Post Office did not disclose the prices for its service, but we hope it realizes that “perishable” is not synonymous with “Forever.”

Hearing Aids–seeking affordable solutions

People who use hearing aids frequently complain about their high prices. Often their families complain too, since the unaffordability of a solution means continual frustrations for both speaker and listener, and a deepening sense of isolation for all. Organizations from the National Association for the Deaf to The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) have been campaigning for years for a  tax credit of up to $500 to cover costs for the purchase of a hearing aid that is not covered by insurance. The credit would only be available to parents of children with hearing losses, or adults over 55. If you fall into either of those categories, your income must not exceed $200,000.

At least it was probably cheap.

At least it was probably cheap.

Reasonable as that all may seem, the bill is alas, stuck in committee, with a predicted 0% chance of getting passed. Still, we like to tilt at windmills, so we suggest you look at BHI’s site dedicated to the bill.

Outside of Washington, there’s a wonderful effort to get hearing aids to more people.  The Kentucky Assistive Technology Network (KATS) is running a drive to collect old hearing aids, which they will clean (obviously) and refurbish, and then distribute to those who can’t afford the several thousand dollar cost of new aids.

If you wish to donate, you can contact KATS at 800.327.5287 for a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Or you might consider starting such a program for your own local community. If you know of any similar, existing programs, please let us know and we’ll get the word out.


The future of PERS (personal emergency response systems)

Market research and analysis firm Frost & Sullivan is out with a report on PERs (Personal Emergency Response Systems), known to the rest of us as those “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” devices.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 12.14.55 AMAccording to F&S, in 2013, market revenues for PERS were approximately $1.04 billion. That’s not surprising considering PERS are a basic enabling technology for seniors who want to age in place. As that grim joke of single fate from Bridget Jones Diary put it, they lessen the likelihood of dying alone and being eaten by an Alsatian.

Morbid humor aside, how will this classic technology do in the future, as more medical wearables, such as smart watches, become available?

F&S sees three major trends of interest to consumers:

  • The devices may come from your phone company: Verizon and AT&T entered the market two years ago, and with scale on their side, “the carriers may be able to swing the market in their favor quickly.”
  • The devices will allow more freedom: PERS systems based on landlines will transition to mobile PERS systems (mPERS) that will have GPS capabilities, so that seniors can have coverage whether they’re just running errands in the neighborhood or traveling on vacation.
  • The devices will do more things: Over the next few years, the PERS industry will transition from alert-only to a “more integrated medical service/monitoring model…[which] may incorporate and transmit home-based PHR [personal health record] information for caregiver tracking and health analytics around vital signs.’

The maximum market potential of PERS over the next three years, according to F&S, is $3.75 billion dollars.

Yes, Facebook, Seniors Use Technology!

A belated happy birthday to Anna Stoehr, who turned 114 on October 15th. She’s been in the news lately because she had a slight glitch when she tried to get on Facebook–its age verification form stopped five years short of her birth year.

This story is our all-time favorite reminder that technology has no upper age limit! For comparison’s sake, Guglielmo Marconi sent the first wireless transmission the year after Ms. Stoehr was born.

If you haven’t yet seen the news report, it’s well worth watching. The video below lacks the Minneapolis KARE 11 news anchors, if you’re interested in the full, unedited report, it can be found here. You might get the ad from the Minnesota roofing company with its amusingly double entendre slogan.