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The PERS industry must do a better job of serving seniors

These are tech transition times for everyone – including seniors and their devices.  In case you didn’t see it, the Pew numbers about smartphone use are out – 27% of the 65+ have smartphones, up from 19% last year. Given the date of that data (from last fall), let’s just assume that this number is actually lower than today's reality.  So why should a PERS reseller or manufacturer care?  First because carriers don’t want to sell feature/clamshell phones any more. They make it difficult to even find them. They are selling smartphones to people who don’t want or use all of the features they have, but they’re buying them anyway because that is what they’re being sold.  In retrospect, Philips Lifeline might have seen the near term PERS future – and it could be a smartphone – and thus an app. And thus -- why have more than one device? And why not pair a tiny pendant or clip to a smartphone? Or make a watch?

Scaring seniors into buying old-fashioned PERS is hurting them.  You may not remember that memorable columnist Jane Glenn Haas – and her article about laying on the floor on Christmas Day for 10 hours after falling, blaming herself for not wearing her button. Two weeks later she wrote a column about the importance of reducing fall risk. Three weeks later she died at age 75 of a stroke, no doubt a side effect of 10 hours alone on the floor with a broken arm and smashed face. I found a number of images of Jane Glenn Haas that showed that she wore a watch. Could she have used a device that was part of her watch? Or her watch band? Clearly she put that watch on every day.  Security company G2i has brought the Limmex mobile PERS watch into the US (no smartphone needed) – hopefully its marketing of the watch improves from near zero – good luck finding it on their website. Lively has switched to marketing a PERS watch – pairing with a smartphone for use outside the house -- does the target market have a smartphone? And finally, how often do senior housing executives who hand out PERS devices at move-in think about the functionality those devices do NOT have?  

Smart devices are out there – just not for seniors. A wrist-worn device in 2011 could tell a runner to pause and drink water. None do this for seniors who are often dehydrated when admitted to the hospital.  Wrist-worn devices could do lots of things that GPS trackers do; that health-related fall detectors may do; that fitness wearables, and now smarter watches, including those from Switzerland, can all or will shortly be able to do. And for everyone who wants to start in on their usual PERS song-and-dance about long battery life or other old refrains about why the industry is forever, save your breath.  The new and older smartphone owner will be charging their phones daily. If they don’t remember to do that, seriously should they be living alone? Will they be for long?   

PERS makers and sellers are doing a very slow dance at advancing technology prowess. Sadly, this is 2015 -- when cool and/or stylish devices will be are jumping onto young wrists all around. But we are still reading articles about the failure rate of auto alerting about a fall.  We are still reminded about 95% accuracy or other PERS imperfections at detection and notification. Mobile PERS device makers know that their products could do more and that they could integrate with more data – they could be capable of knowing patterns of movements, decline in activity over time, alerts about gait changes (but with a real watch!); about noticing inactivity and motionlessness beyond lack of exercise -- how about the motionlessness of death? They could implement much better integration with telehealth information, remote disease diagnostics, monitoring and much more. They could do more with geo-fences and zones to protect the cognitively impaired – not just prisoners or hospital escapees. The cell phone market is $60 billion in the US, the wearable computing market will be $30.2 billion globally by 2018. Uh, that's really not that far in the future! The PERS market will barely be $1.5 billion (though who really knows?) in 2017. Why don’t PERS vendors innovate? Are they waiting for the last of the Life Alert TV ads to disappear or be outlawed? Are they waiting for the target demographic to age out and the smartphone-toting boomers to switch to smart watches? What is everyone in this industry really waiting for? Someone else to go first?



Laurie, I think you hit the nail on the head with this:

They are selling smartphones to people who don’t want or use all of the features they have, but they’re buying them anyway because that is what they’re being sold.

When you combine this with Deloitte's data that 30% of the 65+ smartphone owners have never downloaded a single app, you get that same picture that says there is a segment of the population that has a smart phone -- but it's just a phone to them. The "smart" part isn't used.

Laurie, my name is Doug Hopkins and I am the founder of . I had worked in Sales for a major PERS competitor and was listening to the customers every day who were looking for a Medical Alert that worked with a smartphone. I couldn't understand why nobody was doing it. The whole wearable market was focused on health and fitness forgetting about the Seniors. There are 10,000 people a day retiring over the next 15 years and nobody will have a landline. I spoke with an old Microsoft buddy of mine and ask him was it feasible? Well, 14 months later we opened for business. Better Alerts works with a Pebble Smart watch, Better Alerts Ios or Android App and a web service. We believe our Patent Pending technology will revolutionize the PERS and MPERS industry. We have a Client App and a Caregiver App that offer a number of features:


-Fall Detection w/ GPS Location in North America

-Medicine Reminders Sent to Pebble Smart Watch™& Caregiver App

-Text & Email Alerts w/ GPS Tracking

-Safe Zone w/ GPS Tracking

-Direct Call to 911 or Emergency Response Center w/ GPS Tracking

-Daily Activity Reports

-Direct Call to Caregiver When A Fall Occurs or on Pebble Smart Watch™ Button Press

I wish I had know about the App Awards at the CES this year, I would have submitted an entry.

As technology evolves we will develop it for other wearables as well. We chose Pebble because its an open platform, waterproof and affordable. Just thought I would let you know we're here.