Barbara Kroner, a senior epidemiologist at RTI International, often sleeps in the same bed as her 14-year-old daughter, Ellie. Ellie has the rare Aicardi syndrome, which has caused her to suffer over 15,000 seizures in her lifetime. As a parent, Kroner is constantly worried that she won’t be there to help her daughter during one of these frightening episodes. Her concern is shared by the caregivers of the 2 million people--including 400,000 children--who suffer from epilepsy and other seizure disorders in the United States.
During one bout of worry, Kroner wondered why there wasn’t a device that could tell her whether her daughter was having a seizure in the night. She realized this was a problem that good design could potentially solve.
After talks with coworkers at RTI International, Kroner began developing a wearable device that sends a mobile alert to loved ones when a seizure occurs. “A major concern of people with epilepsy and their family is the possibility that an unwitnessed seizure might cause serious injury, loss of consciousness, or even death,” Kroner said in a statement. “The RTI seizure alert system could have a substantial and measurable impact on the epilepsy community by decreasing the number of seizure-related injuries and deaths, improving quality of life, and increasing independence for both patients and caregivers,” Kroner said.
The project is being funded by a $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The design, which Kroner hopes will be on the market in three years, involves sensors worn on the body that measure heart rate, respiration, and body orientation. Most importantly, it could help decrease the rate of SUDEP--sudden unexplained death in epilepsy--by sending these alerts to caregivers.
Kroner hopes that her design will improve on the few seizure-detecting devices currently on the market. Such devices, like the SmartWatch, detect excessive movement, but they aren't very sophisticated when it comes to detecting elevated activity in the autonomic nervous system, and they miss certain, more subtle types of seizures.
Kroner’s idea for a better seizure-detector is an example of how wearable tech could evolve to become more than just fitness trackers, but life-saving devices. Recently, ABI Research predicted that 90 million wearable computing devices will be shipped in 2014, and most of that sales volume will come from health care and sports and activity trackers. While those numbers are impressive, product strategy consultant Kevin McCullagh and J.P. Gownder of Forrester Research have argued that it’s unlikely that wearable tech will enjoy Smartphone-level mainstream popularity anytime soon. That’s partly because Smartphones often already do the jobs wearable devices seek to do (and they’re not as dorky-looking). But outside the obsessive self-quantifier set--currently the main consumer base for wearable devices--there are a few niche markets in which this tech has near revolutionary potential, and one of those markets is health care. It’s not hard to see how pioneers like Kroner could help wearable tech become as commonplace for those suffering from seizure disorders as pacemakers are among those with heart problems.
[via The Washington Post]