One in three people 65-years-old and older fall each year, and more than 300,000 hip fractures occur each year, mostly caused by falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control. What's more: one in five people die within a year of breaking their hip. Existing devices that aid those who fall enable them to call for help after the fall, in other words, once the damage has been done. Another shortcoming of the classic "I've fallen and can't get up" pendant is that it requires the wearer to push a button to signal for help.
Menlo Ventures-backed startup, Wellcore, which just launched today at CES, has joined the fray of a growing number of wireless health companies focused on fall detection by using wireless sensors (MediSens, iShoe, AT&T's smart slippers). The Wellcore device connects to a docking station via Zigbee wireless technology while at home and can even pair via Bluetooth with some cell phone models when the user is on-the-go.
While WellCore offers much of the same services as legacy pendants, during the last two and a half years the company has attempted to improve on the old personal emergency response system (PERS) model by taking it mobile, making it hands-free, adding motion detection and advanced pattern detection, including online monitoring and making it look more like a stylish fitness device.
"People typically refuse to wear the old PERS pendants," Casey Pittock, Wellcore's executive vice president of business development told MobiHealthNews. "There's a stigma around them: Our focus group called them 'institutional-looking.'" Wellcore put a lot of effort into making its brushed aluminum device stylish and even tapped the founder of Frog Design, Dr. Hartmut Esslinger to oversee the design process. In its first iteration, the device is not a pendant necklace, but rather a clip-on device.
Pittock pointed out that it wasn't just the stigma about the look of the old devices, but also their lack of daily usefullness. People had no compelling reason to wear it everyday -- it was only useful the maybe one or two times a year that the wearer fell down. Wellcore aimed to change that by creating an online dashboard for caregivers that tracks motion and learns daily patterns over time, while highlighting significant changes when they occur. The dashboard also displays notifications and alerts concerning everyday activity and safety.
Beyond just being a life line to the outside world, Wellcore's MPERS device is also an activity monitor, so caregivers and wearers alike can keep track of exercise, like daily walks or even just general mobility.
If Wellcore users still fail to clip-on their device, "Wellcore sends friendly reminders through the base unit, asking to be worn, and a notification appears on the online dashboard," according to the company's press release. "If the sensor is left unworn for an extended period of time, an email message is sent to a designated caregiver or family member."
The company said the device and docking station will cost $199 and the service will run about $49 a month. An additional device, which could be for a spouse or for a single user who might want to use it while the first one is charging (takes about an hour), will cost an additional $99. Wellcore will begin taking pre-orders in mid-February, and the system will be available via distribution partner firstSTREET beginning in March.
For more, read the company press release here