Apple Makes Play for Seniors With New Smartwatch Features

Technology giant Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) has unveiled a new version of its Apple Watch device that could shake up the senior living wearables landscape.

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Apple Watch Series 4 fall detection

The company detailed its plans for the new Apple Watch Series 4 during a special product event on Wednesday. In addition to hardware enhancements, the watch also sports a few new software tricks, including fall-detection technology that works with the help of an accelerometer and gyroscope to identify when hard falls occur. And if the Apple Watch detects such a fall, it may even call for help.

“By analyzing wrist trajectory and impact acceleration, Apple Watch sends the user an alert after a fall, which can be dismissed or used to initiate a call to emergency services,” the company noted in a press release. “If Apple Watch senses immobility for 60 seconds after the notification, it will automatically call emergency services and send a message along with location to emergency contacts.”

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The new Apple Watch will also come with a built-in electrical heart rate sensor that can take an electrocardiogram (ECG) using a new ECG app, purportedly the first-ever offered directly to consumers.

Taken together, the new features could change how senior living providers care for their residents, or at least keep track of them. Already, smart tech such as voice-activated assistants, sensors and wearables are gaining serious traction in the industry. And tech companies such as Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) see senior housing as an increasingly attractive setting for such devices.

More traditional tech retailers such as Best Buy, which recently acquired GreatCall for $800 million, are also getting in the game. Among other products, GreatCall makes a medical alert that can be worn around the wrist like a watch, and that syncs up with the wearer’s smartphone.

Falls a priority 

It makes sense that Apple would focus on fall detection and prevention with its new watch features. Falls are a major concern among older adults, and prevention and quick response is a major focus of senior living providers.

And it’s not just senior living operators worrying about falls, as residents’ adult children do, too. Just over half — 54% — of the 1,900 U.S. adults that participated in a 2016 survey by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University said they were worried about an older parent falling.

And yet, there are some unique roadblocks to widely implementing smart technology in senior housing settings. For instance, much of the voice-activated tech on the market today isn’t HIPAA-compliant, and some providers are feeling squeamish about letting a retailer like Amazon — which is making serious inroads in senior housing with its Alexa devices — reach their residents on a daily basis.

Today’s announcement from Apple is also sure to ruffle some feathers among providers of medical alert devices for older adults, such as GreatCall and Life Alert. But those companies shouldn’t fret about an overnight market takeover, according to Laurie Orlov, principal analyst for Aging in Place Technology Watch.

“This will not threaten the current market of emergency device services for senior housing because it requires a smart phone; it has more limited battery life; and its features are on a relatively small and complex screen,” Orlov told Senior Housing News. “For those older adults who have no device, worried about falling and want to look cool, it is a possibility. Also as a gift from an adult child who is an Apple Watch wearer.”

Written by Tim Regan

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