Just one generation ago, wearable tech sounded like science fiction. Things have changed profoundly since then. Walk down any street and you’ll pass people wearing all kinds of personal technology. One in five Americans now owns a smartwatch or fitness tracker, or the two combined in a medical alert smartwatch. And Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids were once expensive, experimental and hard to find, but this has now mushroomed into a more than two-billion dollar market.
Wearables and hearables are just the tip of the personal technology iceberg. Tech developers large and small are working on the next wave of wearable technology. Some of the hottest areas of development include smart sensors and mobile personal emergency response systems (mPERS). These are gaining traction for both personal and business-related use. Two of the most promising areas for growth are among seniors and companies that have vulnerable employees.
Wearable Tech for Healthier, Safer Seniors
Seniors were some of the earliest adopters of mPERS technology. The well known pendant from Life Alert came out in the late Eighties and continues to serve the market. The earlier iterations of this tech had just one function, connecting the wearer with a monitoring service at the press of a button. However, modern options have gotten much more sophisticated. Features now include emergency alerts, GPS tracking, fall detection, voice-activation and biometrics such as heart rate.
Many seniors are choosing to age in place or with family caregivers. They don’t have the safeguards of round-the-clock monitoring in an assisted living facility. Meanwhile, overstretched caregivers can’t watch their loved one 24 hours a day. The right mPERS device acts as a valuable safety net. It can give the older adult the confidence to stay independent while taking pressure off of caregivers.
Despite these advantages, tech developers need to solve some barriers to use. Cost is a major issue. Insurance companies and Medicaid often don’t cover device purchase or monitoring subscriptions. To persuade insurance companies, developers will need publish solid data on efficacy.
Another major barrier is privacy concerns. Seniors are disproportionately targeted by scammers seeking their personal information. Some hesitate to pick up more sophisticated mPERS devices, worrying that this may be another avenue for hackers to access their information. And technology that monitors their health may be constrained by privacy laws like HIPAA. Tech developers are still working on solving these challenges as they expand into this space.
Vulnerable Workers Protected by Mobile Tech
A variety of industries are also interested in how mPERS can protect workers at risk. Many businesses rely on remote and mobile workers to handle critical tasks. These employees often work solo, sometimes at odd hours or during dangerous conditions. Consider the lone person working night shift at a convenience store, or high-risk workers in places like liquor stores or marijuana dispensaries. Other obvious at-risk workers include utility workers repairing power lines after or during a storm, real estate agents meeting strangers in empty buildings, surveyors working on foot in rugged, rural areas, and delivery drivers bringing takeout across town let at night.
Compared with less risky occupations or shifts, these employees have obviously elevated risks. In a crisis, they may need to call emergency services to deal with accidents or angry criminals. Voice-activation or more subtle button design can be particularly useful here.
Fall detection isn’t just a concern for seniors. It could also be life-saving for certain workers, such as construction workers, people on ships or oil rigs, or utility workers. All of these might benefit from emergency fall detection. In the case of an accident, they might not be able to press a button or call for help. The device can do that for them.
Other promising safety features include detecting driver fatigue, cautioning about potential heat stress, and warning the wearer of dangerous, odorless gas.
A few cities across the country are embracing mPERS devices for certain job positions. Both Seattle and Chicago have mandated an accessible panic button or contact point for lone workers, including the overlooked hazardous occupation of hotel housekeeper harassed by guests. Wearable tech is often more effective than installed panic buttons, since employees may not be able to reach and hit the button in time.
Nationally, however, business adoption of this technology is still in its infancy. Many companies are not yet convinced that the costs of a small fleet of mPERS is justified. Device manufacturers will need to find a way to collect data while preserving user privacy. Businesses need to see how wearables affect the bottom line. That means hard figures on safety, reduced injuries, and boosted efficiency.
The Market Intersection
What happens when seniors and vulnerable workers are the same people, when seniors are doing the risky work? By 2026, it’s projected that almost two out of every five adults aged 65 to 69 will still be employed. Whether by choice or by necessity, they’ll be working in shops, delivery services, and other positions.
This population faces many of the same challenges of other remote and mobile workers. What if something goes wrong when they’re isolated? Working seniors may also be managing unpredictable health conditions. What if they’re the only employee in-store and they collapse?
An mPERS can connect the senior to remote troubleshooting, advice from a manager and other aid. Sensors that detect falls and other health changes may summon emergency services, even if the senior is unresponsive. Wearable tech can help older workers balance the demands of a tough job with their changing health and capabilities.