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.



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.

A prototype for automating computer log-offs

The term “backronym” was coined to describe a phase constructed to fit a suitable word, as opposed to the simpler process of making acronyms. NASA is an acronym. ZEBRA, which stands for Zero-Effort Bilateral Recurring Authentication, is a Dartmouth research team’s triple-axel effort at a backronym.

No, not this kind. Courtesy: Odense Zoo, Denmark

No, not this kind. Courtesy: Odense Zoo, Denmark

So what does this ZEBRA do and why should seniors care? Well, it’s a somewhat complicated sounding way to solve a basic computer security problem: People forgetting to log out of websites or log off computer terminals. As the Dartmouth team’s research abstract says, “The most common solution, inactivity timeouts, inevitably fail security (too long a timeout) or usability (too short a timeout) goals.”

To solve the problem, they’ve created a prototype bracelet that has a built-in accelerometer, gyroscope, and radio. The bracelet records the wearer’s precise movements during mouse and keyboard use and communicates them to the computer terminal. If the movements start to differ, the computer knows to shut out this (presumably) different user. The team claims 85% accuracy in correctly identifying users.

We realize this seems more than a bit Rube Goldberg, but highly accurate hand movement sensing could one day find a place in medical diagnostics and physical therapy, as well as helping to keep forgetful seniors password-protected information secure.

In addition to computer security, user sensing might even be the ultimate lock-out in battles over the television remote. Now there’s a market!

Star Trek’s Tricorders–available before decade’s end?

In one of the funniest scenes from 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, our heroes rescue a fellow crew member from the “dark ages” of late 20th Century medicine. The techniques are so bizarre to the ship’s doctor, sent back in time from the 23rd Century, that he compares them to the Spanish Inquisition. In his world, he can obtain an accurate diagnosis simply by waving a box called a “tricorder” over his patients to get instant results. Now, thirty years later, 21st century technologists are close to producing actual tricorders that seniors and others will be able to use to diagnose themselves.


In truth, not unlike Star Trek’s communicator and its resemblance to “flip” phones, we already have devices with many of the features of a tricorder: computer tablets. They are wireless, light-weight, and have intense computational power, so it only made sense for wireless pioneer Qualcomm to sponsor a $10 million competiton through the XPrize to create a portable instant diagnostic device weighing no more than five pounds.Continue Reading

A brief chat with Congressman Scott Peters (D-CA)

If you’re mad at somebody, don’t yell at the TV–call me.*


Scott Peters

*(that would be whoever your representative is.)

We promise we’ll avoid politics, except when it’s of note for seniors. Last night, at a local senior center, the 52nd District’s Congressman, Democrat Scott Peters, reminded the audience that for all of Congress’s notorious dysfunction, there’s one way it does work. It may not go forward on the big issue you care about, but if there’s a personal issue, say a problem with Medicare, you should call your representative and ask for Constituent Services. You may not always get satisfaction, but at least they will try to help you cut through the red-tape.

At least the traffic's moving.

At least the traffic’s moving.

As for the Medicare and technology issues of interest to seniors, Peters says that Congress is attempting to change Medicare reimbursements so that doctors will be compensated for consultations, not just procedures, which would give a boost to telemedicine.

In addition, they’re still working on trying to get compensation for in-home care, so that people aren’t forced into nursing homes. (Regarding nursing homes, the New York Times has an important article about how homes are gaming the Medicare rating system. Unfortunately, “five star” may not be as reassuring as it appears. We highly recommend you read the comments as well; they offer some good, albeit heartbreaking, advice.)

Whether you’re voting for Congress or trying to advocate for a favorite cause, you may want to check out, a non-partisan website that tracks who’s getting money from whom in Washington.

Hands-free Page-turning

Is your life filled with desk-crushing textbooks or Everest-high piles of murder mysteries? Are you dreading reading them because of arthritis, repetitive stress or other hand injuries? Musicians and choristers are in on a solution that could be useful to seniors.

The music world’s equivalent of the doorstopper book is the bulky score. For just one example, the score of the holiday classic Handel’s Messiah can easily run 250 pages. That’s a whole lot of turning, not to mention the embarrassment of stuck or skipped pages while performing.

To solve the problem, concert pianist and former Curtis Institute of Music faculty member Hugh Sung co-created a company called AirTurn, which produces a page-turning system that consists of a holder for a tablet computer and a wireless foot pedal to move the pages forward.

The system can also work with .pdfs (although not, unfortunately, Amazon’s Kindle), so it can be adapted as a general book reader. It will take some configuring, but it’s well worth considering if you own a tablet computer and would like to minimize the use of your hands or are just tired of having sheet music fall at your feet.

In fact, according to AirTurn’s Tanya Unger, many physical therapists are already helping their patients learn to use AirTurn, which also has a bite switch available for those for whom a foot pedal may not work. As Unger says, “We like to promote freedom and independence; it’s nice to not have to rely on a family member to help you read a book.”

Below is a quick overview of the system for the iPad. It is also available for Windows and Android-based tablets, and can work with a music stand as shown or with AirTurn’s tiltable tablet holder.




Pretty and Practical: A ring that alerts

At first, Ringly struck us as one of those ridiculous person-who-has-everything items: It’s a $200-ish ring that vibrates when you get a call or other mobile message because Heaven forbid you’d take your phone out of your purse. But at second glance, we realized seniors could customize the vibrations to signal reminders of medication times, appointments, and other health alerts. And it’s gorgeous.

Clockwise from top left: Black Onyx, Pink Sapphire, Rainbow Moonstone, Emerald (sold out). Courtesy: Ringly

Clockwise from top left: Black Onyx, Pink Sapphire, Rainbow Moonstone, Emerald (sold out). Courtesy: Ringly

It looks like a high fashion gemstone ring, so even if it’s not used for its intended purpose, it’s a lovely piece of jewelry for those who can afford it. Unlike hearing aids and other obvious medical devices, there’s no reason to worry you’ll “look old,” if you wear it.

It could work well for independent seniors who’ve set health apps and medication alerts on their phones or tablets, as well as for caregivers and long-distance children who need to make sure reminders are received. If you can wear a ring to bed, you can wear Ringly. It’s water-resistant (you can wash your hands with it on), but not fully water-proof, so don’t try to swim with it.

We caution that we don’t know how heavy it is, the designers describe the 14 x 19mm center stone (that’s about ½ by ¾ of an inch) as “approximately the size of an almond.”

The rings are being offered, for now, only in sizes 6, 7 and 8 and cannot be re-sized. Ringly is taking discounted pre-orders at $145-$180, depending on the stone, and planning to ship rings in the fall. Retail prices will be $195 and $260. The company plans to eventually offer different designs, including styles suitable for men. (Men with a bold sense of style may like the currently available black onyx ring.)

Quick–but important–Caregiving Survey from PBS

PBS’s Next Avenue, a site that covers all aspects of senior living, is conducting an online survey focused on ideas to “help broaden choices and improve ongoing living assistance.” They hope to use the results to guide their coverage of the issues.

Unlike most online surveys, it really is as short as it promises. It has only seven “how important” statements that it asks you to rate on a 1-10 scale, with a sliding button. The link was emailed to their subscribers, or you can find the survey here.

We think the survey itself can be a great tool to spark family discussions among elderly parents and caregiving children, as well as serve as a “gut check” for assumptions about caregiving requirements, whether for yourself or others.

No surprises here. Graphic from

No surprises here. Graphic from

And as far as “assumptions” go, today at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, Princeton graduate student Angelina Grigoryeva is presenting her findings on family caregiving. She concludes: “Daughters provide an average of 12.3 hours of elderly parent care per month as compared to sons’ 5.6 hours.”

We suspect many female readers are not surprised by her research.

Simple Tech for Simple Tasks

Before there were carebots, exoskeletons and other expensive types of assistive technology, there were gadgets to help people open jars, pull up zippers and other mundane tasks that become more challenging with age. In this video,  Tina Ross of  Virginia’s Simple Comforts demonstrates a range of such devices, which should be available through local retailers or by ordering online.



Unintended Insights from the documentary Cyber-Seniors

Cyber-Seniors, currently making the rounds of indie cinemas, is a well-meaning documentary by filmmaker Saffron Cassaday that chronicles the efforts of her siblings and their high school classmates to introduce Toronto seniors to the Internet.

It’s a grandchild’s valentine to the grandparent generation, which is both its charm and its flaw. There’s too much condescension to the “cuteness” of seniors; it would have been far better to see more of what the participants felt from their own point-of-view. Still, it ought to be required viewing by anyone designing technology or offering tech tutorials for older seniors.

Some of the awkward unfamiliarity is a bit surprising, when you consider that if you subtract twenty years, all but the very oldest would likely have encountered computers in their workplaces. Nevertheless, aging itself makes even the most basic of computer tasks difficult; for example, we see a 77-year-old flummoxed by double-clicking.

In truth, we take clicking so for granted, we forget that it’s actually a proprioceptive challenge: The brain must determine and signal how much pressure is required to differentiate clicks, further complicated in the old by compensating for arthritic fingers. Unfortunately, proprioception, like other senses, declines with age, so the “simple” act of clicking becomes akin to mastering chords on a guitar. Similarly, reading on a monitor becomes like trying to find a grey cat in a fog.

Watching Cyber-Seniors, you see clearly that navigating the Internet is a double-whammy for the advanced elderly: It requires both understanding new intellectual concepts and mastering novel movements. The cognitive challenges cannot be underestimated: Many of the participants forget not only their passwords, but their security prompts. When asked, “What is your pet’s name?” one nonagenarian replies, “I don’t have a pet anymore.”

As much as it intends to celebrate the efforts of the young volunteers, the documentary also unintentionally demonstrates that generosity and kindness don’t quite make up for lack of preparation. Some of the cognitive load would have been lightened if the volunteers had a practiced script with well-tested procedures. It would have been extremely helpful for the seniors to have a printout with reminders of the basics, from steps to get on the Web to a box to write down passwords.

Yet in one respect, the seniors caught on fast. The filmmakers encouraged them to produce YouTube videos for a clickbait contest (the videos are still online). When one woman’s video is thumbed down, she asks—with just the right tone of shaming–“Who could dislike something so innocuous?”