Sending out an SOS by watch phone for the elderly

Written by Kate McDonald on .

Sydney-based personal care technology company mCareWatch has released a mobile personal device for the elderly that is part wristwatch, part mobile phone, part emergency beacon.

Aimed at the elderly living in their own homes as well as the independent living and residential aged care sectors, the SOS Mobile Watch looks like and actually is a watch, but it also functions as a mobile phone, a GPS tracking device and a medical alert system.

mCareWatch is a new company founded by Australian brothers Peter Apostolopoulos and Paul Apostolis, which specialises in using technology to support carers, the elderly and chronically ill. The SOS Mobile Watch is the company's first product and has been in development over the last two years.

Mr Apostolopoulos has a long history in health IT, having worked for NSW Health and Queensland Health before heading to Singapore to work for telecommunications giant SingTel, while his brother – who changed the spelling of his surname many years ago – is a sales and marketing specialist.

Mr Apostolopoulos said that in addition to his background in health IT and eHealth, there was a personal reason for setting up the new company and aiming at the assisted living and personal care market.

The brothers' father suffered a stroke while driving, which prompted them to start looking at wearable devices that allowed people to alert carers or family members in an emergency. There are a number of personal alarms and pendant-style products on the market, but many of those require the wearer to stay within distance of a base station.

They can also be quite obtrusive and limit the independence of the wearer, whereas a device that looks like and actually is a watch, but which can also function as a mobile phone and even allow the user to set medications reminders, would be more palatable, Mr Apostolopoulos said.

“We are working with a manufacturer who has developed a watch phone before, but we needed to make sure that it could be tailored and made into a personal emergency response device,” he said. “We also wanted to also allow individuals – family members or friends – to be able to get in contact on a daily basis, to address all of those social isolation issues as well.

“People can call the watch as much as they want. All the wearer has to do, whether they are elderly or disabled, is press the orange button to answer calls. When they are in an emergency situation, they press the SOS button and it goes to a predefined list of carers and tries to get in contact with them. If they are unsure of where they are, the family member or carer can locate them via Google Maps on their smart phones using GPS technology built into the SOS Mobile Watch.”

mCareWatch has partnered with KORE Wireless to manage and deploy the device and it will use the Optus mobile digital network. It can be rented on a monthly data plan just like any mobile phone, and can also be purchased outright. Both payment options cover the watch and charger along with emergency calls, SMS and data charges.

It also works like a new-fangled walkie talkie, allowing carers to open up two-way communication in an emergency. If the wearer is incapacitated and can't answer the phone, authorised carers can send an SMS command to the watch, which automatically opens a two-way voice call without the watch wearer having to press a button.

“If a family member doesn't respond to a normal call – you ring it as you would ring a mobile phone – and they don't respond, you can send a command to it which opens a two-way communication,” Mr Apostolopoulos said. “That's good if they have had a fall and can't press the button. You can open up that two-way communication and say, 'Mum, Dad, are you okay?'”

The device can be pre-programmed with up to three auto speed-dial SOS numbers and all the wearer has to do is press a button. If the first contact doesn't answer, it will automatically call the next number. It also features an alarm clock that can be used for medication or meal reminders.

The company is targeting consumers initially, offering older people living in their own homes the ability to remain independent but in touch, but it has also had discussions with aged care providers, particularly those that provide independent living accommodation.

“The first steps for us was to get it up and running for the consumer channel – people can purchase it online – but at the same time we have also received a lot of interest from the industry and service providers,” he said.

“We have a number of aged care providers that we are talking to right now, who want to make it available to their residents in aged care facilities but also independent living. It allows them to continue with their social activities and their daily walks but gives them the peace of mind that they can contact people in an emergency. It's all about mobility, and that's what people want.”

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