Falls have serious consequences for seniors, especially those who live alone. Medical alert devices can notify emergency services, but they are not always worn. In addition, they do not address fall prevention by encouraging active lifestyles and physical strengthening. WalkWise hopes to fill these gaps.
The Fargo, ND-based company offers a smart device that can be attached to the wheels of most walkers. The device can alert family members to falls and it collects walker activity data. These insights could help families address inactivity and physical deconditioning proactively.
We asked Peter Chamberlain, WalkWise Founder and CEO, a few questions about the company and its role in senior care.
Cici Zhou, Medgadget: Tell me about how WalkWise started. What was the inspiration behind the idea?
Peter Chamberlain, WalkWise: I had three grandparents all using walkers at the same time! Two lived at home relatively independently, and one was in a senior living community. In one instance, a grandmother fell at home (while not using her walker), and was on the floor until the gardener found her by looking in a window. My other grandmother fell at night (while using the walker) and had to crawl to her nightstand with a broken hip to grab a phone. Another walker-using friend of mine was on the floor for two days before anyone found her. And lastly, another grandparent had dementia and so we never knew what her day looked like at the senior living community.
These experiences got me thinking. How are we still relying on wearables for fall detection, when the numbers show that they are ineffective at responding to emergencies? How can we make sure people don’t fall in the first place, by encouraging walker use and increased leg strength? By doing these two things, we are helping people stay independent, increasing quality of life, and can stand to save billions in healthcare spending (we spend $60Bn a year on falls alone!). Plus, giving families insight into the daily life of their loved ones provides much-needed peace of mind.
Medgadget: How does the technology work?
Chamberlain: WalkWise is a smart walker attachment that goes on the wheel of almost any existing walker. One of the main benefits is that walker users don’t need to “interact” with the technology in order for it to be useful. The batteries last 6-12 months, there’s no wearable component, and there’s no smartphone required. Activity data and safety data streams into the cloud, is analyzed by our patented algorithms, and then is available to families and caregivers on the WalkWise app. You can also configure safety and health alerts to receive via text message, email, or phone call. Things such as “the walker hasn’t moved in 8 hours” or “the walker has tipped over” or “Kathleen got out of bed 6 times last night”. This is all extremely important information for families and caregivers to have in order to make sure the walker is being used and that potential emergency situations are detected.
Medgadget: How does this fit in with traditional fall alert devices?
Chamberlain: WalkWise fills in the gaps left by existing solutions. The fact is that people do not wear their pendants all the time, especially at night. And I have heard many many stories about buttons being accidentally pressed or automatic fall detection features resulting in fire engines and ambulances arriving out of the blue.
WalkWise is NOT a replacement for Personal Emergency Response devices such as LifeAlert, LifeLine, or Lively. We don’t route you to a call center or call an ambulance. What we do is inform families and caregivers, allowing the people with proper knowledge to make the most appropriate decision for the situation. Maybe they are on vacation and left their walker behind? Or maybe we need to call a neighbor and have them check in.
What’s more, traditional fall alerts devices do nothing to help prevent falls by encouraging walker use and fitness. They do not provide insight about daily life. They do not provide infection screening (we help screen for urinary tract infections). They do not allow for better family engagement.
Medgadget: How far along in development is the device?
Chamberlain: WalkWise is out in the world, helping caregivers and families to preserve senior independence. We have done clinical studies, senior living pilot programs around the country, shipped to families via Amazon, and participated in the UnitedHealthcare Techstars Accelerator in 2019. We are on pace to 5x the number of people using WalkWise in 2020. If you need WalkWise, you can join on our website. Senior living communities and other care organizations can get it at no upfront cost.
Medgadget: Where do you see WalkWise in five years?
Chamberlain: We expect to be in major retailers, alongside safety devices and fitness trackers. We expect to be in at least 10% of all senior living communities across the country. We expect to be included as a benefit for national health plans. There are so many people that need WalkWise in so many different settings, that we are just trying to grow as quickly as we can.
Lastly, the effects of COVID-19 on our older adults and senior living communities has demonstrated the need for WalkWise in all settings. Families cannot visit their loved ones, drastically decreasing safety. There are no more group activities, so we don’t know if people are staying active and healthy. In times like these, WalkWise is the only way to know that walker users are remaining active, healthy, and safe.
Check out this video on WalkWise’s role during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Product page: WalkWise