Phone technology has evolved significantly, with something available for everyone. However it is fair to say that traditionally these devices have been targeted at a young tech savvy audience, looking for the next digital trend, rather than an older generation of users who may also benefit from them, both on a practical and entertainment level. That perspective is shifting, with technology companies realising that there is an older person’s market for their products. Understandably the needs of this cohort of users are different to their younger counterparts, but nonetheless there are many opportunities to make a difference for the group. Research undertaken by Ofcom confirms that older people are embracing technology; smartphone use among the over-75s has been rising steadily in recent years, from 8 per cent in 2015 and 15 per cent in 2016 to 18 per cent in 2017. Confidence in using a smartphone is likely to encourage older people to try out a wearable, such as a smartwatch or an activity tracker, which is no longer just for athletes or the fashion conscious.
The smartwatch is becoming increasingly popular and can offer the wearer multiple benefits and flexibility. For the older person a smartwatch can seem daunting, not least because of the smaller screen, fiddly buttons and what can seem to be a complicated set up process when pairing with a phone. We’ve put together this guide to help you navigate the world of the smartwatch and suggest some of the best devices currently available on the market.
What to look for in a Smartwatch
It appears that smartwatches available in the market today for older people can be classified into one of two types; a smartwatch focusing on health monitoring and location tracking or a smartwatch that does those things and much more i.e. with built in apps and cellular functionality. How do you know which smartwatch is right for you? There are a few key elements to consider when choosing a wearable:
- If you have a smartphone and you’re looking for a companion, make sure the smartwatch is compatible with your handset’s operating system. For example, an Apple Watch will only work with an iPhone.
- If it is the health aspects of a smartwatch that excite you, make sure your model has GPS and a heart rate sensor.
- Battery life is important. With many devices that need charging it can be difficult to keep on top of and easy to forget so a wearable with quality battery life is vital. This feature is particularly important if the smartwatch is being used to keep the older person safe when they are mobile away from the home.
- Try out the Smartwatch’s band and clasp to check that you can use it. It is worth looking for a Watch where you can switch bands as you like.
- Explore what apps are available to use with the Smartwatch
- Is the preference for a button or a touch screen interface?
What is the Smartwatch potential for older people?
A smartwatch for an older person is a good idea for several reasons. For family and friends a smartwatch can afford peace of mind as the device can double up as a panic button. Pendant alarms are available for the same purpose but a Smartwatch is easier to remember to put on. More recent smartwatches like the Apple Watch Series 5 have built in fall detection, a sensor that alerts the emergency contact if no movement is detected over a minute.
Health monitoring is a popular feature of smartwatches and is an area that is continuously being improved. For older people keen on fitness and wellbeing, smartwatches offer interactive, easy to use features to keep track of progress and general health.
Like a smartphone, a smartwatch can be programmed with reminders for important events and appointments, such as medication prompts or doctors’ appointments. For people with dementia, the smartwatch can prove a particularly useful aid to memory, for example what day and year it is.
Smartwatches for the elderly
Apple Watch series 4 and 5
A popular smartwatch for any age group, the Apple Watch Series 4 and 5, although costly, also have a multitude of features which make it a favourable choice for the older person. New and impressive for Series 5 is upgraded optical and electronic heart sensors allowing more accurate heart monitoring including ECGs which is being supported by the American Heart Association.
For older people with hearing complications, the Apple Watch Series 5 helpfully notifies you if noise in an area is too loud. Thanks to Apple’s operating system WatchOS, there is a wide range of Health apps available for the Apple Watch including support to monitor water intake, a food diary and a meditation programme.
The Apple Watch has both a touch and button interface (digital crown and side button on the side) and the Series 5 version helpfully has an ‘always on display’ feature, giving quick access to key information. The Apple Watch offers two screen sizes and the older person can choose to have the GPS or GPS+cellular version with the latter negating the need to have an iPhone as well.
The SafeLink smartwatch could be mistaken for a digital watch, but in fact it is a clever wearable GPS tracker. The device is aimed at older people with dementia and has the functionality to alert up to three smartphone emergency contacts should out of the ordinary behaviour be detected. A smartphone is not necessary to view the tracking status as a web module is also available.
With large icons and a side button for navigation, the freedom guardian makes it easy for older people to have a smartwatch. The device has both GPS and wi-fi enable tracking and the plus model has text to speech messaging and the capacity to set up alerts and reminders. The medical alert system is paid for on a subscription basis.
Omate Wherecom S3
The Android operating system is partnered with Omate’s very own OUI senior skin resulting in a smartwatch that is easy to use. The display is responsive and the overall look and feel of the watch is attractive. Designed specifically for older people the Omate Wherecom has a physical red SOS button on the side which can alert family and friends to the older person’s location. With an impressive 3 day battery life, the device also has a message hub, a pedometer, a dialler and uses 3G cellular connectivity.
G2i emergency watch
From a Swiss company, this device offers a more traditional look for a smartwatch so ideal for older people who don’t want to bring attention to themselves or who favour that particular style. Precise location tracking is promised with a high-quality GPS module and like other models also has a SOS button. The watch manufacturer claims that battery life can last for up to a week. The emergency watch is water resistant and does not need a separate phone app to function.
If you decide to go with the Tycho smartwatch, you will be getting a device that works very much like a mobile phone. It caters for concerned family and friends with SOS call function and electronic fence alarms, and has a built in camera. Wearers can auto answer calls without swiping and older people will appreciate the large screen and bold icons. GPS module also has a historical route tracker which backdates up to 3 months.
Unaliwear Kanega Watch
This device has fall detection features and like its counterparts also offers GPS tracking and call emergency assistance. Unlike some of the other smartwatches featured, the Kanega does not need to be paired with a smartwatch to work. It is completely voice controlled, negating the need to fiddle with touch or buttons and also has a medication alerts schedule that is easy to set up. The watch is waterproof and can also be linked up to hearing aids.
Samsung Galaxy Watch
If it is speed and style you’re looking for in a smartwatch, the Samsung Galaxy has it all. Like its competitor, Apple, this watch will monitor heart rate and has a number of built in sensors, including an accelerometer and gyroscope. Older people can download the SOS app allowing them to quickly contact family or friends in an emergency situation. If you have blood pressure concerns or just want to keep an eye on your stats, the ‘My BP Lab’ is your go-to feature. A Smartwatch from a smartphone giant such as Samsung can mean that there is a lot going on with this device, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good option for older people, especially if is someone used to technology.
It is clear that the smartwatch market for the elderly is growing with the primary focus being safety. However there is no reason to suggest why older people can’t also make good use of smartwatches that are not marketed to their age group.
Cost will be a factor for many older people when choosing a smartwatch; the cost can be offset by investing in a device that has cellular functionality so that there is no need for a separate smartphone.