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Philips Lifeline achieves passivity -- plus startups and trade associations emerge

Spring has sprung for new and improved tech. Companies in the tech arena of supporting seniors and their caregivers are sporting fresh features and new companies have decided to shake off winter and launch at the Chicago ASA Conference. Each of these announcements is a significant one -- viewed collectively, 2010, as predicted, is already an interesting year -- and it's only March!

Philips Lifeline adds a passive fall detection feature.  Philips Lifeline launched an upgraded PERS (aka Medical Alert) service that includes passive fall detection -- similar to the capability included in products from Halo Monitoring launched in January 2009 and Wellcore, launched in January 2010. Lifeline "customers will have an additional $13/month option to add automatic fall detection to their button. If they fall and can’t push their buttons, call agents will automatically receive a call. The technology works by measuring the direction, velocity, height and impact of the subscriber’s movement." 

Lifeline's marketing message is stark. The brochure shows an older woman face-down (presumably unconscious) on the floor and is captioned "How would you get help at a moment like this?" The website is enhanced, in case you couldn't imagine it, with an older man in the same position, face down. Perhaps the intent is direct targeting of the always charming Life Alert "I've fallen and I can't get up" messaging. At any rate, the passive fall detection is an improvement, for sure, and will especially appeal to the most worried Lifeline customer families, especially those where chronic conditions could result in falls that leave them unconscious and with the old Lifeline, perhaps unattended for some time. According to yesterday's NY Times article, however, the product, like most other PERS products, cannot be used outside the home." There is progress to push the limits of traditional PERS -- but we have a distance to go where these products need to be (simple, mobile, passive, strong battery).

 Aging Technology Alliance launches at ASA/NCOA event. We've often noted that most of the innovation in tech for aging in place is coming from small vendors -- whose size equates with low visibility in the aging technology market segment. This week, a number of small vendors banded together to give themselves a boost and a voice. The new trade association (AgeTek.Org), which will be a dues-based non-profit (akin to a virtual 'chamber of commerce', says board chair Peter Radsliff of Presto). The informational meeting for those at the Aging in America event was standing room only -- with both vendors and interested non-profit organizations. AgeTek has two purposes: "to promote awareness, benefits, and value of member products and services, and to assist in the advancement of member companies and individual members."  AgeTek has posted a partial list of its members -- more on this when there's more.

Other new entrants. Remote monitoring and caregiving vendors surfaced with three different takes on the need for families, providers, and caregivers to stay in touch with seniors.  Emota.net announced its limited beta of its 'emotional networking' offering using a touch-screen picture frame mode for enabling communication between seniors and caregivers (both family and professional). BeClose Networks announced its wireless home monitoring offering based on sensors and a base station that builds on home security platform capability from Alarm.com. And Early Bird Alert, launching later this year, offering a customizable "home healthcare patient-centric device that enables two-way communications".

More new vendors as they emerge over the coming weeks and months. Believe me, there are plenty!


I think emota.net is going to be a AIPT pacesetter as busy baby boomer caregivers become aware of their product.

I reviewed this product and found it deceptively simple and effective. The emota.net product has a focused purpose aand simple operation which is beneficial for a large portion of users. I look for this company to add to this product and come up with similar products using the same technoilogy. It is a winner.


Gene-Loeb Ph.D.
Center for Technology and Mental Health if Elderly

Hi Peter, Gene and Laurie:

Thanks for your kind mentions. At Emota, we were thrilled by the support and encouragement we received from the community last week at Aging in America.

As Gene mentioned, EmotaMe will be the first of a series of Emotional Networking products to help clinicians, families, and patients establish an ongoing and proactive care circle around the elderly patient.

As we move forward, we would love to collaborate with the AIPT community to put these technologies into meaningful use.


Paul To
CEO & Founder
Emota.net Inc.

More precisely, I don't get why (on the products page of the website) the screenshot shows something that looks like a child's picture book. Isn't this supposed to be for adults?

Hi Steve:

The Emota system allows user to select different story / display themes (eg. a car theme for grandpa, or a scrapbook theme for mom). In the future, user communities and partners may even be able to add their own artwork, screen components, etc.

The theme you saw on the web site is the first theme we produced. For this theme, we very much have the grandchildren in mind, taking advantage of that "skip generation bond" between the digital kids and digital seniors. This is also due to a pilot opportunity we are working on.

If you are interested in getting a sneak peek on future themes and providing feedback, please email us at info at emota dot net.


Paul To

Hi Paul,

Thanks for the clarification. I believe you are trying to do something important, so please take the following comments as feedback, not criticism. Unfortunately, what I see and what I read e.g. "a car theme for grandpa, or a scrapbook theme for mom" and references to "the elderly" do not help me shake off the impression that there is a streak of ageism (and probably sexism) running through the culture of Emota. Overall, it feels like you are more intent on doing something 'for' older people rather than 'with' them.

However, I shall be happy to be proved wrong in due course.

Regards, Steve

Hi Steve:

Sure, I would be glad to prove you wrong. :)

The theme system I mentioned allows users to choose art and display themes based on their own personal preferences. The car theme for grandpa was given as an example, but anyone can choose from any number of themes.

Regarding the "for vs. with" comments, the whole point is to provide a fun and engaging experience for people of all ages to interact.



Hi Steve and Paul,

Interesting and familiar dialogue between you two.

As long as AIPT companies insist on putting older adults into the " frail seniors box", the longer it will take for useful new tchnologies to be adopted.

I agree with you Paul when you point out that " the whole point is to provide a fun and engaging experience for people of all ages to interact ( e.g. FarmVille ).  Therefore the theme choices provided to users should be wide enough to appeal to all age groups.

Marketing myopia and semantic traps will cause a lot of failures in the AIPT space in months to come.

Now is the time to forge a whole new set of positive descriptors and images for this season in the lives of baby boomers.




Your comment was very interesting and has potential. Could you please expound on it for clearer understanding?
Some seniors are frail and need assistance. I have been researching the whole area of technology and elders and we are at a place of rapid development and the AGETEK trade association is very useful in providing direction. You state that many companies will fail in the near future? A further explanation be very useful.

GeneLoeb Aronin, Ph.D.

I've pondered a bit more on matters of ageism in equipment and service design over on Telecare Aware in a 'Soapbox' item: The Tina and Mick Test


Steve, I looked at your site and was very impressed at your insight. I agree with you and urge others to look at your materials.

Laurie started an interesting, useful and lively discussion under http://www.ageinplacetech.com/blog/empower-user-product-design-assumptio...

Let's continue the conversation over there.

Thanks, Paul.
I am going over there now. This networking is great and helps a lot of people.

It is interesting to see Philips and Lifeline in the US starting to catch up with the UK where fall detectors have been frequently provided to telecare users for the past five years at least.

I assume they have done their research carefully but it would be good if they would publish any real-life data they have on the percentages of false positives and false negatives associated with their kit as these devices do not have a good reputation on these fronts in the UK.

The problems arise from the lack of sophistication of the algorithms used to assess the data from the devices' on-board accelerometers to decide whether a fall has taken place or not, combined with the tendency for people to cancel alerts after a fall when they manage to sit or stand up when, in fact, they could do with some help at that time.

By the way, if any large companies wish to incorporate a 'better' algorithm for body-worn fall detectors I can put them in touch with a young company that seems to have developed one.

Steve Hards
Editor, Telecare Aware

Please check the new Philips Lifeline site out for yourself -- watch as it scrolls through a slide show set of images.  Don't miss this Lifeline with Auto Alert page, further down the site.  Let me know if the image of face-down older adults is working for you -- or perhaps even seniors that you show. I spoke with Philips' Mark Rutherford today, who told me about the extensive research with caregivers and consumers, that the biggest competition for Philips is from denial about falls, not competitors, and that the third party channels and Lifeline's own customers endorsed it.


Please read my following comments in light of the fact that I think it is GREAT that a company with the market reach of Philips has recognised at last that the pendant alarm by itself is inadequate.

I've now read Philips's promotional page and watched the video. What struck me was not the image of the face-down person, but the words "if it detects a fall". Not, note, "when it detects a fall". This is surely an implicit admission that there are times when there will be 'false negatives' (i.e. people fall and it is not detected - try a slow slumpy fall from a sitting position). The question is how many, and under what circumstances? Would Philips like to publish their research data on their device? It would also be interesting to see the "if it detects a fall" get-out clause in their terms and conditions.

I was also surprised at the automatic cancellation of alert calls after 30 seconds if it appears that the person has recovered in some way, such as sitting up. Philips pitches this as a way of saving the person from embarrassment but presumably the thinking is actually to reduce the number of 'false positives', such as if the pendant is dropped and picked up. However, as I mentioned above, people who fall and get up may almost certainly be need be in need of some assistance to recover, to deal with a face wound, or just to have their situation reviewed to see if the likelihood of further falls can be prevented.

Getting back to the image of the face-down person, my take is that it is a reflection of the difficulty of marketing this development. You don't want to undermine the message of additional help by stating all the exceptions, so you illustrate the one circumstance where it genuinely helps. Never mind that the majority of falls are not like that.

Dear Steve Hards,

I am actually looking for a proven fall detection algorithm based on an accelerometer to be embedded on a sensor attached to the user's chest. Can you recommend me any company? My e-mail is hlopez@dei.uminho.pt.

Best regards,

Ah yes, the always charming 'terrorize the customer' message, but more restrained than Life Alert's. But not flipped to the positive. If their marketers had sat in on the 'What's Next' Summit presentation by Paul O'Neill of the National Academy on an Aging Society, they would have seen his data on how the brain changes of older adults begin to ignore negative messages and focus on emotional narratives.

I suspect one of their marketing tacks will be to go to all current customers with an offer to upgrade their current systems. However $13/month additional is a steep charge especially for seniors on fixed incomes.

I do wonder like Steve how the accelerometer in the pendant compensates for swinging about the neck in typical activities, or even being removed. Both Halo and Wellcore sensors are worn in lower movement positions attached to the chest (Halo--band, Wellcore--clip) or torso. Also, being a pendant (worn around the neck), how likely is it to be worn during the bedroom-to-bath trip which is a frequent fall occasion? (See the Philips video for a good illustration of both shortcomings.) And Wellcore has an out of home (through cell phone) feature that is reassuring (as long as there's coverage, increasingly less of an 'iffy proposition') and positive (it says 'I'm active').

Donna Cusano
Editor, North America, Telecare Aware

Lifeline is the leading provider of personal response services so this was the first brand that I’ve reviewed when I was looking for an excellent PERS for my mother. To my surprise however, I found several unsatisfied customers of Lifeline Systems. Many of them talk about the inability of this company to fulfill its promises. They talked about how the Lifeline System associates failed to provide their loved ones with the proper and immediate assistance they need. They also raised that the company did not do anything to recompense the trouble they cause. I don’t think I would still dare trust a company with such feedbacks so I searched for a better alternative.

Great thanks to those customers who voiced out their dissatisfaction to Lifeline Systems. Through that, I found Just5 phone. Just5 phone beholds a lot of qualities that surpass the prided qualities of Lifeline Systems. First of all, this does not bound the elderly within their home as they can carry this device wherever they go without a hassle. Just5 phone also allows the user to get a direct contact to people who they will program to be contacted in times of need. Moreover, Just5 phone is available to all because of its very reasonable price.

I find this multifunctional device to be very practical and useful. So I won’t mind spending some time sharing it. People should really know about it anyway!

Do you have any commercial interests in Just5 phones?  If so, please advise. 

I notice that Agetek.org uses the Apple favicon on their web site. Does Apple have an affiliation with the group? They are not listed as members.

Or, did Agetek need a favicon and just happened to like Apple's?


That's about it!


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