The Apple Watch is the best-selling smartwatch in the world. Key to its success (aside from that Apple logo) is its usefulness to a wide range of people. Athletes use theirs to track fitness, the average joe uses his to read iMessages on his wrist, and commuters use theirs to control and listen to their Spotify playlist – all iPhone free.
But by far the toughest challenge the Apple Watch faces is older people, and there’s a reason why Apple should be catering to seniors – they are a growing market in the US (as silly as that may sound). People are living longer than ever and that’s a big opportunity for Apple. So, the question is can the Apple Watch be useful for the elderly, and tap into the States’ growing, aging population?
The Apple Watch Series 4 comes with a software-based fall detection built-in. It uses the Watch’s built-in accelerometer and gyroscope to detect a hard fall and can help the wearer connect with the relevant emergency services if needed. In other words, it’ll dial 911 for you if you need it to or dial an emergency contact.
In Sweden last October, this feature could have saved its first life when 34-year old Gustavo Rodriguez suffered an excruciating, paralyzing back spasm while cooking. Gustavo fell over in pain. His Apple Watch Series 4 immediately detected the fall and asked him if he wanted to dial 112, the emergency service number in Sweden. He declined and called his mother-in-law instead, who tended to him shortly afterward.
If you are 65 or over, the fall detection is turned on by default on the Apple Watch Series 4 but is off by default if you’re under 65. So remember to turn it on. The feature has proven to be completely accurate at detecting falls.
The Apple Watch Series 4 also has a new, upgraded electrical heart rate sensor that can take an electrocardiogram (ECG) using a dedicated app. Taking an ECG with the Apple Watch Series 4 only requires the wearer to download the app. The app can record your heartbeat and rhythm and presents this data as an ECG.
It can detect sinus rhythm, atrial fibrillation, and low or high heart rate. The feature works well but requires the wearer to rest their arm on a table during recording. Movement can throw the reading off, resulting in an inconclusive result. The data provided by the ECG can be used by carers to determine if medical care is needed.
The heart rate sensor on the Apple Watch Series 4 can also be set up to notify the wearer if their heart rate remains above or below a chosen beats per minute. This feature is probably more useful more of the time than the ECG function. Heart-rate tracking is accurate and non-intrusive. It’s very good and among the best in the business.
The last useful feature for seniors is Emergency SOS, which is available on every Apple Watch from the first generation. When you make a call with SOS, the Apple Watch automatically calls the local emergency number, which it determines with location tracking. It always works, ensuring you get connected right the first time.
There is a limitation to this feature though – if your Apple Watch doesn’t have LTE then it will need to be connected to an iPhone to make the call or connected to a known Wi-Fi network with Wi-Fi calling set up. Devices with LTE can be set up so that the Emergency SOS function works without an iPhone. For this reason, we can only recommend Emergency SOS on the Apple Watch with LTE for reliability’s sake.
Overall, Apple Watch’s health features for the elderly are pretty good. The fall detection feature is excellent, and the electrocardiogram feature is very good. Emergency SOS is a little hit and miss because non-LTE versions of the Apple Watch must be connected to an iPhone or a trusted Wi-Fi network to work.