Wearable Devices Could Prompt Major Shift in Senior Care

For certain care applications, including senior care, a shift toward wearable devices including wristwatches has widespread implications.

The market for wearable computing devices a la the forthcoming iWatch from Apple and Jawbone UP, which is already settled snugly on wrists across the globe, is expected to explode in the coming years. Global researcher ABI estimates there will be 485 million annual device shipments of wearable computing devices by 2018.

“The furor about wearable technologies, particularly smart watches and smart glasses is unsurprising,” said Josh Flood, senior analyst at ABI Research following a recent report on the market. “Apple’s curved glass-based watch could prove to be a revelation in the wearable technologies market. The major question is whether the digital timepiece will act as a complementary device to the company’s iPhone smartphones or as a standalone product with other functionalities like health or activity tracking capabilities.”

Currently, wearable computing devices are estimated to be about 61% focused on sports and activity, according to ABI’s research, but in particular as more devices enter the market and the products become more affordable, their entry into the market for senior caregivers is expected to surge.

The iWatch, yet to hit Apple stores has an anticipated release in 2013, and could be a wearable version of the tech giant’s iOS software platform, which features maps, voice command, and presumably could act as a wearable sensor.

Jawbone’s UP, which is already sold through mass retailers including Apple and Best Buy and comes with a price tag of $130, monitors heart rate as well as sleep patterns. The UP wristband, which comes in three sizes and fits snugly like a watch, collects data on the wearer, which can be uploaded and analyzed.

The implications for senior care are vast, say ABI’s researchers.

“Healthcare providers and caregivers alike are looking for devices to improve the monitoring of seniors in their own homes as economics and demographics increasingly drive that demand” says Jonathan Collins, principal analyst at ABI Research.

Providers are beginning to emerge toward that end.

In May, BioSensics and Aventyn Inc. announced a partnership to offer a mobile remote monitoring platform for physical activity, ECG, gait, and posture—PAMSys—with elderly care being a key market segment.

The Metria wearable sensor made by Avery Dennison includes a wearable sensor that affixes to the wearers skin, taking the system a step further toward health administration by also providing algorithms to analyze the data it collects and help advise next steps.

“The ability to leverage wireless communications—either using short range or cellular—in a form factor that can be worn without restriction or discomfort will help extend the ability of seniors to live independently and caregivers to provide crucial care,” writes ABI, noting the opportunity for new players to enter the market, bolstering projections of the market for monitoring devices to grow at a rate of 55.9% annually to more than 36 million units globally in 2017.

“Connectivity suppliers, wearable device and health gateway vendors, online applications, and existing vertically integrated players are all ramping up their offerings to meet the demands of this growing market,” says Collins.

Written by Elizabeth Ecker