In this series of blog posts, I’m going to explore how technology can be used by and help people with learning disabilities. In this post, I’m going to explore how a smart watch can be used to improve the care of people with learning disabilities with a diagnosis of epilepsy.
According to epilepsy.org.uk, out of every 100 people with learning disabilities, 22 of them will have epilepsy. The more severe the learning disability, the higher the possibility that the person will also have epilepsy. These statistics alone suggest that if you are a learning disability nurse, epilepsy is a condition you're going to be all too familiar with.
Unlikely my previous blog post about robot’s which you can find by clicking here, there are already companies who have created smart devices which can detect and send alerts that someone might be having a seizure. One of the most innovative devices comes from a company called Empatica. Empatica has created a product called Embrace which can be seen in the picture below.
Embraces main purpose is to detect and alert a carer if someone is having a convulsive seizure. It uses 4 sensor which together pick up the signals of the seizure to trigger an alert being sent. These sensors are an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a temperature sensor and something called a EDA (GSR). The first 3 in the list I’ve seen on other non-non-epileptic specific devices however the use of a EDA, which measures sympathetic nervous system activity, really sets this device apart from the rest. With all the sensors working together to create a single picture, this device is a phenomenal piece of tech that no doubt has or will save many lives in the future. In my opinion, the design of this device is outstanding and is something a lot of people won’t mind wearing and showing off to family and friends. Embrace is CE, FDA and FCC approved. It can also be worn in the bath or shower and has a battery life of 25 to 30 hours. The device costs $250 (approx £190 at time of this blog) and a subscription starting at £9.90/month. More details on this device can be found at empatica.com/embrace/
Embrace isn’t the only seizure detecting wrist wear you can buy at the moment, there are others on the market as well so to give you a bit of an idea, I recommend checking out Brio. Unlike Embrace, Brio measures a persons heart rate to detect a wide range of seizures. The company behind the device state that it's especially helpful for people who suffer from nocturnal seizures and the specifications of the device would also suggest this. Its worth pointing out that the Brio's battery only last 10 hours and its not waterproof so no swimming or bath in this device I’m afraid. Where Brio might be more appealing to potential buyers is that it cost a one off fee of £449 and theres no subscription costs to deal with. For more information and to purchase Brio visit https://www.epilepsyalarms.co.uk/ and also check out the animation below.
So hopefully now you have a good idea on whats out there and if your thinking of purchasing a wrist device to detect seizures, I seriously recommend doing further research to find what suits your needs best. However, this blog isn’t about selling a particular device or even about a wrist epilepsy monitor, the original title is ‘Can a smart watch improve the life of those with epilepsy’ and neither of the devices above are smart watches.
So if you know me, you know I love Apple products. Now theres a lot of you out there that are going to instantly moan at me saying that no matter what Apple make, I’ll buy it and I’ll instantly love it even if theres a Samsung product that is better. So, on that note, I challenge you to this. If you love Samsung (or any other company) I would welcome a blog post from yourself talking about those products and how they can also help people with learning disabilities. Please get in contact with one of the ldnurse.com to have your blog post uploaded. However, for my blog, I’m going to focus on what I feel is the best smart watch, And you’ve guessed it, it's the Apple Watch.
On September 12th 2018, Apple launched its 4th generation of smart watch. This watch promised to be faster, with more features and a noticeable bigger screen. Now as an Apple watch user myself, all these things are welcomed to a product which is already pretty amazing. In terms of health care, there were two big changes from previous models to the 4th generation. The first was that the watch has a new ECG function however I wouldn’t get too excited about this just yet as this hasn’t been tested or approved for use in the UK so it might be a few years before we see it in action this side of the Atlantic. The second, and most relevant to this post, is Apple’s new fall detection feature. Apple has created new accelerometer and gyroscope sensors which can more accurately detect falls. Whats most interesting is that apple has invested a lot of time and effort into making this feature work effectively and the result are really really good. Check out this video below by the Wall Street Journal which demonstrates how good the detection actually is.
So having discovered how useful the watch fall detection feature is, I was wondering if the watch could be programmed to accurately detect a seizure and therefore send an alert to carers, family or friends. The watch has the capabilities and with the added heart rate detection, maybe it could use this information as well to be even more accurate? It would be like the embrace and Brio combined together with the added benefit having all the other apple watch features.
Fortunately a company, called smart monitor, has already kind of thought about this and there is an app called SmartWatch inspire which can be downloaded today from both iOS and Android app stores. However, and it’s a big however, there is no clinical trials with the app and it looks extremely basic. Personally, I wouldn’t want anyone to even slightly rely on this. Also it doesn’t use any of the heart rate features and as its been out for a while, so it won’t have had time to really make use of the new features in the apple watch series 4. If you want to check it out visit https://smart-monitor.com/about-smartwatch-inspyre-by-smart-monitor/
To conclude, can a smart watch improve the life of those with epilepsy? At this moment in time, the honest answer is no although there is some future potential. Smart watches haven’t yet been developed with seizure activity in mind. Apps available try there best, but frankly they're not that good at the moment. However, this is exactly how innovation and technology work and the future looks really promising in this area. Until then, for seizure section and alerts, I’d recommend avoiding smart watch and go and look at specific seizure detection instead. The embrace, in my opinion, is well ahead of its time and a great investment for anyone who has convulsive epilepsy.
Maybe you have seen or tried a device that helps detect seizure activity and I’d love to hear from you. You can find me on twitter @chrishardyRNLD or post your responses on our facebook page searching for learningdisabiltynurse.com within facebook.