It seems as though, each year, more and more technology is integrated into the things we wear. Smartwatches are nearly as popular as cell phones, and even things like socks now come with computer chips and sensors in them!
Though not every type of “wearable technology” is going to benefit you personally, these products have great potential for seniors. Take a look at all the types of wearable technology for the elderly below and see which products/technologies can help you!
What is Wearable Technology?
Since the invention of the first wristwatch, people have worn technology, in one way or another. Today, wristwatches are the lowest form of technology that a person can wear- people use smartwatches, fitness trackers, VR headsets, and more!
“Wearables” are designed to be devices that you have on your body for extended amounts of time, sometimes around the clock. They perform a variety of different functions, from aiding in exercise to pure entertainment, but their purpose is generally uniform: to leverage technology to make life a bit easier or lighter.
Brief History of Wearable Technology
Wristwatches date back to the late 1800s when they were used both for fashion and to aid military officers. After that development, little changed in wearable devices for more than a century.
The first GPS watch, a device used by athletes and avid exercisers to track their distance and speed, was released in 1999. In that time, fitness devices have progressed leaps and bounds, and other types of wearable tech have also sprung up.
Today, there are many devices, oftentimes very affordable, that perform a range of tasks, such as:
- Tracking your heart rate,
- Monitoring blood glucose levels,
- Answer text messages and respond to notifications
- Analyzing VO2 max, a key indicator of heart and lung strength,
- Providing emergency alert services a la the classic “Life Alert”,
- And even watching movies/playing video games with cutting-edge VR technology.
Over the last quarter-century, much of the effort in wearable technology has been concentrated around making them faster, more accurate, and more convenient. In 2021 and beyond, these devices will continue to grow more popular, becoming, even more, a part of everyday life and promoting healthier, safer, and more connected lifestyles.
Types of Wearable Technology
Definitions: “Technology” vs “Device”
Before we start describing these technologies, it’s necessary to put out two quick definitions. The reason for this is that many wearable tech devices will incorporate more than one type of technology.
Wearable technology, in this context, refers to the actual technological/electronic process that happens (for example, heart rate monitoring). A wearable tech device refers to the product that uses the technology (for example, heart rate monitoring technology inside a smartwatch).
Below, you’ll find descriptions of all kinds of wearable tech, which are included in many different wearable tech devices. Sometimes, a device will only use one type of wearable tech, but many times they incorporate several types of technology into one product.
Now that we’ve clarified that, let’s get on to the types of wearable tech:
If you own a smartwatch, there’s a strong chance you can monitor the quality of your sleep, simply by keeping it on as you sleep. Other devices look like small rings and are worn as you sleep to track your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and more to analyze the quality of your sleep.
Using a smartphone app, you can evaluate whether or not your sleep habits are good for your body. This technology can be very beneficial if the data shows your sleep habits need adjustment.
If you’re tired (pun intended) of waking up groggy and sluggish, use a sleep tracker to evaluate the quality of your nightly schedule may be just as effective as sleeping more, using sleeping aids, or even getting a CPAP machine – though serious sleep issues should always be treated with a doctor’s help.
Wearable Tech for Diabetes
The best wearable tech for diabetes comes in the form of a product called a “Continuous Glucose Monitor” (GCM). These products keep track of your blood glucose levels 24/7, alerting you of any spikes or dips that could be cause for concern. Instead of pricking your finger daily, devices like the Dexcom G6 can be worn discreetly for 10 days at a time.
If you have diabetes and want a convenient, more effective way to keep track of your blood glucose, a GCM device is perfect for you. They’re simpler, give you a better picture of your blood sugar throughout the day, and require much less effort/memory to use.
Wearable Tech for Blood Pressure
Measuring blood pressure is never fun; usually, it requires strapping a vinyl band to your arm and having it squeezed until your blood pressure can be calculated. Fortunately, there are some devices that make getting a blood pressure reading much less annoying and invasive. There are even some smartwatches that will measure your blood pressure 24/7!
Blood pressure is an important metric for people who have cardiovascular diseases, and high blood pressure increases your risk of strokes and arterial issues. If you have suffered from hypertension in the past, a wearable blood pressure monitor can give you peace of mind and help you detect issues early!
Wearable Heart Rate Monitors
Monitoring your heart rate is a simple and effective way to keep track of your cardiovascular health and avoid overworking yourself during exercise. You can also use them to detect atrial fibrillation (a heart problem accompanied by an irregular heartbeat), track the depth of your sleep, and look out for bradycardia (an abnormally low heart rate) and tachycardia (abnormally high).
The two most popular types of heart rate monitors are found in smartwatches/fitness watches and as separate products- chest strap heart rate monitors. You can also find heart rate monitors that attach to your finger, just like the ones found in hospitals; these are more helpful for serious medical issues than they are general fitness.
Electrocardiograms are used to detect a variety of cardiovascular issues and can help diagnose the causes of tension, heartburn and other issues. ECGs can be crucial in diagnosing pulmonary artery disease, alerting you to heart attack warning signs, and more.
The newest generation of the Apple Watch, and some other watches, have built-in ECG monitors. In just a couple of minutes, you can get a helpful and potentially life-saving analysis of your heart and cardiovascular health. If you aren’t interested in getting a smartwatch, you can get a portable ECG monitor that will fit into a bag or purse, though it isn’t technically a “wearable”.
If you have a history of heart issues, arterial problems, or are concerned about heart disease/heart attacks, an ECG monitor can be a great resource to you. Any past or present heart issue can be detected with an ECG, and having this technology in your possession can save you many trips to the doctor’s office!
Wearable Air Conditioners
Record-breaking heat waves seem to happen more and more often. Even when the heat isn’t topping 100 degrees, sweltering summers can be a stressful time. Heat is a large risk for seniors because their bodies do not cool themselves as efficiently as younger people.
If you have a solid AC unit in your home or car, you don’t have too much to worry about – unless the power grid fails, that is. When you are outdoors, however, it is very helpful to have something to keep your body temperature low.
Wearable air conditioners, such as the Torras Coolify, sit over your neck and shoulders, gently circulating air and cooling you down. They’re battery-powered and whisper-quiet, meaning you can take them anywhere without becoming a distraction.
However, portable fans with cooling elements can be pretty expensive. If you want to save money, you can also get a wearable neck fan– they’re exactly the same except for the fact that they don’t have cooling elements. Instead, they simply circulate air at its current temperature.
Still, though, wearable neck fans are very effective at keeping you cool, whether you’re walking around the neighborhood, exercising, or trying to stop sweating inside your home during the summer!
Wearable Air Purifiers
It’s no secret that the air quality around the country and world isn’t what it was 50 or 100 years ago. While most places have generally clean air (you can check air quality in your area here), it can fluctuate depending on the season and weather. For example, wildfire season in the American West drastically changes air quality for days, even weeks, at a time.
People with asthma and other breathing/lung-related health concerns are particularly vulnerable to low-quality air. If you have one of these conditions or live in a city with poor air quality, you may want to consider getting yourself a wearable air purifier. They filter pollutants, pollen, and other particles from the air before it hits your lungs. They aren’t the most stylish in the world, but they are essential items for people with asthma, severe allergies, or who live in areas with bad air.
Smartwatches are highly convenient devices that perform a range of functions, including tracking various aspects of your health, and often incorporating multiple wearable technologies.
Because these devices are so popular and complex, we’re going to spend a bit of extra time laying out their most common features:
- Cellular/Wi-fi Connectivity: smartwatches allow you to connect to your phone and internet networks. You can receive and respond to text messages, social media updates, take phone calls and even get directions from your maps app.
- GPS: Just like your phone, a smartwatch can connect to satellites and give you precise data about where you are, how fast you are moving, etc. This is helpful not only for getting around but also for exercising. You can track your runs, walks, or cycling activities with highly accurate and reliable data.
- Heart Rate Tracking: Nearly every smartwatch has a heart rate monitor built-in. The benefits of tracking your heart rate are hard to ignore, and their inclusion on smartwatches is very valuable.
- VO2 Max: many smartwatches can also track your VO2 Max, a number that describes how efficient your cardiovascular system is. It’s a good indicator of your overall heart/lung health, useful for athletes and sedentary people alike.
- Step Tracking: The CDC suggests that, unless you get vigorous exercise each day, you take at least 10,000 steps per day. This equates to, roughly, 5 miles each day. Smartwatches track each and every step you take, not just on walks but also at work and around the house, helping you keep yourself accountable and healthy.
- SOS/Emergency Alerts: Many smartwatches have a built-in SOS feature, alerting 911 if you find yourself in trouble and aren’t near your phone. It’s an important safety feature that can give you greater peace of mind when exercising far from your home.
- Music: smartwatches can also connect to your Bluetooth headphones and play your favorite music, podcasts, or radio programs, even when you don’t have your phone nearby.
- Calorie Counting: When you get a smartwatch, you’ll be asked to enter your age, height, and weight so that the watch can accurately track your steps- and count the calories you burn. The question of how much a person should eat is directly related to how much they burn, so having an accurate count of your daily calorie burn is very helpful!
Smartwatches are incredibly popular devices that make it easier to stay healthy, safe, and connected. If you are looking for a device that can almost do it all, a smartwatch is what you want!
The only downside to smartwatches is that they can be very pricey– a new Apple Watch retails for over $400, and Samsung/Android-powered watches aren’t much cheaper. If you have a bit of money to spend, though, you’ll soon find that your smartwatch becomes an indispensable part of your daily routine.
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) use satellite signals to provide extremely accurate location tracking. GPS trackers, most often found in fitness watches (such as the Garmin Forerunner 235) and smartwatches, provide incredibly useful data for exercise.
When using a GPS tracker, you can get real-time data about your speed, distance traveled, and average pace. If you’re a serious runner, hiker, or cyclist, the data from a GPS tracker can not only be insightful but also provide tremendous motivation. Many people dislike exercise, but having the distance/speed data available during a run can awaken your competitive spirit, helping you stay committed to your fitness routine by making exercise more engaging.
Fall Detection and Medical Alert Devices
It is estimated that more than 36 million seniors fall each year, and 32,000 of those falls result in death. One of the biggest factors contributing to those fatalities is the person’s inability to call for help because they are trapped where they fell and unable to get up. This problem is precisely what fall detection technology is designed to solve.
Many smartwatches have fall detection features, able to alert help if you need it. Other devices, such as wearable medical alert devices, include pendants that seniors can wear around their neck with a button they press if they need help. Once activated, the device will notify emergency services and provide a GPS location, automatically sending help. There are also medical alert watches and medical alert bracelets.
Wearable Tech Glasses
While they certainly aren’t anywhere near as popular as watches, the “smart glasses” sector of wearable tech is growing each year. The most famous example, perhaps, is the Google Glass, a computer/eyeglass hybrid that was released to much hype in 2014- and left the shelves after only a year.
Today, though, manufacturers have learned from Google’s mistake and are focusing on simpler products. One of the best examples of wearable tech glasses are the Echo Frames, Amazon’s headphone/sunglass combo. They let you play music, ask Alexa questions, and communicate with people all while doubling as a pair of stylish sunglasses.
For example, if you enjoy a nice walk, like to listen to the radio or audiobooks, and don’t mind investing in a high-end pair of sunglasses, the Echo Frames are perfect for you. They provide hands-free listening and UV protection at the same time; not the most useful product on the market, but luxurious and worth the price nonetheless.
Wearable Tech Clothing
This is a sector of the wearables industry that is still in the very early stages. There hasn’t yet been a product to truly break out and become a phenomenon, but there are still some “smart clothes” products that you may find useful:
- Siren Socks are designed to be worn by diabetics and other people who need to monitor their feet. They can warn you of ulcers and other issues before they occur, and automatically send health data to your caretakers. They won’t be as popular as the Apple Watch, but Siren Socks are very, very effective for people who need them!
- Sensoria Fitness Clothes: This company designs shirts and socks with built-in heart rate monitors, running form sensors, and Bluetooth connectors. If you are a serious runner and want to spend a few hundred dollars on the most high-tech clothes around, this is the way to go. It’s also helpful for people who get frequent running/walking injuries because you can analyze issues with your running/walking form and correct your stride and form!
- Under Armour Recovery Clothing: This line of jackets, hoodies, and sweatpants from Under Armour has a unique clothing material and pattern that reflects infrared energy back into the body. While that might sound like something out of a 70s space movie, it is actually very beneficial to the body. It boosts blood flow and circulation, which helps muscles recover from exercise and injury much faster.
VR Wearable Technology
While Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have been used with great success in clinical physical therapy settings, consumer products are geared more for entertainment. If you enjoy high-tech home entertainment, consider picking up something like the Oculus Quest 2. It’s a VR headset that lets you view entertaining movies/videos and play video games in a surprisingly intuitive way.
VR isn’t for everyone, but it’s becoming more and more popular among people of all ages. In fact, MIT released research that showed seniors who use VR for entertainment feel less depression and social isolation than their VR-averse peers. It’s an immersive and engaging way to interact with the digital world and definitely more fun than watching TV Land for hours on end! There’s nothing wrong with TV Land, but it does get old- and that’s when cutting-edge VR can provide some much-needed enjoyment.
Pros and Cons of Wearable Technology
The benefits of incorporating wearables into your daily life are just as varied as the products themselves. There is virtually no senior who could not benefit in some way from getting a wearable tech device.
Smartwatches and other internet-enabled wearables keep you connected to the people around you. You can respond to messages, make calls, and keep in touch, helping you feel more a part of people’s lives. It’s a small benefit, yes, but it is nice to be able to interact with others by simply looking at your wrist!
Firstly, wearable exercise tech is very useful to people of all ages. Research has even shown that wearables can help breast cancer survivors maintain healthier and more active lifestyles. Regular exercise is key for survivors to have ongoing success, and wearables make progress feel more tangible and exercise more sustainable.
There is a good bit of psychology at play when it comes to exercise because most of us simply don’t enjoy it. Having a fitness tracker keep tabs on your workouts makes it easier to stay committed. If you can see your progress over time, you will feel more motivated to keep going. Fitness trackers make the benefits of exercise easier to visualize and recognize, which makes you more likely to keep going.
If you have diabetes, heart disease, or any other condition that requires constant monitoring, wearables that track your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and blood pressure can be very beneficial- even life-saving. They can alert you to the early warning signs of heart attacks, strokes, and other major health emergencies before they happen, giving you time to respond and get to a doctor. The Apple Watch, in particular, has a decent early warning system that will let you know if you have symptoms of atrial fibrillation!
Fitness trackers have also been shown in studies to help people with COPD and osteoarthritis to stay committed to a regular recovery-focused exercise routine. The ability to track data and to set and visualize your goals makes committing to exercise and keeping yourself accountable much easier. If you’ve tried in the past to start exercising and just couldn’t keep it up, a fitness tracker might be exactly what you need to succeed this time around.
Health trackers are also useful for managing your nutrition. Smartwatches and fitness watches alike will keep a count of how many calories you burn in a day. Because many seniors don’t get adequate nutrition, being able to confirm the number of calories you burn can help you accurately decide the number of calories you need to eat.
As we’ve discussed, many of the thousands of seniors who die from falls each year could have been served by a fall detection or medical alerting device. If you fall in your home and cannot reach the phone and no one is around to help, what started out as a minor emergency can quickly turn into a major one.
Research has also shown that this increased safety means that wearables can also give seniors increased freedom. Devices and technologies that alert emergency services and send data to doctors and caretakers mean that you don’t have to have caretakers nearby to stay safe. This promotes greater freedom and feelings of independence.
Over-Reliance on Tech
Just like any other technology, an over-reliance on your wearable tech can give you a false sense of confidence about your health and safety. The Apple Watch, for example, is only right about atrial fibrillation one-third of the time. If you become dependent on your wearables for all of your health data, you may end up in trouble if it misses the warning signs of something serious!
Wearables are, for the most part, pretty expensive. Smartwatches in particular cost hundreds of dollars. More than that, they aren’t covered by Medicare or health insurance, so you are left to your own resources to pay for them. If you have a decent amount of extra money, this isn’t a concern at all. However, if you’re working with a tight budget, it can be hard to justify a $300+ purchase just to track fitness and health data.
Where to Buy Wearable Technology
If you’re looking for a wide selection and good prices, you’ll find it here. Amazon carries millions of different products, including the widest range of wearable technology anywhere. From name-brand smartwatches to relatively obscure health and wellness wearables, Amazon carries it all.
Prices on Amazon are, generally speaking, the same or lower than they’d be for the same product elsewhere. It’s very rare to find a product on Amazon being sold for more than it would be at a retail store, so you know you’re getting a fair deal at worst and a great deal at best.
If your wearable tech doesn’t work out for you, Amazon’s returns and exchange process is transparent, lenient, and simple. They tend to accept many returns/exchanges simply because it’s easier to replace or refund an item than it is to argue with the customer. This makes Amazon one of the best places to shop for wearables, hands down!
Whether you’re shopping in one of their stores or on their website, Wal-Mart has a lot to offer. Similar to Amazon, they are known for having a wide selection and good prices. You can order many items to be picked up in the store, which is convenient if you’re already heading there for other errands and don’t want to browse the aisles.
With hundreds of stores in the US, you’re almost never too far from a Best Buy. This chain isn’t quite as cheap or convenient as Walmart or Amazon, but they do offer one thing that other chains cannot: expertise. Each Best Buy employee is well-trained and ready to assist you, answering your questions and helping you get the right technology for your needs.
While you can still find all the information you need to make a decision about a product online, some people still prefer face-to-face conversations. If you’re one of those people, Best Buy is one of the best places to shop for wearable tech.
Cellular Carrier Stores
If it’s a smartwatch you’re looking for, the first place (aside from the internet) you should be visiting is your cellular carrier’s local store. There, you can learn which types of smartwatches are compatible with your cell phone and carrier, making sure you get a device that truly works for you.
Wearable tech has incredible potential for seniors, helping them live healthier, more connected, and more convenient lives. Whether you get a Fitbit to track your daily walks, an Apple Watch to send texts on the go, or a portable air conditioner to stay cool, wearable tech can drastically improve your day-to-day.
Which type of wearable tech was the most interesting to you? Have any questions about the tech we looked at? We’d love to see your comments below!