Pinoy develops wearable tech to save elderly from deadly falls
The untimely death of his grandmother last year left a lasting impact on Angelo Umali. The 32-year-old cofounder and CEO of Simple Wearables, a healthcare tech company based in Hong Kong, made it his life mission to finally bring to the market his invention—a discreet device that sends out alert messages informing that its elderly wearer has just suffered a fall, even telling the severity of the impact.
Umali recounted: “It was not the first time my grandmother fell in her home in the United States. But that time, we were all there as we witnessed the fall where she hit her head. She immediately got up and told everyone she was okay. No one paid much attention until in the days that followed when she complained of dizziness. When we brought her to the hospital, the doctors found a blood clot in the brain. That same day she went into a coma and later died.”
He stressed: “I don’t want this to happen to my other and only remaining grandmother, 92-year-old Alegria San Juan, who happily lives alone in Tagaytay City,”
Umali’s invention, called Simple Wave, resembles a flat oval-shaped river rock that is clipped anywhere near the chest. It has the ability to alert not only family members but more importantly, the attending doctor who could immediately send an ambulance and if needed, perform life-saving procedures.
Based on preliminary estimates, Umali’s device would cost around P8,000 excluding the monthly subscription fee from the wireless provider.
Like health apps
“It functions like those health apps in your smartphones that track steps and movement. But Simple Wave is a lot more sensitive as it detects a fall as a result of an ailment (like fainting due to diabetes or stroke) or due to slips and trips. It could measure the intensity of the fall and automatically send all these information via text and over the Internet to predetermined contacts. The elderly wearer could also talk to the person on the other end since the Simple Wave also incorporates a GSM chipset with micro-SIM, speaker and microphone,” described Umali who after graduating at the Philippine Science High School in 1999, immigrated with his family to the United States where he got his bachelor’s and master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles and Stanford University.
Compared to similar alert devices sold in the United States, Umali explained that the Simple Wave is not as obtrusive and designed in such a way that it will not stigmatize the elderly person wearing it. It doesn’t need a base station like other devices.
“Simple Wave has a more modern look that discretely connects the socially isolated elderly to their loved ones as well as their doctors, and in the process, removing their fear of falling,” explained Umali.
The fear of falling again often causes elderly persons to limit their activities, leading to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness, and in turn increases their actual risk of falling, according to Oxford University geriatric medicine and gerontology journal, Age and Ageing.
The uniqueness and marketability of his invention caught the attention of Nest, an early-stage venture-capital firm in Hong Kong, as well as AIA Group Ltd., one of Asia’s largest insurance companies. Last year, the two launched a project called AIA Accelerator, which seeks to encourage innovation in health and wearable technology startups (Nest, which has been running for four years, provide seed capital and support to startup entrepreneurs in the Asian region).
Simple Wearable was among the eight winners that were fostered for over 12 weeks and connected them with over 40 industry mentors and potential investors.
At the moment, Umali has been regularly visiting the Philippines to coordinate with The Medical City, one of the hospitals that have already signed up to test the first 100 units of his devices.
“Considering that hospitals are also looking at ways to offer remote healthcare services, the data collected on the device will be synched to the cloud, which hospitals can remotely access via the Web or mobile app we are also developing at the moment,” related Umali.
“We are proud that a fellow Filipino is at the forefront of developing innovative medical technology with the support from our parent company, AIA, said Jaime Jose Javier Jr., chief marketing officer of Philam Life, AIA’s operating arm in the Philippines. “Philam Life mirrors this initiative by developing innovative healthcare solutions that address the real-life needs of our customers,” he added.
Javier said his company is already drawing up a partnership agreement with Simple Wearables that may help the company’s elderly clients.
According to Asian Development Bank, Asia’s elderly population is projected to reach 922.7 million by 2050 and is on track in the next few decades to become the oldest region in the world.
The same trend is also occurring in the Philippines. In 2000, there were just 4.6 million senior citizens (60 years or older), representing about 6 percent of the total population. In 2010, the then National Statistics Office found that this grew to 6.5 million or about 6.9 percent of the total population. By 2030, the same agency projects that the elderly population will make up around 11.5 percent of the total population.
While simple falls may seem relatively harmless, they can actually lead to severe injury and death in elderly individuals, according to a 2010 study published in The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection and Critical Care.
The study found that elderly adults—70 years or older—who experience ground-level falls are much more likely to be severely injured and less likely to survive their injuries compared to adults younger than 70. Moreover, elderly patients are three times as likely to die following a ground-level fall compared to their under-70 counterparts.
Among the injuries that need immediate attention after a fall is the possible occurrence of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which can result in a period of unconsciousness, amnesia, disability, coma and even death. A TBI may cause bruising, torn tissues, bleeding and other physical damage to the brain that can result in long-term complications or death.
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