An “artificial spleen” that may help cure sepsis

One of the toughest parts of becoming older is that the immune system begins to work less well, leaving seniors vulnerable to more kinds of infections, which may also take longer to heal. At worst, these infections can lead to sepsis, which is “most common and most dangerous in older adults,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Some possible help may be on the horizon in several years in the form of an “artificial spleen.”

Created by researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute, the artificial spleen works in a way similar to dialysis: Infected blood is run through a machine, cleansed, and then re-circulated into a patient.

Bad stuff (in color). Good beads (in white), pulled into the “spleen.” Courtesy: Harvard's Wyss Institute

Bad stuff (in color). Good beads (in white), pulled into the “spleen.” Courtesy: Harvard’s Wyss Institute

While this may seem like technological overkill compared to simply swallowing an antibiotic, the challenge with sepsis is that it is extremely difficult to correctly diagnosis the underlying pathogens, which can all too quickly lead to fatal consequences. Continue Reading

ReWalk IPO likely this Friday

We’ve written before about the much-hyped ReWalk exoskeleton and how it may–or may not–be a boon to disabled seniors. According to, it is likely to have its IPO tomorrow (9/12/14), under the ticker symbol RWLK on the NASDAQ exchange. It is predicted to sell 3.5 million shares on its opening day for $13-16 each.

logo_nasdaq_lgAccording to the Boston Business Journal, “As of July, the company said there were 60 ReWalk Rehabilitation [for clinical settings] and 18 ReWalk Personal systems in use.” Also, according to the Journal, the IPO, in which ReWalk hopes to raise nearly $60 million, is critical to the company’s continued existence. They quote its Securities and Exchange Commission filing which stated, “Without additional capital, from this offering or otherwise, we may run out of cash in the second half of 2014, which has raised a substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern.”

For our readers who invest, we have only two words: due diligence.

Beware of Auto-play and Data Charges

Thumbs DOWN on auto-play.

Thumbs DOWN on auto-play.

This story has been making the rounds, but if you use a smart phone, we wanted to make sure you’ve seen it. first reported that Facebook now defaults all videos to “auto-play.” If you scroll very quickly past videos in your newsfeed it shouldn’t be a problem, but apparently if you pause even briefly over a video, the software assumes that you want it to start. Even if all you meant to do was look at pictures of your grandchildren, that can add up to some nasty data charges. offers these steps to turn off the auto-play feature:

    • Apple: Go to your phone’s Settings > click Facebook > click Settings > Select ‘Auto-play only on Wi-fi’, or ‘Off’.
    • Android: Android told us Facebook app functions can be controlled through the handset and through the Facebook app itself. When we tried it on a few devices in the office, we found the following steps worked via the Facebook app itself: Go to your Facebook account Settings > click App Settings > then within General Settings select ‘Auto-play only on Wifi’, or ‘Off.’

We would add that it’s a good idea to double-check all sites you visit frequently on a device in which you do not incur data charges to make sure that nothing auto-plays. (And, um, yes, this is why you should always avoid porn sites.)

As you’ve likely surmised, is a very useful site. It is based in the UK, however, so much of the advice on local services or regulated industries may not apply, but more general information on consumer products and services should still be of value.

All that Apple Excitement—What does it mean for Seniors?

We assume that today our readers fall into three groups: Those who’ve already gorged themselves on the news of Apple’s latest iPhone; those who are wondering whether there’s anything in all the hype they should care about, and those who long for a simple phone that just makes calls.

As for what you should care about, the big story is that now you can finally buy an iPhone with a larger screen, either 4.7 inches or 5.5 inches. There’s no question this is a benefit to aging eyes as well as aging hands, since it means the letters on virtual keyboards should be bigger.

Still, we must urge that if you have vision or finger flexibility concerns, you should try out any phone you plan to buy or lease in person. A reviewer’s “lightweight and elegant” may be your version of “heavy and clunky.”

The hardware should determine your choice, because unless you’re a power user, the operating system (OS) that runs your phone is likely to be fairly irrelevant to you. However, if you want to exchange data among multiple devices, such as your phone and your tablet, it will make your life easier to stick to one operating system.

That said, as more and more mobile health applications come online, which OS your phone runs may become increasingly important. Just like with software programs on desktop computers, not all apps are available or can run on all phones, so if you’re devoted to specific apps, you need to pay attention to which phone OS you choose.  For example, Apple’s new iOS8, available on its newly announced phones and downloadable on some of its older models, has a health app that will work in partnership with the Mayo Clinic.Continue Reading

SDCs–Self-Driving Cars

The most exciting development everyone in this room is going to live to see is driverless cars.

USC Professor Jeffrey Cole to AARP Ideas@50+ audience.

One of the biggest fears of getting older is losing the ability to drive. For those with enough money, that problem is getting closer to being solved. Mercedes Benz already offers enhanced “Intelligent Drive,” and GM has just announced that starting in the 2017 model year, Cadillacs will come equipped with an auto-pilot mode, which they will eventually offer on all their brands.

Many other manufacturers, including Nissan and Acura, have self-driving cars in the works, although the first generation offerings might better be described as “assisted driving,” since the driver in still in control of when to use the technology. For example, the Cadillac, as described in the Los Angeles Times, relies on the driver to determine when assistance is needed: “The system will allow drivers to switch the vehicle into a semi-automated mode in which it will automatically keep the car in its lane, making necessary steering adjustments, and autonomously trigger braking and speed control to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles.”

Most famously, Google has been piloting self-driving cars for several years, leading both the California legislature and insurance agencies to start thinking about questions of liability in accidents.Continue Reading

More Health Tech Competitions

Tricorders aren’t the only the pieces of future health tech in competition. This week, San Francisco’s RockHealth, which provides financial and other support for healthcare start-ups, announced the five winners of a pitch competition held at their recent Health Innovation Summit. Here’s the list of winners, edited from RockHealth’s site.

Grand Prize

  • On Demand Dietician, which enables simplified nutrition counseling for large companies that employ registered dietitians. It offers 24-hour access to text, talk, and video consultations.

Rock Health Award

  • Parzival, which aims to connect doctors and researchers to the most reliable sources for treatment and disease information. A pilot version of this medical search engine is being tested in 50 of the top U.S. hospitals.

People’s Choice Awards

  • Doorstep Health is transforming the continuity of care through new tools for chronic disease management.
  • HelpAround is connecting diabetics across the country. The mobile app is designed to offer layers of support to the 29.1 million Americans coping with the disease everyday. This includes a nearby network of users that can locate and contact each other for help, tailored advice forums, and access to a 24/7 medical call center.
  • Healthvana makes sexually transmitted infections* test results easily accessible and actionable for users. The mobile app directs user to the nearest testing centers, where they can receive results straight to their phones and privately share results with partners through the app.

*We assume most of you realize STIs are not limited to the young–heck, you may be doing your part to contribute the problem. Seriously, don’t forget this life-saving advice:


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

AARP Ideas @50+ in San Diego THIS WEEK

Thursday through Sunday (Sept 4,5,6) AARP brings its Ideas @50+ conference to the San Diego Convention Center, infamous home of Comic-Con. It will feature tracks on Health and Wellness; Money and Work; Technology and Innovation; Travel and Lifestyle, as well as an overall theme of “Life Reimagined.” For those who can’t attend this week, you can make plans for the spring version, which will take place next year in Miami from May 14th through 16th. Yeah, you can show those spring-break kids how it’s done!

In the meantime, here’s how gospel great Mavis Staples, one of the performers AARP has lined up for the San Diego Conference, celebrated her 75th birthday:



And if you really want to overturn senior stereotypes, we recommend La Jolla’s Surf Diva surfing school. When we asked if there were a recommended upper age limit on people starting surfing lessons, they replied: “Absolutely not, it’s a great idea! If you are able to swim and are physically in a shape where you are still active and enjoying being in the ocean, everybody can get on a board.”

Senior Tech Insider will be attending this week’s conference.  If you’d like to meet, please leave word in the Comments.

Brain-training for those with Alzheimer’s Disease?

Computerized “brain training” is supposed to be cross-training for the mind: If you master the specific challenges in the training software, your increased cognitive skills should carry over into the rest of your life, from making it easier to remember your grocery list to being better at creative endeavors like your tax returns (kidding!).

Last year, a meta-analysis (comprehensive review) of the professional literature on brain-training programs concluded, “…memory training programs appear to produce short-term, specific training effects that do not generalize.” In other words, as an article in The New Yorker warned, don’t spend money on a brain-training program in hopes of turning from Homer Simpson into Albert Einstein. However, the repetition in such programs could be potentially be useful in specific circumstances, such as helping Alzheimer’s patients retain some recognition of faces and places.

A brain-training system called MemVu, which appears that it might fulfill this promise, is now soliciting funding on IndieGoGo for enhancements to its system. What makes MemVu unique and possibly more useful than most general brain-training programs is that it allows users or their caregivers to upload personal photos, thus reinforcing familiar faces and landscapes for Alzheimer’s patients as they play the games. They also include features to help with currency recognition and way finding.

MemVu is already available to individuals and medical institutions for $14.95 a month, with annual subscription discounts. (We have to caution caveat emptor; we have not tried it.) As a lower-cost, lower-tech alternative to reinforcing memory for faces, you could consider creating a deck of cards with family photos, by using services like Shutterfly.


Another Day, Another Acronym

The FCC has published new rules for MBANs or “Medical Body Area Networks.” However you feel about government regulations, you have to be reassured that the FCC is making sure that the  frequency your doctor may one day use to check a diagnostic sensor on your body will be different from the one Amazon is using to fly a delivery drone over your house.

The FCC is quite optimistic about the future potential of MBANs. From their report:

MBAN devices promise to enhance patient safety, care and comfort by reducing the need to physically connect sensors to essential monitoring equipment by cables and wires.  Because they will provide a cost-effective way to monitor patients in health care institutions, MBAN systems can provide clinicians with more extensive real-time data that will permit faster patient intervention.  The resulting benefits – including reductions in emergency transfers and less exposure to hospital-acquired infections – could save countless lives and reduce nationwide health care expenses by billions of dollars.

If you wish to chew on the entire 35 pages, you can find them here. If you’d like a summary, please check our sister site, Health Tech Insider.

And if you need a quick reference for what all the acronyms you encounter in so many fields refer to, our favorite cheat sheet is Acronym Finder.