While it is important to note that no device can replace the advice of a qualified medical professional and a comprehensive safety plan, advances in wearable technology allow users to stay on top of certain medical conditions and receive help more quickly. Medical alert companies are adopting smartwatch technology, allowing for more effective safety monitoring for seniors.
1. Send alerts for help
One of the greatest concerns among the older generations —and those who care for them—is the possibility of a fall when no one is there to help. While many safety alert systems require users to press a button in case of a fall, several new smartwatches and alert systems feature a drop sensor that sounds an alarm to the user if a fall is detected. If the user doesn’t turn off the alarm manually, the device will alert emergency services personnel and the wearer’s emergency contacts. If fall detection and other safety features are a priority in your search for a wearable, check out our list of the best medical alert systems to compare companies that offer these and other features.
2. Combine health data collection with medical alert technology
While not every senior who lives alone is ready to adopt a smartwatch and connect it to their phone, some medical alert companies have combined the most useful features of smartwatches with lifesaving medical alert systems. Medical Guardian, a leader in the medical-alert industry, has developed a new medical alert device backed by smartwatch technology, with features like a one-touch alert button, voice-to-text communications, step counting, and more. For those who want to live independently but are not in the market for a traditional smartwatch, these devices offer key health monitoring benefits along with medical alert features.
3. Monitor pulse rates
A normal resting heart rate for adults is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. If your heart rate repeatedly falls outside this range while at rest, it can be a sign of a medical condition. With advanced pulse monitoring features, smartwatches can pick up on abnormal heart rate patterns and alert users if the rate falls outside of the healthy range. In several reported cases, smartwatch wearers did not feel the symptoms of a low or high heart rate, but a pulse alert from their device prompted them to seek medical attention to diagnose a serious, potentially fatal underlying problem.
4. Get help quickly, without using a phone
Sometimes, when an accident or emergency happens, it is impossible to get to the phone, let alone unlock it and make a call for help. Smartwatches offer the ability to call for help with the press of a single button without having the phone close at hand. Some models even offer separate cell service for the smartwatch, so your phone doesn’t need to be in Bluetooth range to make a phone call from the watch. In addition, several smartwatches offer quick access to medical information for first responders, allowing them to make critical lifesaving decisions without the need to unlock a phone or access medical records.
5. Track the electrical activity of your heart
In addition to pulse monitoring, several wearable devices have built-in technology to collect electrocardiogram (also called an ECG or EKG) data. An ECG records the electrical signals of the heart to collect data on the rhythm of the heartbeat and the strength of electrical impulses. Data from an ECG are important in diagnosing many cardiac conditions. While full ECGs are performed in doctors’ offices and hospitals using several electrodes and wires, certain smartwatches—such as later model Apple Watches—can record single-lead versions of ECGs, which can provide valuable information to physicians as they make crucial treatment decisions.
6. Remind you to stay active
Keeping moving is one of the key factors in a long and healthy life, helping you maintain a healthy weight, avoid depression, and keep your heart strong. Smartwatches can play an important role in reminding you to stand up, keep moving, and reach your exercise goals. While early smartwatches provided a basic pedometer to count steps, new technology can provide even more useful information, such as walking steadiness, which assesses your balance, strength, and gait. Now you can get notifications if your walking steadiness is poor enough to put you at an increased risk of falling. Using GPS data, along with heart rate and other metrics, smart watches can keep track of calorie expenditure to keep you informed on your fitness goals. In addition, medical alert companies like Medical Guardian are developing ways to seamlessly gather and share information on activity trends to help patients work more effectively to improve their overall health.
7. Improve your sleep
The quality and quantity of your sleep can make a huge difference in your quality of life and your health. Wearing a smartwatch to sleep can help you keep track of how much sleep you’re getting, how interrupted it is, and how much time you spend getting good quality sleep. While they don’t replace a true sleep study by medical professionals, data from advanced smartwatches can provide key information on blood oxygen levels, sleeping heart rates, and sleeping respiratory rates. Changes in these factors can alert patients and physicians about sleep apnea or other sleep-related health problems. This information can allow you to work with your physician to make important changes that can improve your sleep and your health.
8. Monitor blood oxygen levels
A blood oxygen level represents the percentage of oxygen your red blood cells carry from your lungs to the rest of your body, indicating how well your body absorbs oxygen and how efficiently your lungs are working. A reading between 95-100% is considered normal for a healthy adult, and lower readings can be an indicator of heart, lung, or circulatory issues. Normally measured with a monitor that fits over your finger, blood oxygen levels can now be measured at the wrist by several smartwatch brands, including Fitbit, Garmin, Mobvoi, Samsung, and Apple.
9. Get a handle on stress
Humans have evolved to function well with short bursts of stress, helping us avoid danger, boost energy, and perform better in tricky situations. Repeated bouts of stress, however, lead to a more chronic stressed state that can be detrimental to the cardiovascular system, digestion, and mental health. Several smartwatch brands offer useful ways to track and manage stress. These include basic features—like reminders to breathe deeply—and more advanced options that use a variety of measurements to calculate a stress management score. When users are alerted to poor stress scores, they can work to make positive changes to reduce and manage stress and avoid heart attacks and other stress-linked consequences.
10. Connect your watch to health metrics that matter to you
As wearable technology improves, there are more and more options to tailor your smartwatch features to your individual health needs. For diabetics and prediabetics, some smartwatches can connect to blood sugar monitoring systems, so lifesaving information is readily available, and glucose alerts can reach you even if your phone is not handy. For those who require frequent blood pressure measurements, there are specialized smartwatches that can take blood pressure readings directly at the wrist, and others that can connect to more traditional blood pressure systems. Some smartwatches can track skin temperatures throughout the day, alerting users to possible infection, stress, and other potential health risks.
With the ability to monitor our health and safety and call for help if needed, smartwatches are becoming more important tools to help keep us safe and healthy. If you are in the market for a smartwatch or wearable safety alert system, be sure to look for the health and safety features that are most important to you. While these devices cannot replace professional medical advice or a detailed safety plan, they can be a valuable–and sometimes lifesaving–addition to consider.